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Outline – “Hamlet’s Delay is the Cause of Tragedy In the Play” Essay Sample

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Introduction of TOPIC

  1. Introduction
    1. Hamlet is the direct cause of the tragedy
      1. Charnes; “Hamlet Without Hamlet.”
    2. First appearance of Hamlet
      1. Hamlet’s lack of a sense of purpose
      2. Hamlet’s attempt to relieve his melancholy
        1. Udo and Fels; “’Suit the Action to the Word, the Word to the Action’: An Unconventional Approach to Describing Shakespeare’s Hamlet.”   
  • Confrontation with his father’s ghost
    1. Hamlet’s doubts
    2. Questions of the spirit’s intent
    3. Hamlet’s vow
    4. Hamlet’s nature and conflict with vengeance
      1. Bowen; Critical Essays on Shakespeare’s Hamlet
    5. Testing of the spirit
      1. Historical place of ghosts
        1. Bloom; Hamlet: Poem Unlimited.
      2. Setting up Claudio
      3. Hamlet’s reaction and follow-up activity
    6. Hamlet’s opportunity
      1. Finding Claudius at prayer
      2. Hamlet’s reaction and follow-up activity
    7. Hamlet’s contemplation
      1. Cause for his delay
      2. Lack of future action
  • Hamlet’s lack of action and his deception
    1. Hamlet’s pretense as a madman
      1. Bowen; Critical Essays on Shakespeare’s Hamlet
      2. Pupavac; “Hamlet, the State of Emotion and the International Crisis of Meaning.”
    2. Hamlet’s mistake
    3. Claudius’ planning
    4. Hamlet’s reaction
    5. Climax
  • Hamlet’s personal nature
    1. Defying what he believed
    2. Clearing his name
  1. Conclusion
    1. Hamlet caused the delay
      1. Udo and Fels; “’Suit the Action to the Word, the Word to the Action’: An Unconventional Approach to Describing Shakespeare’s Hamlet.”   

Hamlet’s Delay is the Cause of Tragedy In the Play

Hamlet is the most well-known, heavily debated work of literature of all time, and the reason for Hamlet’s delay in the poem is a highly discussed topic.  According to reviewer Linda Charnes, “There is no figure in Shakespeare’s canon more explored, expounded upon, analyzed, psychoanalyzed, deconstructed, reconstructed, appropriated, situated, and expropriated than Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.”  Thousands of essays and books have been written on the subject, each believing in a slightly different variation.

There are two main schools of thought on this issue, one believing that the delay is Hamlet’s fault, as is the tragedy that follows.  The other is of the opinion that the postponement of Hamlet’s vengeance is out of his control and the events in the play are not due to his willing actions.  The truth is somewhere in between, yet it leans more heavily on leaving Hamlet responsible for the terrible outcome of the play.

At the very beginning of the play, Hamlet is stymied and restless, finding nothing to do but enacting petulant rebellions, such as his continuous mourning garb, but in effect resentful that he can take no action.  His request to return to school is rejected, “for your intent / In going back to school in Wittenberg / It is most retrograde to our desire”; “I pray thee stay with us, go not to Wittenberg” (I, ii, 112-113, 119).

Hamlet’s response to these words speaks of his unrest, “I shall in all my best obey you” (120).  He is searching for a purpose and he holds a great contempt for Claudius for usurping both the crown and Hamlet’s mother.  “[Hamlet] is barraged with fear, loss, and self-hatred all while trying to mourn the death of his father” (Udo).  Given his attitude, the reader assumes that upcoming revelation of the need to avenge his father’s murder will suit his desired purpose, yet this expectation fails to come to fruition.

When Hamlet first hears of the ghost of his father, he knows that something is not right but does not believe there is unlawful activity, “all is not well; / I doubt some foul play” (I, ii, 259-260).  As the ghost first approaches Hamlet, Hamlet wonders whether it is a good or bad spirit, asking it if it “Bring[s] with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell” (I, iv, 42-43).  As his father’s spirit reveals the perfidy of Claudius, Hamlet becomes impassioned and vows to seek revenge at his father’s request.

The ghost does not even address Hamlet by their shared name until after Hamlet swears he will seek vengeance.  He is bound by filial duty and Hamlet feels that by keeping his promise as a son, he is swearing off all other relations (Bowen, 199).  Hamlet’s melancholic nature goes against passionate revenge, yet he gives his sworn word and his own grief at his father’s death compels him to make the promise.  He is concerned about severing his ties with the other people in his life in order to keep his word.

During Hamlet’s time, it was believed that spirits were either benevolent and

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honest or evil and deceitful.  It was further believed that positive spirits no longer visited the earth, so Hamlet’s mistrust of the ghost of his father is justified (Bloom, 45).  Unlike Horatio, Hamlet had to act upon the ghost’s words so it was important to Hamlet to prove their legitimacy.

This is the first reason for his delay in seeking revenge.  Hamlet creates a situation where Claudius is indirectly confronted with his suspected actions in order for Hamlet and Horatio to be witnesses to his response.  Yet Claudius’ immediate reaction to the play reveal the truth to the murderous plot to be true and Hamlet still fails to act.  He makes no immediate plan for fulfilling his promise.

In Act III, Hamlet comes upon Claudius alone and contemplates killing him then, only he realizes that Claudius is at prayer, which negates the purpose of revenge, “A villain kills my father; and, for that, / I, his sole son, do this same villain send / To heaven. / O, this is hire and salary, not revenge” (III, iii, 76-80).  Knowing the outcome if he killed Claudius then, Hamlet again postpones and again makes no direct plan to fulfill his duty. He does not seek out Claudius at other times, merely hoping throughout the play to come upon a perfect opportunity.  It is now apparent to the reader that he is stalling and causes one to ponder at his purpose.

In the middle of Act IV, Hamlet himself ponders the reason for his delay:

Now whether it be

Bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple

Of thinking too precisely on th’ event –

A thought which, quartered, hath but one part wisdom

And three parts coward –I do not know

Why yet I live. . . .

How stand I then,

That have a father killed, a mother stained,

Excitements of my reason and my blood,

And let them all sleep

(IV, iv, 38-44, 56-59)

In this passage, it is clear that Hamlet himself does not know why he stalls; yet he reveals that he is doing so actively and deliberately.  He believes he has cause and purpose to seek revenge, but as yet, has not taken any opportunity to exact it.  While he did not want to send Claudius to heaven when Hamlet caught him at prayer, he has failed to make other arrangements or set up any trap to capture Claudius despite the king’s despicable actions.

Hamlet continues to defer taking action and uses deception to hide his true purpose.  Hamlet’s defense as a madman is planned, yet he does so thorough a job that the reader is not certain as to whether or not he has gone truly insane.  Hamlet was drawn by Shakespeare to be a madman, someone beyond the ability to be confined to one purpose or imperative (Bowen, 213).  “Hamlet’s psychological crisis is precipitated by his inability to act against his uncle King Claudius and reconcile contradictory normative imperatives: the ancient warrior’s honour, Christian ethics, Machiavellian secular politics and faithfulness to himself” (Pupavac).

The one point where Hamlet takes action, when he is meeting in his mother’s room, he accidentally kills Polonius instead.  Then Hamlet willingly complies with Claudius’ desire for him to travel to England, again deferring action.  Even after discovering that Claudius planned to have the King of England kill him and making his way back to Denmark, Hamlet still does not take action but works in the shadows without making plans.

It is not until King Claudius attempts to kill him with poison and Hamlet is already dying that he finally takes his revenge.  At this point, his mother was dying, Laertes was dead nothing can save Hamlet himself.  Hamlet sees Laertes as one who honored his father by taking his vengeance quickly, unlike himself who caused such great tragedy by taking no action at all.

Hamlet views killing Claudio as defying his sense of self and his Christian imperative as vengeance was not permitted in the house of God.  His own nature and sense of morals, which grow more intense as the play progresses, defy his sense of purpose to avenge his father’s murder.  In the beginning of the play, Hamlet is proud to say his name and who he is, yet this feeling disintegrates as events unfold.  By the play’s end, Hamlet is again concerned with his reputation and entreats Horatio to plead his case to the public in order to clear his name of the slander of insanity and murder.

Shakespeare set up this drama to end tragically with the death of many of the key characters, “where truth and lies intermingle and become meaningless and where peace is found only by wiping the slate clean and beginning afresh” (Udo).  Hamlet’s delay in taking action is unquestioningly the cause for such calamity and his deliberateness in not taking action force the reader to conclude that the delay is on his shoulders and not due to fate or chance.  Hamlet did not know why he put off fulfilling the promise he made to his father, yet he still failed to take action after acknowledging his intentional delay.  This exemplifies fault, which lies at Hamlet’s door, as he is responsible for turning over the throne of Denmark to the King of Norway.

Works Cited

Bloom, Harold.  Hamlet: Poem Unlimited.  New York: Penguin Putnam Inc., 2003.

Bowen, Zach, ed.  Critical Essays on Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.

Charnes, Linda.  “Hamlet Without Hamlet.”  Shakespeare Quarterly. Washington: Winter 2007. Vol. 58, Iss. 4;  538-543.  (July 18, 2009).  http://proquest.umi.com.ezproxy.vccs.edu:2048/pqdweb?did=1404867341&sid=2&Fmt=3&clientId=1364&RQT=309&VName=PQD.

Corum, Richard.  Understanding Hamlet: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents.  Connecticut:  Greenwood Press, 1998.

Pupavac, Vanessa.  “Hamlet, the State of Emotion and the International Crisis of Meaning.”  The Mental Health Review. Brighton: Mar 2008. Vol. 13, Iss. 1;  14-27.  (July 18, 2009).  http://proquest.umi.com.ezproxy.vccs.edu:2048/pqdweb?did=1525193411&sid=2&Fmt=3&clientId=1364&RQT=309&VName=PQD.

Udo, John P. and Deborah I. Fels.   “’Suit the Action to the Word, the Word to the Action’: An Unconventional Approach to Describing Shakespeare’s Hamlet.”   Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness. New York: Mar 2009. Vol. 103, Iss. 3;  178-183.  (July 18, 2009).  http://proquest.umi.com.ezproxy.vccs.edu:2048/pqdweb?did=1684144681&sid=2&Fmt=3&clientId=1364&RQT=309&VName=PQD.

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