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He questions whether he should try to clear the court of corruption or just give up and end his life now. It is this emotional doubt that drives Hamlet to act deranged at times, but he overcomes it, and almost manages to answer the difficult questions posed in his life. In Act V, when calm returns, Hamlet repents his behavior (V, ii, 75-78) (Lidz, 164).
In Lidz's book Freud is quoted as saying "that if anyone holds and expresses to others an opinion of himself such as this [Hamlet's "Use every man after his desert, and who shall escape whipping?"], he is ill, whether he is speaking the truth whether he is being more or less unfair to himself." Though Hamlet has proved his intellectual stability, he is quite obviously emotionally "ill."
This emotional illness and uncertainty is why Hamlet procrastinates in the killing of Claudius. On his way to see his mother Hamlet sees Claudius praying and decides not to kill him. This clearly shows that Hamlet was not kept from gaining vengeance by a lack of opportunity. In fact, Hamlet reveals that he did not kill Claudius when he first had the chance because if he killed him while he was praying, Claudius would go to heaven. Though in modern times we would suspect that there is a deeper reason for this, heaven and hell were considered very real things by Elizabethan audiences, and this Hamlet actually loses his opportunity to carry out his plan for vengeance because the severity of his anger towards Claudius -- that is, the strength of is emotions -- prevents him from doing Claudius any favors (Weston, 181). It is also important to keep in mind that Hamlet had other things confusing his emotions at the same time, most importantly his mother. He is not so obsessed with his father's murder that he must hasten to revenge (Lidz 235). He believes (more likely made himself believe) that he can kill his uncle and get the throne at anytime, but more importantly his mother's obliquity will remain with him (Lidz 235).
Hamlet's check on exacting revenge must also take into account how the events that unfolded while he was away at college shattered his dreams so violently. It is likely that in his more carefree days before the action of the play he considered himself a very idealistic person, an almost Renaissance man. Killing his uncle in cold blood would then require him to become a person that he is not. Coleridge says in "Interpreting Hamlet" that "Hamlet is placed in circumstances, under which he is obliged to act on the spur of a moment. Hamlet is brave and careless of death; but he vacillates from sensibility, and procrastinates from thought, and loses the power of action in the energy of resolve." Being a "Renaissance Man" or thinking man of wide and keen intellectual powers, but feeble will, Hamlet's willpower is suffocated by reflection. Coleridge goes on to say that "Hamlet is too complex for this simplistic a blood letting, he needs justice." The question we have to ask ourselves now is if Hamlet was aware that he must leave off considering all sides of the question if he is to act. His intellect forestalls action, while his emotions generally demand it. A curious reversal of this is seen in Hamlet's inability to kill Claudius during he "closet" scene,; according to the Oedipal theory of his emotional behavior, he cannot kill the man who has only done what he himself had wished to do. Hamlet identifies with Claudius and has to punish himself for his guilty wishes rather than take vengeance on his uncle, this is why he can only kill Claudius when he himself is dying and has been punished (Lidz 122). In other words, it is when Hamlet's emotional world makes sense to him that he is able to act as his intellect has suggested but hesitated from.
Hamlet has high hopes and dreams before the play begins, but he sees them killed along with his father. The court is crumbling and extremely corrupt, and worst of all his beloved mother is at the center of it. This wreaks havoc with his mind, as it would any human being. This emotional destruction is increased by osing his mother, and also only other person he loves, Ophelia. He is then faced with the task of avenging the murder of his father, by killing his uncle; but it is not that simple because his uncle is doing the same exact thing that he himself wants to do -- that is, Gertrude. These unfortunate circumstances cause Hamlet to develop strong, emotions of despair, sadness, anger, and ultimately inner peace in the face of death. The strength of his emotions are justified, and also form the backbone of this play.
Babcock, Weston. A Tragedy of Errors. Purdue Research Foundation 1961.
Charlton, Lewis. The Genesis of Hamlet. Kenniket Press, Port Washington, NY 1907.
Elliot, T.S. "Hamlet and His Problems." Sacred Woods. 1920.
Leavenworth, Russel E. Interpreting Hamlet: Materials for analysis Chandler Publishing CO, San Francisco 1960.
Lidz, Theo. "Hamlet's Enemy:…[continue]
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