There are several theories about why Hamlet, the main character of Shakespeare’s masterpiece, Hamlet, delays in killing his Uncle, King Claudius. As the son of a murdered noble, Hamlet is obligated to avenge the death of his father. However, the act is never performed until the end of the play… quite some time after Hamlet discovered Claudius was his father’s killer. Some historians and literary experts would say Hamlet’s strong religious bonds prevented him from performing the sinful deed. Others would have it that Hamlet was a melancholic and therefore was too intellectual to kill his uncle. Infamous psychologist, Sigmund Freud, felt Hamlet suffered from an Oedipal complex and could not kill Claudius because he himself wished to be in Claudius’ place.
Hamlet delays in killing Claudius not only because he’s suffering from an Oedipal complex but also because he is far too sane or practical to commit an act of murder. In other words, basic sanity keeps him from killing Claudius. In society we are taught that those who commit murder are sick or insane. However, Hamlet’s society believes the son of a murdered noble is responsible for avenging his father.
When the ghost of King Hamlet appears and tells his son Claudius killed him by pouring poison in his ear, Hamlet does not act upon the word of the specter. He takes time to think about what the apparition told him. He contemplates whether it is a good ghost or a bad ghost. He plans things out; analyses situations. When the actors came to town, Hamlet implores one of them, “Dost thou hear me old friend? Can you play The Murder of Gonzago?” (88) The player agrees that he can indeed perform the play. “We’ll ha’t tomorrow night. You could for a need study a speech of some dozen or sixteen lines which I could set down and insert in’t, could you not.” (88)
Here Hamlet has devised a scheme to discover whether his Uncle truly murdered his father. The play which Hamlet wishes to be performed is one involving a murder similar to that which the ghost described. “The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.” (90) Hamlet ‘s famous quote means he will study Claudius while the play is being performed. Should the King’s manor change in accordance with the play, Hamlet will know the ghost’s story is true through his well thought out scheme.
Another example of Hamlet’s cleverness is displayed when he switches the notes unbeknownst to Guildenstern and Rosencrantz. Claudius, realizing Hamlet is pontentially dangerous, sends him away to England. The King also writes a letter which he entrusts to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The letter is addressed to the King of England and asks him to see that Hamlet is killed. The trio boards a ship on the voyage to Britain and Hamlet switches the note with one which orders the execution of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Unfortunately, there is not proof of this in the text. The movie, however, does show Hamlet’s stealthy maneuver and lends support to the idea that Hamlet is a melancholic.
The other theory I can believe is Sigmund Freud’s. Freud published a paper on Hamlet suffering from an Oedipal complex. An Oedipal complex is a theory Freud developed from Sophicles’ play, Oedipus Rex.. When a boy does not lose his “lust” (for lack of a better word) for his mother past a certain age, that individual suffers from an Oedipal complex. This is best proven at the end of the play. In the final scene, Queen Gertrude drinks poison and Hamlet kills Laertes. Now, Hamlet’s mother has died and it so happens that this is the time when Hamlet chooses to dispose of the traitorous King Claudius. Hamlet was in love with his mother and when she died, it was as though he didn’t have much left to live for. He lost his sanity much the way William Wallace did in Braveheart. After Wallace’s wife died, a peace loving man was turned into a vicious warrior. It was as if Hamlet’s Oedipal complex came to an abrupt halt. No mother; no secret passion. He delayed in killing Claudius because he could understand to a point why Claudius wanted King Hamlet out of the way. For Hamlet too had wished on more than one occasion that he could have his mother for himself. He also may have not wanted to emotionally hurt his mother by killing Claudius.
Hamlet is an intriguing story… and an intriguing character. I understand now why Hamlet is perceived as one of the most complex literary characters of all time. Why does Hamlet put off avenging his father’s death for so many months? He’s a melancholic and he suffers from a severe Oedipal complex.