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Hamlet?s Flaw: The Central Question of the Play? If the main question of the
play is ?Why doesn’t Hamlet kill Claudius at once upon hearing the ghost’s
accusation?? The easiest answer is that if Hamlet had done so, the play would
have ended in Act I. And then "Hamlet, Prince of Denmark" would be a
tragedy of plot writing skills. If we must find ourselves looking for an answer
to the central theme, a long analytical expedition is in order In his 1904 work
"Shakespearean Tragedy," *A. C. Bradley describes "Hamlet"
as a play which includes eight violent deaths, adultery, a ghost, a mad woman,
and a fight in a grave. Here are all the ingredients of a horror story. Bradley
then asks the question, "But why in the world did not Hamlet obey the ghost
at once, and so save seven of those eight lives?" The answer to this
question lies not in the fact that had Hamlet done so the play would have ended
in the first act. The answer lies in the character of Hamlet. Precisely, what is
it that delays Hamlet from acting on his father’s ghost’s command? Let’s look at
some typical views. Is it the fact that at that moment Claudius is surrounded by
courtiers and his Swiss guard? No, for throughout the play Hamlet never refers
to any external trouble in drawing near and killing Claudius. Hamlet states in
Act IV, scene 4 that he has "…cause and will and strength and means To
do’t.? Does Hamlet want to bring Claudius to civil justice? Again, no. Hamlet
organizes the play within the play not to persuade others of Claudius’s guilt,
but to convince himself: "if ‘a do blench, I know my course." (Act II,
scene 2). Throughout the play, Hamlet never talks of public justice. He talks
instead of violent death: "To quit him with this arm?" (Act 5, scene
2) Hamlet’s mission and his purpose is to kill his uncle, not to bring him to
the bar of justice. Would slaying Claudius trouble Hamlet’s conscience? Not at
all. Hamlet may question the integrity of the ghost however, he never questions
his course if the ghost is real. On the contrary, Hamlet blames himself for not
acting quickly: "O what a rogue and peasant slave am I!" (Act 2, scene
2) and "How all occasions do inform against me," (Act 4, scene 4).
Does Hamlet lack courage? Apparently not. Hamlet rarely misses a chance to
insult the king. Hearing a noise behind the arras in his mother’s bedroom he
whips out his sword and thrusts, unhesitatingly through the curtain. He sends
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to their deaths without a second thought. When his
ship is attacked by pirates, Hamlet is the first to board the pirate ship. He
fights with Laertes in Ophelia’s grave, duels with Laertes, and, dying himself,
runs the king through completing his mission. Does Hamlet simply substitute
thought for action? As we have seen, Hamlet is a man of action. Why, then does
he not act promptly in executing his father’s ghost’s command? A.C. Bradley
offers this explanation: ?Hamlet has received a violent shock to his moral
being. Hamlet adored his father; that father has met an untimely death.? ?So
excellent a king,? (Act I, scene 2) His mother has shown what to Hamlet is a
despicable nature-marrying almost immediately following Hamlet’s father’s death:
?O God, a beast that wants discourse of reason would have mourned longer.?
(Act I, scene 2) and has married a man Hamlet finds utterly hateful and
contemptible: ?My father’s brother, but no more like my father than I to
Hercules.? (Act I, scene 2) Finally, there is the loss of the crown
"Popped in between th’ election and my hopes," (Act V, scene 2).
These, especially the disclosure of his mother’s weak nature, poisons Hamlet’s
mind and impregnates in Hamlet a despair of human nature. To Hamlet, life is
?. . .an unweeded garden That grows to seed, things rank and gross in nature
possess it merely.? (Act I, scene 2) Thus weakened, Hamlet is unable to act on
his father’s ghost’s command. So after all is said and done I wonder if we have
truly found the answer we were looking for or is it simply put as this: ?The
central question of the play is, a question without an answer if one is seeking
the answer within the play. Shakespeare was supposed to supply us with an
answer, or at least with a reason why there is no answer. He offers us neither.
Instead, this most famed of Shakespeare’s plays offers us a literary mystery
which has taken the attention of all who have come into contact with it. T.S.
Eliot has called ?Hamlet? the "’Mona Lisa’ of literature." Like
the painting, the play smiles at us from a distance but refuses to be formulated
or simply understood; everything about it is problematic, not only the events of
the drama itself, but also the proper context and tradition in which to consider
them. And for those who persist in analyzing the plot of the drama, or Hamlet’s
psychology, or both in order to explain this particular mystery, I suggest
letting the beauty of the poetry, the richness of the story and the brilliance
of the author encompass your soul and enjoy it for what it?s worth.
A. C. Bradley, "Shakespeare’s Tragic Period-Hamlet," Shakespearean
Tragedy, MacMillan and Company Limited, 1904, pp. 70-101
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