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Hamlet Essay, Research Paper
The Inanition of Hamlet
William Shakespeare s Hamlet, is one of the best known tragedies in literature.
Hamlet, is charged by the spirit of his father to avenge his wrongful death. Previously
unaware of any foul play in the death of King Hamlet, Hamlet becomes suspicious for the
ghost said that the serpent that did sting thy father s life/ Now wears his crown. (Act I
sc.v 46-7) He must now take revenge on his uncle Claudius to let the disturbed spirit rest
in peace. It would seem to most people that this is a rather simple task to execute, but it
proves to be the single most difficult thing for Hamlet to do in the play. His inanition in
murdering Claudius stems from his great cowardice.
Many people believe that the main reason that Hamlet takes so long to kill
Claudius is that he is constantly contemplating his morals. Samuel Taylor Coleridge
would have you believe that the reason for the inaction is caused by endless reasoning
and hesitating- constant urging and solicitation of the mind to act, and constant escape
from action. Here we have poor young Hamlet, mourning the death of his father and
now must kill his uncle. His conscience is preventing him from taking any action to send
Claudius to his maker. Coleridge would also like the reader to feel that Hamlet was not a
coward. His reasoning is that for Hamlet is drawn as one of the bravest of his time.
Agreeing with his statement would show that the reader did not pay close attention to
Hamlet s soliloquies.
In his rogue and peasant slave soliloquy he mentions so plainly that even an
uneducated man could see that Hamlet is a coward for he admits it. Throughout the
soliloquy he refers to himself as many repugnant things, such as a John-a-dreams, a
muddy-mettled rascal, and a pidgeon-livered person lacking gall. How, one can look at
Hamlet s famous soliloquoy and get the message that Hamlet is not a coward. He goes so
far as to say that he is unpregnant of his cause. This quote clearly states that he is
feeling quite impotent about carrying out his bidding. No where once, does he mention
that he cannot fulfill the charge given to him in the soliloquoy due to his mental state of
mind. There is nothing preventing him from killing Claudius, other than the fact that he is
fearful of the consequences that would follow his actions. In the soliloquoy How all
occasions do inform against me (Act IV sc.v) Hamlet only vaguely mentions any idea of
thinking. He states Now whether it be/ Bestial oblivion or some craven scruple/ Of
thinking too precisely on th event (41-3), sending the image of a man pondering his
current state and weighing different options to the unwary reader. A person, like
Coleridge, will be lulled into believing this statement without acknowledging the following
lines A thought which, quartered, hath but one part wisdom/ And ever three parts
coward (44-6) Here once again Coleridge s ever prevalent thought that Hamlet is not a
coward is disproved by none other than Hamlet himself. In this statement he is saying that
the main reason for his inaction is due to his thinking, but his thinking is due to his
Another person that was caught in Shakespeare s trap of making people believe
that Hamlet was thinking heavily about his moral code instead of killing Claudius is
William Richardson. He firmly thinks that the strongest feature in the mind of Hamlet,
as exhibited in the tragedy, is an exquisite sense of moral conduct. Doubting the ghost s
revelation, he becomes inactive for a while. He was not totally sure that Claudius was
guilty of the crime, so he arranged sixteen lines to be said in the play, The Murder of
Gonzago. Upon observing Claudius reaction tot he play, Hamlet is convinced that he is
guilty of murder. Now he must act and destroy his uncle.
Hamlet s actions to be sure of Claudius guilt stem from one basic thing; fear.
Fearing damnation causes him to think that the ghost may have been the devil and he most
have some evidence for him to continue his vengeance. He was quite certain that Claudius
had murdered his father by then, but wanted an escape from completing his charge, so he
devised the lines in the play as a trap for his uncle. Upon noticing that Claudius is guilty,
Hamlet must now find a new was to delay his revenge. His next opportunity for
vengeance is after the play when he sees Claudius in the chapel praying at the altar. He
does not seize this opportunity that is knocking ever so loudly, for he says that he does not
want to send Claudius to heaven, but rather to hell. Hamlet knows that the soul of
Claudius is damned, due to his heinous actions, but makes up yet another excuse to not
kill him. Hamlet is afraid of the repercussions of his actions if he kills the king in the
chapel. He will most certainly be executed for his actions, and this is what he is most
afraid of. He is like most men, afraid of death. Coleridge mentions that he is one of the
bravest men in the land, but when it comes time for the jousting match between Hamlet
and Laertes, Hamlet states that it has been quite a long time since he has used the sword.
This would show that he has not been in battle lately, making it that he has not been
cowardly lately, but more importantly, that he has not been brave lately.
I must pose one question about the writing of William Richardson, who praises
Hamlet s exquisite sense of moral conduct . On the ship to England, Hamlet reads a
letter from Claudius requesting the termination of Hamlet upon arrival. He proceeds to
forge a new letter and sentences the messengers, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to death
upon their arrival to England. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were Hamlet s closest
friends as a kid. They were still very close, and were sent, under the king s order, to
accompany Hamlet on the voyage. Hamlet s actions here must been forgotten if we are to
think of him as having an exquisite sense of moral conduct . He has done anything but
been true to a sense of moral conduct, for he ordered the death of his friends. He did not
need to have them killed, but he did. If these are the actions of a person with an exquisite
sense of moral conduct , then I would wish to never make the acquaintance of any person
with such morality.
As always, there is a person that hits the nail right on the head. This person is
A.C. Bradley. He is a brilliant writer that pondered the seemingly logical statements and
views of Hamlet and felt it as his calling to debunk most of them. To anybody that skims
Hamlet, the views that he bashes seem to be the exact sentiments that the reader had. If
the reader decided to look deeper into the play, he would notice that there are many
nuances that, when put together, debunk the views almost by themselves. Bradley writes
that Hamlet, it is impossible to deny… that he ought to avenge his father. Even when he
doubts the honesty of the Ghost, he expresses no doubt as to what his duty will be if the
Ghost turns out to be honest. This point is of extreme importance to understanding the
character of Hamlet. Most of the other writers will be satisfied to say that Hamlet doubts
because of his morals, and then does not want to continue with his charge, but this is not
true. In the soliloquies where he reflects upon his position, he reproaches himself bitterly
for the neglect of his duty…. he never mentions among them a moral scruple. This is the
most salient fact that the other writers missed completely.
In his two main soliloquies, Hamlet scolds himself for his inanition. He cannot
seem to go through with the charge set before him. He is too fearful of the consequences
of his actions and not of morality in any sense. He is physically capable of avenging the
death of his father, but he cannot stomach it. Being a complete coward, in every sense of
the word, causes the inanition of Hamlet.
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