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Hamlet Essay, Research Paper


Time is out of Joint

William Shakespeare created Prince Hamlet of Denmark to be the epitome of the moral man in the play Hamlet. This flawless morality can be envisioned to act both jointly and independently as a perfection and imperfection of the Prince?s character. This dually unblemished and tainted trait of Hamlet?s is revealed to the reader through the Prince?s concept of time. Contrary to the beliefs of many critics, procrastination is not an attribute of Hamlet?s character; but the time in which it takes Hamlet to act should be more accurately referred to as a necessary delay. There are numerous reasons to explain Hamlet?s ?use? of time, the three most important of which are his intelligent, analytic mind, his righteousness and finally the revenge code. Hamlet uses all these idiosyncrasies as well as his acerbic wit to manipulate all the people around him in an attempt to reach an unattainable goal of a weeded garden. These factors combine to create a compelling uniquely universal man who is uncertain of himself, thus creating indecision and the procession of time.

The intellectual genius of Prince Hamlet can arguably be considered unmatched by any character in all of Shakespeare?s plays. Hamlet?s outstanding astuteness of mind allows him to discern the true nature of the people that would try to deceive him and buy time so that he may exact his revenge against them; there is a myriad of this type of person in the play Hamlet. Were it not for this keen sense surely Hamlet?s downfall would have occurred much earlier in the play; his death would have been imminent upon arrival to England had Hamlet not deciphered the motives of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Hamlet?s insight to note that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are but sponges in the world that soak all that the King offers them in a vain attempt to climb an infinite social ladder. Hamlet?s swiftness and acuteness of intellect made him act quickly in changing the letter to the King of England, once again laying to shame the criticism of Hamlet?s procrastination.

This point is repeated by the considerations of Wylie Sypher, who wrote a work based on the use of time in Shakesperean plays;

The ingenuity of his fabricated letter sending Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to death, for they do not touch his conscience.

(Sypher, 1976,71)

This reflects the complex workings of Hamlet?s mind, since his decision to create this letter was swift and decisive, even though it meant the death of two former friends, once again displaying excellent use of time.

The most remarkable display of Hamlet?s intelligence is no doubt apparent in his antic disposition; allowing him to speak his true feelings to the other characters in the play without offense and gain much needed time. An unparalleled example of the use of his antic disposition occurs during Hamlet?s conversation with Polonius, while Claudius hides behind the arras. Hamlet?s wit is in full effect when he says, ? Excellent well, you are a fishmonger.?, he continues on to refer to Polonius as a useless old man that has an undeniable lack of wit and understanding. Hamlet?s plan of attack worked perfectly, his antic disposition created a state of confusion amongst the other characters allowing Hamlet time to prove the origin of the ghost. Perhaps a greater understanding of this point can be gained by the thoughts of Alfred N. Whitehead;

Intelligence is quickness to apprehend as distinct from ability, which capacity to act wisely on the thing apprehended.

(Fitzhenry, 1993, 239).

This remark almost ideally reflects the state of mind in which Hamlet lives. Hamlet?s intelligence is what grants the reader a deeper understanding of the length of time it takes him to accomplish his goal of honoring his father, King Hamlet.

The moral qualities pertaining to the character of Hamlet are undeniably the most unique part of his personality. Hamlet appears to have a deeply rooted disgust for any thought or action that is immoral, ?for there is nothing good or evil, but thinking makes it so:?, this is the greatest cause for the passage of time before Hamlet attempts to put his revenge into action. The moral question Hamlet is plagued by is whether or not the ghost of his dead father is a good spirit or an evil demon seeking to damn him to hell for all eternity. This form of delay is exemplified by the fact that Laertes character is nearly the precise opposite to that of Hamlet;

To hell, allegiance! Vows, to the blackest devil!

Conscience and grace, to the profoundest pit!

I dare damnation: to this point I stand,

That both worlds I give to negligence,

Let come what comes: only I?ll be reveng?d

Most thoroughly for my father.


Hamlet does have some concepts in common with Laertes, he is dedicated to revenge the death of his father, but the primary characteristics are contrasts. Other characters also create a great contrast with the virtue of Hamlet: the hasty marriage of Claudius and Gertrude, the conniving ways of Polonius, and the crooked betrayal of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The purpose of these disparities is to persuade the reader to comprehend the fact that it is imperative to Hamlet?s moral code for him to wait and prove the validity of the Ghost before committing any murders. A true understanding of the play Hamlet is to grasp the fact that it is an impossibility in the mind of Hamlet to act out the revenge plot before learning the truth about his father?s murder. Hamlet is living by the expression put forth by a very influential man in the plays of Shakespeare, Seneca, he stated that ? Time discovered truth?. If only three words were used as an explanation for Hamlet?s delay, the words of Seneca speak volumes beyond any others.

The revenge code is needed primarily to explain why Hamlet did not avenge King Hamlet during the ?prayer? scene in which Claudius is at his most vulnerable state. Hamlet had the perfect opportunity to slay Claudius while he was on knees with his back turned, however one of the conditions set forth by the Ghost that Claudius should die without repentance.

Now might I do it pat, now a? is a-praying;

And now I?ll do it, and so he goes to heaven,

And so am I reveng?d. That would be scann?d;

A villain kills my father, and for that,

I, his sole son, do this same villain send

To heaven.

O, this is hire salary, not revenge.


Hamlet believed that Claudius was praying to God to forgive all of his sins and therefore if killed would be sent to heaven. Hamlet wanted justice for his murdered father and killing Claudius during prayer would not be exact justice and thus he is forced to delay until he is certain that his uncle is in sin when he dies. It is very important to Hamlet that both the revenge and the justice for his father fit together, it is further explained by C.F. Sisson, who writes about justice in Hamlet;

It is customary to describe Hamlet as a Revenge-Tragedy. It is less frequently realized how closely vengeance and justice are allied in men?s thoughts, though Bacon?s definition of revenge as ?wild justice? is now proverbial.

(Sisson, 1963, 58)

To combine both of these factors jointly takes a great deal of time and effort both of which Hamlet is more than willing to do and the reason for which he is accused of procrastinating before killing Claudius. Once again the contrast with Laertes is apparent when his father is killed he instinctively his ready for bloodshed, contrary to the actions and scheming of Hamlet which take time and lead to his tragic downfall. The revenge code introduced by Hamlet is conceivably the most misunderstood aspect of this play, it can be used to explain the majority of Hamlet?s delays and dispute most arguments from critics about procrastination.

Hamlet?s perfect and imperfect means of acting and thinking create a scenario where, ?The time is out of joint; O cursed spite, That ever I was born to set it right!?, this statement is a mindset of a morally determined man. In fact, Hamlet pays the ultimate price for his dedication to his morals, his death is the direct result of his delay, that must be regarded after examining all the factors as essential. After all, time runs at a different rate for each and every person according to their needs, perhaps Hamlet?s excellence creates a situation whereby time is not even considered.


Fitzhenry, R.I. The Fitzhenry & Whiteside Book of Quotations. Markham: Fitzhenry and Whiteside Ltd, 1993.

Sisson, C.F. Shakespeare?s Tragic Justice. London: Methuen & Co Ltd, 1963.

Sypher,W. The Ethic of Time. New York: The Seabury Press, 1976.


Time is out of Joint


Mr. Cummings

March 26, 2000


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