the delay"the question of the delay in hamlet"
Hamlet clearly recognizes the cause of his delay in action and he explains it very clearly in the "To be or not to be" soliloquy. When he ponders why people don't just kill themselves rather than suffer through the misery of life, he concludes with the idea that "conscience makes cowards of us all." This would indicate that part of his delay comes from his innate sense of morality. He doesn't (and we don't) act because we are inclined to do the right, just, moral thing. He then goes on and says that "the native hue of resolution is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought." This is a more general statement, but it certainly holds as much truth: humans have great plans and motivations, but frequently, our nature as rational, thinking beings, slows us down. We don't act merely on impulsive instinct -- and this is usually a good thing! It keeps us out of trouble. Most of Hamlet's actions and inactions, can be traced back to these two statements from the middle of the play.
Something that we might consider is that Hamlet's delay-this apparent lack of action was the action he chose to take. This was his action. He then spent a significant portion of the play trying to talk himself into taking a more permanent, serious plan of action. Was it fear of the final fatalistic choice, or was it Hamlet's last vestige of rational thinking. A scholar, such as Hamlet, would not have been one to rush blindly and emotionally into a rash action.
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This along with duality are two of the more interesting thematic elements in the play. In contrast to our more bestial nature, delay is a peculiarly human quality borne on the pale cast of thought. Shakespeare will show this in the plot for example in the opening line of 1.3, Laertes says farewell to Ophelia but spends half the scene lecturing Ophelia until Polonius appears and hurries Laertes on his way. Or at the first part of 5.2 after Osric departs the scene, Claudius sends in a lord to see what is keeping Hamlet so long.
Another interesting delay device is introduced into "The Murder of Gonzago." At the height of the Mousetrap, Lucianus enters the inner stage which prompts the introduction by Hamlet, "This is one Lucianus nephew to the King." Shakespeare then sidetracks us to the outer stage where Hamlet and Ophelia continue their verbal fencing. Of course, Lucianus can't start his lines and move on to his murderous mission with dispatch. Convention has Lucianus (forced into delay by his playwright, Hamlet) making faces of evil intent, only to have Hamlet yell at him to get on with it. "Begin murderer..." No doubt Shakespeare is fully aware of the outer audience saying the same thing to Hamlet. Or how about Pyrrhus' "pause" that finds further expression through Shakespeare's comment on the weather of all things.
Of course there are the more obvious delays of Hamlet and Laertes' respective revenge and Claudius' delay in sending Hamlet to England.