Does Hamlet procrastinate?  Provide references from the play.

Expert Answers
Doug Stuva eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Whether you view Hamlet as procrastinating or not in Shakespeare's Hamlet is a matter of interpretation.  Why Hamlet waits is an issue that has been thoroughly treated by scholars and critics.

Hamlet finds out in Act I that Claudius murdered King Hamlet, and the Ghost orders Hamlet to avenge his father and kill Claudius.  This doesn't happen until Act 5.  On the surface, at least, Hamlet procrastinates.  This may be a simplistic interpretation, but it certainly can be argued.

Numerous reasons exist, however, for Hamlet to wait:  he is unsure of the identity of the Ghost (it could be a devil in disguise), he suffers from melancholy (depression), Claudius is well-guarded, Hamlet is too moral to do something so drastic as kill a king in an age that believes in the divine right of kings, Hamlet believes that Claudius must be exposed so that all know his guilt before he kills him, Hamlet is a thinker rather than a doer, Hamlet must thoroughly think out every possible angle before deciding any action, Hamlet doesn't want to kill Claudius while he is confessing and thereby send him to heaven, etc.

And the above is only the beginning.  The issue really becomes complicated when you try to determine when Hamlet is speaking with total honesty and when he is playing a role, or posing an argument.  Hamlet's mind is so fertile that this isn't easy to do.  Also, some of the specific reasons Hamlet takes so long to avenge his father that I've mentioned above, may be procrastination.  Plus, though some of the reasons may not be directly related to procrastination, it is possible that they are excuses, because Hamlet is procrastinating.  For example, some have suggested that the reason Hamlet doesn't kill Claudius at prayer isn't really because he doesn't want to send Claudius to heaven.  That's what he tells himself and that's what the audience hears, but that may be just an excuse for him not to do it when the opportunity is there. 

In other words, there's no clear answer for you.  There is only interpretation. 

That said, if you need something concrete, a short answer might be:

No, Hamlet does not procrastinate.  He has good reasons for waiting as long as he does to kill Claudius.  He follows the following steps:

  1. He is told of the murder of his father.
  2. He wisely questions the identity of the Ghost--Macbeth in another famous Shakespeare tragedy could have benefited from some healthy scepticism like this.
  3. He finds out Claudius is definitely guilty by using the play within the play.
  4. He is now willing to kill (he doesn't hesitate to kill Polonius, thinking it is Claudius), but decides not to do so, because he doesn't want to send Claudius to heaven.
  5. He is then sent away to England, escapes, and kills Claudius the first real chance he has.

Thus, there is no procrastination, only an intelligent human making sure of the facts before he does something drastic.  But you could argue a dozen other interpretations, as well.

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