I'm really stuck on my essay. It's about why Hamlet did not kill Claudius when he was praying. My reasons are because of his morals, because he was a coward, and he wasn't sure if his fathers ghost was being honest. I have the first point covered but I'm stuck on the second two.?
Another thing to consider is what Hamlet tells us himself. He reveals to the audience that he does not want to kill Claudius when his conscience is clean through prayer and confession. Hamlet’s father was not given that consideration, so Hamlet was not going to afford that benefit to Claudius.
You may wish to consult the question and answer Group of Hamlet as there are some very worthy answers to this question in this section. For one thing, Hamlet does not kill Claudius as he prays for fear that by murdering Claudius, Claudius may go to heaven as a martyr. Also, Hamlet is somewhat superstitious as are many other Catholics. They dare not do something sacriligeous in a chapel, etc. Salvation of man is God's business. Hamlet only wishes to make the salvation of the state his business. About this he procrastinates, but he knows that the ghost was honest after he overhears Claudius's confession. Nor does he not act out of pusillanimity, for he jabs immediately at the curtain that hides Polonius when he talks with his mother to whom he also displays no signs of weakness. When he finally conquers his depression after seeing himself in contrast to his foil, Fortinbras, Hamlet acts and rises to be truly Prince of Denmark and fight the corruption of the Danish court in Act V.
Most certainly Claudius did not see Hamlet when he tried to pray and was not aware of his presence.
The stage direction at the beginning of Act III Sc.3 reads, "A Room in the Castle." The scene does not take place in any chapel.
After an intense struggle within himself as expressed by Claudius in his tortuous soliloquy, he kneels down to pray, and the stage direction reads, "Retires and kneels, Enter Hamlet."
Hamlet on seeing Claudius all alone and without his body guards, straightaway draws his sword to kill him but decides against it reasoning within himself that he will only be doing Claudius a favor by sending him to heaven:
If Claudius had seen Hamlet with a drawn sword ready to assassinate him he would have either defended himself by drawing his own sword or he would have called for his body guards. That he didn't do so clearly indicates that Claudius was oblivious to Hamlet's presence.
The incident is a classic example of 'dramatic irony' because only the audience knows that Claudius has not confessed his crimes and received the grace of salvation from the Lord Jesus Christ. If Hamlet had killed Claudius at this juncture Claudius would certainly have gone to hell, but unfortunately Hamlet thinks that Claudius is praying for the salvation of his soul and that if he kills him now he will actually be doing Claudius a favor by sending him to heaven! Hamlet has lost yet another opportunity to avenge his father's murder.