Hamlet is already grief-stricken by his father’s sudden death and reeling from his mother's quick remarriage to his uncle Claudius when he learns how his father truly died. The ghost of Hamlet 's father reveals that it was Claudius who killed him and urges his son to take revenge by...
Hamlet is already grief-stricken by his father’s sudden death and reeling from his mother's quick remarriage to his uncle Claudius when he learns how his father truly died. The ghost of Hamlet's father reveals that it was Claudius who killed him and urges his son to take revenge by killing Claudius. Once given this task, Hamlet does procrastinate in the sense that he delays and hesitates before killing Claudius. However, he doesn't put off his revenge because he's lazy or because he doesn't care; instead, it seems that Hamlet is prevented from acting because cares almost too much.
After hearing from the supposed ghost of his father, Hamlet wants to investigate to make sure that the ghost isn't leading him astray. Horatio brings up the possibility that the spirit might not be his father’s ghost and that it could be some evil spirit trying to harm Hamlet. In order to make sure his uncle is guilty, Hamlet decides to act mad so that he can snoop on Claudius without raising suspicion. This takes a while because Hamlet doesn’t really have a good plan for uncovering Claudius's guilt at the start. Eventually, though, inspiration strikes him when an acting troupe comes to Elsinore, and Hamlet crafts a plan that reveals Claudius did murder his father.
Once he has evidence of Claudius’s guilt, however, Hamlet still hesitates to kill him. He comes across Claudius alone at prayer but reasons that killing him now might send his soul to heaven, a fate he doesn't deserve. Hamlet berates himself for not acting more quickly, but seems to be unable to stop overthinking everything enough to actually do the deed. Soon, Hamlet's mental state starts to deteriorate, setting off a chain of events that take him away from his quest: Hamlet kills Polonius and is sent to England, Ophelia dies, Laertes returns to court and challenges Hamlet, and so on. After all this, Hamlet does finally kill Claudius in the play's final scene, though he only does so after learning that the king has killed his mother and that he, himself, has only has a few moments to live.
While one could certainly argue that Hamlet had logical and perfectly rational reasons to put off killing Claudius, it's also possible to argue that Hamlet was paralyzed by his tendency to contemplate and overanalyze his every move. Given the number of deaths that occur in the second half of the play, it's interesting to consider how many lives might have been saved had Hamlet not hesitated so long to take just one.