why does hamlet decline to take action against Claudius in III.iii?

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lsumner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hamlet declines to take action against his Uncle Claudius in Act III, Scene iii. Hamlet sees Claudius praying:

O, my offense is rotten. It smells to heaven,
It has the oldest, basic curse on it,
A brother's murder! I can’t pray,
Though my desire to is as sharp as my will.
My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent,
And, like a man bound to double business,
I can’t decide where I should begin.
And both get neglected. What if this cursed hand
Were thicker than itself with my brother's blood,
Isn’t there enough rain in the sweet heavens
To wash it as white as snow?

On bended knee, Claudius seeks forgiveness for the sin he has committed against his brother King Hamlet. When young Hamlet sees Claudius praying, he decides not to kill him then and there. Hamlet fears that Claudius will die and go straight to heaven:

Now might I do it just like that, now that he is praying,
And now I’ll do it, and so he goes to heaven,
And so am I revenged. I must think about that.
A villain kills my father, and for that,
I, his sole son, do this same villain send
To heaven.

Hamlet is in a dilemma. he cannot kill Claudius now. Hamlet decides to wait until Claudius is drunk or in a rage so he will go to hell upon his death.