Why Hamlet Delays His Revenge

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This is Hamlet's first long soliloquy chiding himself for his delay in wreaking vengeance. The reason for the delay is of utmost importance because the meaning of the play revolves around it. It is therefore crucial to study it closely. The reason for Hamlet's delay has haunted critics for four centuries. Different authors have presented differing reasons for the delay, which, in itself, raises another question concerning this puzzling aspect of the play: Why does Shakespeare give so much prominence to the delay without clearly presenting the reason for it? The answer helps point us toward Shakespeare's own reason for Hamlet's delay. We must keep two things in mind. First, Shakespeare makes it clear that Hamlet is acutely aware of a delay. Second, Shakespeare also makes it clear that Hamlet himself is not sure why he delays. There is no need for Shakespeare to emphasize these two things unless he is making a point. What is that point? Let us first look at some of the more prominent reasons on offer for Hamlet's delay. One solution claims that there is actually no delay on Hamlet's part, or that any delay is due to external difficulties. The truth is that we might not have noticed the delay if Hamlet himself had not brought it to our attention. Shakespeare stresses the point that Hamlet is delaying. Thus, it is meaningless to argue that Hamlet is not responsible for the delay when Shakespeare clearly wants us to see that he is. In the eighteenth century, critics suggested that the delay is a necessary plot device to extend the action. However, this suggestion does not fit the facts, since there would then be no reason for Shakespeare to make the delay so conspicuous by having Hamlet bemoan it over two long soliloquies. At the end of the eighteenth century, Goethe proposed that Shakespeare means, in Hamlet, to "represent the effects of a great action laid

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