Hamlet is one of Shakespeares many tragedies. Common themes in these works by Shakespeare are murder and deceit. Hamlet is full of each. The protagonist of the play, Prince Hamlet, is a young man whose father was murdered two months before the beginning of the story. Early on in the play, Hamlet is approached by the ghost of his father explaining to Hamlet that his brother, Claudius, murdered him. Before he returns to purgatory, he asks Hamlet to take revenge on Claudius, who, since the murder has taken the Crown of Denmark and taken Hamlets mother as a wife. Then Hamlet makes a vow that he will avenge his father, but as the play progresses he passes up multiple opportunities to kill Claudius. This begs the question, why does Hamlet delay avenging his fathers murder?
After talking with his fathers ghost, Hamlet could easily grab a sword, approached Claudius and murdered him. Instead, Hamlet chooses to delay. By choosing not to act rashly, Hamlet is able to take a step back from the situation and wait for a better opportunity, one that arises when a group of players come to entertain Hamlet. The actors quickly catch the eye of Hamlet and he gets an idea to use the players to get a read on his suspect. Hamlet asks the players to perform an act that roughly re-enacts how his father was murdered to try and force a reaction out of Claudius. When discussing this plan with his close friend, Horatio, Hamlet reveals the reason why he delayed his revenge. He states, If his occulted guilt/Do not itself unkennel in one speech/It is a damned ghost that we have seen (III.II.73-75). In these lines Hamlet reveals that he has delayed because there has been no proof that the ghost was actually his fathers ghost, and not just a damned ghost (one sent by the devil). In Elizabethan times ghosts were considered incredibly untrustworthy, Society believed that spirits were either good or bad, and that good spirits visiting the earth no longer existed (Cowling1). If Hamlet did not delay, then he could have murdered an innocent man and his attempt at revenge would have been an awful failure. By formulating his plan with the players Hamlet ensures the validity of his revenge and avoids failing in the mission his father gave him.
Hamlets delay ends up paying off. When the players are acting out the murder Claudius storms out of the theater looking incredibly distressed. After discussing the events with Horatio Hamlet concludes that Claudius truly murdered his father. He decides to seek out Claudius to finally avenge his father. When Hamlet finds him praying alone he pulls out his sword, ready to kill, but again he delays. Hamlet says to himself, To take him in the purging of his soul/When he is fit and seasoned for his passage?/No/Up, sword, and know thou a more horrid hent (III.III.86-90). If Hamlet chose to kill Claudius at that moment, while he was confessing his sins, then he would essentially do Claudius a service by giving him free passage to heaven. If he delayed however then he would be able to catch Claudius When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage/Or in th incestuous pleasure of his bed/At a game swearing, or about some act/That has no relish of salvation in t (III.III.90-93). Hamlets Father had no chance to repent for his sins. Hamlet knows this and chooses to delay killing Claudius to wait for a more optimal moment where he can deal more damage to his opponent.
Before Hamlet can rethink a new strategy, he is forced to ship off to England by his Mother and Claudius. Instead of being hasty and attempting to kill Claudius before he leaves, he decides delay and play along with his parents orders. Hamlet does leave for England but manages to return shortly after to deal with Claudius. As Hamlet speaks with Horatio after returning he subtly explains his logic for playing along with Claudius and his attempt to ship him off. After explaining to Horatio how the time is so right for him to take revenge he states, It will be short, the interims mine (V.II.77). Hamlet is saying to Horatio that the revenge is going to come shortly, and that he is going to take the time to prepare. If Hamlet were to have acted rashly and tried to kill Claudius in haste before sailing to England things could have ended poorly. He is aware that he should not rush things for fear of an unwelcome outcome so he delays until the appropriate moment, when the time is optimal.
At the end of the play, Hamlet does end up exacting his revenge. The circumstances were not the best, as Hamlet and his mother die along with Claudius. Despite that, Hamlet fulfills his vow to avenge his father. Now was Hamlets delay right or wrong? That subject remains open to discussion but there is no doubt that Hamlet did delay in search of the optimal moment where his revenge would be most successful.