THE PROBLEM OF DELAY IN HAMLET:
Hamlet’s delays in carrying out the command of the ghost by killing his uncle and itscauses have been the subject of endless controversy among critics. Some modern critics likeT.S Eliot refused to take notice of it. According to them it is certainly an artistic flaw.Others like German critic Hanner and American critic Stoil explain this matter in a verysimple way by saying that if Hamlet had killed the king, the story would have endedsomewhere in Act-II. Shakespeare was therefore forced to delay his revenge. Suppose hehad done so, there would have been no tragedy of Hamlet. Some critics argue that there isno delay at all, every thing that hero does is calculated and deliberate. German criticWerder remarks that Hamlet is intelligent and passive. Passive in the sense that heunderstands the difficulty of his task, he goes to the mark straight in the heart of crime andby no mean slowly.These are, no doubt, two extreme views. When we study the plays we feel that there hasbeen delay on the part of Hamlet. When we say that there is delay, the question arises whatwere the causes? To answer this question, a number of theories have been advanced. Thesetheories can be divided into two groups: External Causes; Internal Causes. Those whobelieve in external causes hold the circumstances responsible for the delay of Hamlet.While those who believe in internal causes are in majority and hold Hamlet responsible forthis delay:
This theory of Hamlet’s delay due to external difficulties was expounded by the Germancritic Werder. The main arguments advanced in favour of this theory are, what wasHamlet to do when ghost had left him with its command of vengeance? The king wassurrounded not merely by courtiers but also by Swiss body guards. How was Hamlet to getat him? Was he able to accuse him for murder publicly? If he did what would happen?How would he prove the charge? All that he had to offer in proof was a ghost story. Others,to be sure, had seen the ghost but no one else had heard its revelations.
If the court ishonest it would vote for Hamlet’s madness or would punish him.It is true that immediately after “The Mouse Trap”, he got a chance. He found the kingdefenseless. But what Hamlet wanted was not a private revenge He wanted a public justicewith the king, so he spared the king. But, on the voyage, he discovered the king’scommandment to the king of England to put him immediately to death. He with this letterin his pocket comes back to Denmark. He had now a solid proof that the king attempted tokill him. This would also provide him a proof for his father’s death but his enemy wasquick enough. This public indictment of his enemy can also go with his own death.Though this story was rejected by the late critics on the plea that no where in the play doesHamlet make the slightest reference to any external difficulty. On the contrary, he hasasserted many times that he can obey the ghost as he says in his mothers closet: “I shall lugthe guts into the neighbour room.”But this theory we can not ignore. Firstly, it is quite probable that when Hamlet wasthinking quite precisely on the event, he was considering other things, the question, howcould he avenge his father without sacrificing his own life. Secondly, he was anxious thathis act of vengeance should not be misconstructed. In the end, he requests his friendHoratio to explain his act .Hamlet says:“Horatio, I am dead,Thou livest, report me and my cause arightTo the unsatisfied.”
When we take internal causes of Hamlet’s delay, we see four important theories.(i) Sentimental theory presented by Goethe.(ii) Weakness of will theory presented by Coleridge.