In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Hamlet’s tragic flaw is his procrastination. From the first time Hamlet was acted until now, critics have fought over the reason for Hamlet’s procrastination. Some say that the cause is due to Sigmund Freud’s theory that Hamlet has an “Oedipal Complex,” which is his love for his mother. Others argue that he just never finds the right time to carry out the revenge of his father’s murder. The Oedipal Complex theory in regard to Hamlet’s situation seems more likely because of the amount of times Hamlet has to kill Claudius but always fins a reason not to kill him. If it is not the case, then the cause of the procrastination remains a mystery. There is no reason for Hamlet not to kill Claudius, whom he hates, and was ordered by a higher power to destroy, other than the fact that subconsciously, Hamlet needed Claudius to keep him away from his mother.
Hamlet procrastinated only because of his fear of intimacy with his mother, knowing that Claudius was the only person separating he and Gertrude. Although Hamlet has a pious duty to avenge his father’s murder, his desire for his mother is too strong for him to leave an open pathway to her. He tries to find excuses to postpone his killing Claudius. First, he tries to discover whether or not Claudius really did kill King Hamlet, which gives him some time. After he has convinced himself that Claudius is to blame, he attempts to murder him just twice. The first time, he finds Claudius praying, and uses that as a scapegoat so he can again put off his pious duty. Later when he is alone with Gertrude, he thinks that Claudius is behind the curtains, and kills the man there. Unfortunately, Polonius becomes the victim of Hamlet’s dagger.
The only time when Hamlet does not hesitate to carry out his pious duty is when he is in the bedroom with Gertrude. Unfortunately by mere coincidence, Polonius is the man behind the bedroom curtain, not Claudius. Hamlet stabs Polonius instinctively because he is where he truly desires to be, with his mother. This is the only time when Hamlet actually has the courage to try to kill Claudius, thus opening the path to Gertrude. All of the other times in the play, Hamlet is either alone or with people who he needs to hide his desire from.
Madness and Insanity in Shakespeare’s Hamlet – Insanity in Hamlet
Insanity in Hamlet
A consideration of the madness of the hero Hamlet within the Shakespearean drama of the same name, shows that his feigned madness sometimes borders on real madness, but probably only coincidentally.
Hamlet’s conversation with Claudius is insane to the latter. Lawrence Danson in “Tragic Alphabet” describes how Hamlet’s use of the syllogism is pure madness to the king:
What Hamlet shows by his use of the syllogism is that nothing secure can rest on the falsehood that masquerades as the royal order of Denmark.
From Claudius’s point of view, however, the syllogism is simply mad: its logic is part of Hamlet’s “antic disposition.” Sane men know, after all, that “man and wife is one flesh” only in a metaphoric or symbolic sense; they know that only a madman would look for literal truth in linguistic conventions. And Claudius is right that such “madness in great ones must not unwatched go” (III.i.end). For the madman, precisely because he does not accept society’s compromises and because he explores its conventions for meanings they cannot bear, exposes the flaws which “normal” society keeps hidden (70).
Phyllis Abrahms and Alan Brody in “Hamlet and the Elizabethan Revenge Tragedy Formula” consider the madness of the hero to be completely feigned and not real:
Hamlet is a masterpiece not because it conforms to a set of conventions but because it takes those conventions and transmutes them into the pure gold of vital, relevant meaning. Hamlet’s feigned madness, for instance, becomes the touchstone for an illumination of the mysterious nature of sanity itself (44-45).
Hamlet’s first words in the play say that Claudius is “A little more than kin and less …
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Foakes, R.A.. “The Play’s Courtly Setting.” Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. of “Hamlet and the Court of Elsinore.” Shakespeare Survey: An Annual Survey of Shakespearean Study and Production. No. 9. Ed. Allardyce Nicoll. Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1956.
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 1995. http://www.chemicool.com/Shakespeare/hamlet/full.html No line nos.