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Shakespeare’s Hamlet – Indecision within Hamlet

The Hesitation/ Indecision within Hamlet

Hamlet, the hero in Shakespeare’s dramatic tragedy of the same name, goes to great lengths to establish the absolute guilt of King Claudius – and then appears to blow it all. He hesitates at the prayer scene when the king could easily be dispatched. Let’s discuss this problem of hesitation or indecision on the part of the protagonist.

In “Acts III and IV: Problems of Text and Staging” Ruth Nevo explains how the protagonist is “confounded” in both the prayer scene and the closet scene:

In the prayer scene and the closet scene his [Hamlet’s] devices are overthrown. His mastery is confounded by the inherent liability of human reason to jump to conclusions, to fail to distinguish seeming from being. He, of all people, is trapped in the fatal deceptive maze of appearances that is the phenomenal world. Never perhaps has the mind’s finitude been better dramatized than in the prayer scene and in the closet scene. Another motto of the Player King is marvelously fulfilled in the nexus of ironies which constitutes the plays peripateia: “Our thoughts are ours, their ends none of our own.” In the sequence of events following Hamlet’s elation at the success of the Mousetrap, and culminating in the death of Polonius, all things are the opposite of what they seem, and action achieves the reverse of what was intended. Here in the play’s peripeteia is enacted Hamlet’s fatal error, his fatal misjudgment, which constitutes the crisis of the action, and is the directly precipitating cause of his own death, seven other deaths, and Ophelia’s madness. (52)

David Bevington, in the Introduction to Twentieth Century Interpretations of Hamlet, eliminates some possible reasons …

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…ilm, Television and Audio Performance. Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson Univ. P., 1988.

Levin, Harry. General Introduction. The Riverside Shakespeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1974.

Nevo, Ruth. “Acts III and IV: Problems of Text and Staging.” Modern Critical Interpretations: Hamlet. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986. Rpt. from Tragic Form in Shakespeare. N.p.: Princeton University Press, 1972.

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 1995.

West, Rebecca. “A Court and World Infected by the Disease of Corruption.” Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. from The Court and the Castle. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1957.

Relinquishment of Free Will in The Birthmark and Carnal Knowledge

In literature it is common to find main characters that display unusual strength or might. Rarely are major literary characters (with the exception of villains) weak figures. Authors typically create strong roles for their protagonists. This is not the case, however, in the short stories “Carnal Knowledge” by T. Coraghessan Boyle and “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The narrator of “Carnal Knowledge,” Jim, and one main character in “The Birthmark,” Georgiana, have few outward similarities. They are both slaves by choice, though, willing to ignore their own desires and submerge themselves in another person’s will.

On the surface, “The Birthmark” and “Carnal Knowledge” have little in common. One is the story of a man taken in by a young girl’s passion for animal rights, the other is the story of a mad scientist whose obsession for perfection results in the death of his wife. Jim and Georgiana are drastically different characters. He is the typical “ordinary guy” who has a boring job and a mediocre social life. He is just waiting for someone to come along and spice things up. Georgiana is a young beauty and a devoted wife. Neither of them are particularly extraordinary, and they are not related in any obvious way.

Despite the major exterior differences, however, there is a strong correlation between the characters of Jim and Georgiana. Both are relatively weak people who allow another person to direct, dominate, and exploit them. In both cases this willingness to submit to a will other than their own is based on some incarnation of love or lust. Jim is immediately attracted to Alena, and that attraction grows into an addiction to the exciting life she leads. In the midst of his narrative he reflects on his feelin…

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…Knowledge” are entirely dissimilar stories, the connections between the characters in them and the situations they find themselves due to their mutual frailty are unmistakable. Jim and Georgiana both allow another person to control them, and they justify that choice with emotional devotion. Both stories describe how this voluntary relinquishment of free will results in misfortune and unhappiness. The use of weak characters in major roles allows the authors to illustrate the dangers of putting oneself in such a position.


Boyle, T. Coraghessan. “Carnal Knowledge.” The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature. Ed. Michael Meyer. 5th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000. 242-255.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “The Birthmark.” The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature. Ed. Michael Meyer. 5th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000. 277-288.

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