by: William Shakespeare

Five Key Questions

5) Why doesn’t Hamlet kill Claudius right away?

Hamlet’s delay in killing Claudius represents another of Hamlet’s great mysteries. Hamlet himself offers several reasons throughout the play. At first, he doesn’t want to kill Claudius because he doesn’t feel as angry or determined to act as he thinks he should, referring to himself as “unpregnant of my cause” (II.ii). Later Hamlet wonders whether he can trust the Ghost: “The spirit that I have seen / May be a devil” (III.i.). If the Ghost is a devil rather than the spirit of his father, then the possibility exists that the Ghost aims to manipulate him into committing a sin. Hence he wonders whether the Ghost “abuses me to damn me” (III.i.). In another moment of hesitation in Act Three, Hamlet aborts the killing of Claudius because the man’s praying, and Hamlet worries that his uncle will go to Heaven if he dies while praying. Finally, at the end of the play, Hamlet remains unable to decide whether killing Claudius is morally justifiable, asking himself: “Is ’t not perfect conscience?” (V.ii.). Hamlet consistently reasons his way out of committing violence, suggesting that he is conditioned to be a thinker rather than a man of action.