William Shakespeare’s Hamlet: Why Hamlet Hesitated to Kill Claudius?

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Deciding to take a life is not an easy decision, as seen by Hamlet’s hesitation to avenge his father’s murder in Shakespeare‘s play, Hamlet. For many years, critics have debated the reason as to why Hamlet is reluctant to take action, including Ernest Jones who once said, “Hamlet is struggling with an unresolved Oedipus complex. He cannot kill Claudius because Claudius, in murdering Hamlet‘s father carried out the wish that Hamlet subconsciously harbored.” Hamlet supports this interpretation of the play because if this were true, then it would mean that Hamlet couldn‘t murder Claudius because deep down he longs to be in Claudius‘ shoes, and killing Claudius would ultimately be the same thing as killing himself. Not only does this explain Hamlet’s constant reluctance towards killing Claudius, but it also explains his unnatural obsession with his mother‘s sex life, and it explains why he is so conflicted with the idea of revenge.

In order to understand Hamlet’s hesitation to kill Claudius, it is important to understand that Hamlet and Claudius both share the same desire to be with Gertrude. At first, Hamlet‘s anger towards his mother’s remarriage is understandable because he feels that his mother did not mourn long enough for his father when he says, “Within a month, Ere the salt of most unrighteous tears had left the flushing in her galled eyes, She married. At this point, the reader can empathize with Hamlet because since he had a great deal of admiration for his father, it seems normal for him to disapprove of his mother’s attempt to replace his father so quickly, However, things start to become strange as Hamlet continues on to say, “0, most wicked speed, to post with such dexterity to incestuous sheets” , Hamlet‘s remark about his mother’s sex life is inappropriate, because as Gertrude‘s son, it is abnormal for him to think of his mother in this manner.

However, Hamlet’s erotic comments about his mother’s sex life continue throughout the novel, and the climax of his thoughts seems to arrive during his confrontation with Gertrude when he says, “Nay, but to live in the rank sweat of an unseamed bed, stewed in corruption, honeying and making love over the nasty sty”. This outburst makes it obvious that Hamlet is more angered by Gertrude’s sex life than he is about Gertrude replacing his father, because Hamlet is constantly and abnormally obsessing over his mother’s sex life The fact that the ghost of Hamlet’s father interrupts Hamlet during his rant proves that he strayed from his mission of revenge when the ghost says, “This visitation is but to whet thy almost blunted purpose”.

The presence and timing of the ghost reveals that Hamlet’s outburst towards Gertrude had nothing to do with revenge, and thus supports the idea that Hamlet harbors an attraction towards his mother, since in his outburst he seemed to be driven by desire for his mother rather than desire for revenge Not only does Hamlet express erotic thoughts about his mother, but he also acts out of character when he is with Gertrude, which is seen when he stabs Polonius through the curtain with hopes of it being Claudius, By killing Claudius, Hamlet would have finally murdered the one person that stood between him and Gertrude, satisfying his Oedipus complex, Throughout the play Hamlet struggles with reluctance towards killing his father and constantly gets angry with himself for hesitating, but when he is with Gertrude, he somehow musters up the courage to kill Claudius.

Finally choosing to take revenge during his emotional outburst with his mom is not a coincidence, and further proves how his words and actions reveal his desire to be Gertrude The desire suggests that Hamlet does in fact have an Oedipus complex, and proves that both Hamlet and Claudius want to be with Gertrude. Although killing Claudius is the only way for Hamlet to avenge the death of his father, Hamlet always seems to find a reason to delay in completing his act of revenge When Hamlet says, “I do not know why yet I live to say “This Lhing’s to do,” Sith I have cause, and will, and strength, and means to do, he openly admits that he cannot explain why he cannot carry out his plans for revenge, even though he knows for a fact that Claudius killed his father. This doubt shows that Hamlet is unaware of his inability to take action, which could be explained by a deeper subconscious feeling, such as an unresolved Oedipus complex.

If Hamlet truly does harbor an Oedipus complex then killing Claudius will not only be an act of revenge, but it will also be an act of suicide since Claudius is living out Hamlet’s dream of killing his father and marrying Gertrude, Therefore, it is impossible for Hamlet to murder someone who did exactly what he had subconsciously hoped to accomplish, And since Hamlet is unaware of his Oedipus complex, it is impossible for him to understand why he is conflicted about killing Claudius. In fact, it is not until Gertrude dies and is out of the picture, that Hamlet is able to let go his Oedipus complex and finally exact his revenge on Claudius. After the death of Gertrude, Hamlet says, “Here, thou, incestuous, (murd’rous,) damned Dane, Drink off this potion, Is thy union here? Follow my mother”. Gertrude’s death finally allows Hamlet to resolve his Oedipus complex and complete his goal of avenging his father’s death, severing Hamlet’s feeling of wanting to live Claudius’s life, and giving him the final push to kill Claudius.

By harboring an unresolved Oedipus complex, Hamlet was unable to exact his revenge on Claudius, and thus he could not explain why he had this hesitation since the Oedipal feelings were subconsciously affecting him. The Oedipus complex caused conflicting emotions in Hamlet, because his desire for revenge was overshadowed by his suppressed desire to live Claudius‘ life, as the murder of his father and as a husband to his motheri However, as soon as Gertrude was dead, Hamlet no long harbored any emotions toward his mother, and he was finally able to let go of the hopes of being in Claudius’ shoes. With the Oedipus complex resolved, he no longer saw aspects of himself in Claudius, and he was finally able to kill him. Ernest Jones’ quotation portrays Hamlet in a cynical light; however, he provides an interesting idea as to why Hamlet showed so much hesitation towards completing his act of revenge.


Cite this paper

William Shakespeare’s Hamlet: Why Hamlet Hesitated to Kill Claudius?. (2023, Jun 28). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/william-shakespeares-hamlet-why-hamlet-hesitated-to-kill-claudius/

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