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Hamlet: Act III, Scene III, Day 2: Hamlet’s Delay
In analyzing Hamlet’s delay in avenging his father’s murder, it is useful to understand Hamlet’s view of sin and salvation. Now that he has tested the ghost’s story, Hamlet believes it is real. That is, he believes his father suffers after death because Claudius killed him at a moment when he was unprepared for heaven, not having confessed his sins. Old King Hamlet – according to the Elizabethan Catholic view – is a ghost because he is in purgatory: a state of suffering inhabited by the souls of sinners who are asking forgiveness for their sins before going to heaven. In this scene, Hamlet approaches Claudius while he prays.
Part 1 Directions: Paraphrase the bolded lines below in Hamlet’s speech. Then respond: Why doesn’t Hamlet kill Claudius?
Now might I do it pat, now he is praying;
And now I’ll do’t. And so he goes to heaven;
80. And so am I revenged. That would be scann’d:
I could do it easily now while [Claudius] is praying.
And if I do it now, he would go off to heaven; that would be my revenge.
A villain kills my father; and for that,
I, his sole son, do this same villain send
O, this is hire and salary, not revenge.
85. He took my father grossly, full of bread;
With all his crimes broad blown, as flush as May;
And how his audit stands who knows save heaven?
But in our circumstance and course of thought,
He killed my father when my father was enjoying life, with all his sins out in the open, before my father could repent for any of them. Who knows what’s happening to my father’s soul now!
‘Tis heavy with him: and am I then revenged,
90. To take him in the purging of his soul,
When he is fit and season’d for his passage?
Up, sword; and know thou a more horrid hent:
When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage,
95. Or in the incestuous pleasure of his bed;
At gaming, swearing, or about some act
That has no relish of salvation in’t;
Then trip him, that his heels may kick at heaven,
And that his soul may be as damn’d and black
100. As hell, whereto it goes. My mother stays:
This physic but prolongs thy sickly days.
**Respond: Why doesn’t Hamlet kill Claudius? (Type Response Below):
Samuel Johnson, an eighteenth-century essayist, poet and Shakespeare critic, believed Hamlet’s thoughts when he found Claudius at prayer ‘too terrible to be read or uttered.’ Johnson’s view influenced productions for over a hundred years. Hamlet’s speech (3.3.77-101) was either cut in performance or was interpreted as not expressing Hamlet’s real intentions, but simply an excuse to procrastinate, to delay the action.
What’s your view? Is Hamlet expressing his true intentions in this scene or simply looking for excuses to procrastinate? What does this imply about Hamlet’s character? Make a case! (Type Response Below):
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