Hamlet's Delay: A Theory

The following excerpts are from an article dealing with Hamlet's delay. (Source Unknown)

"In Shakespeare's Hamlet as it is produced on the stage for which he wrote, there is no "problem of delay." Only when acts became separated by extended intermissions did delay theories evolve. As a perceptive actor who had given a dynamic portrayal of Hamlet on an Elizabethan stage once commented, 'There is no time for Hamlet. Things happen too fast.'"

As this critic points out, at the beginning of Act II sc.i about two months have passed. During the play seen Ophelia makes reference to the passage of four months since the death of Hamlet's father. He the asks if a spectator would, in light of the dramatic action, make the connection that Hamlet had been brooding for two months. He goes on to state, "One of Stoll's most useful principles bears repeating: On the stage only the positive counts; the negative-silence or reticence, mere omission- goes unnoticed. For the first half of the play, the Hamlet that we see is busily, even energetically, active: greeting friends taunting fools, struggling with moral issues, denouncing corruption, outwitting spies, planning a play, considering murder, lashing out at his mother, killing an eavesdropper-mourning, joking, shouting, singing, racing through the castle with every sense alert. With so much exciting activity going on, how could the audience cluck their tongues over this pallid melancholic who is paralysed into inaction? If anything, the appearance of the Ghost has shocked Hamlet out of his lethargy, rather than into it."


1. Having seen the BBC version of Hamlet, do you agree that the problem of delay does not really come to mind when watching the play?

2. What, if anything, is there in the play to refute this theory?

After the "rogue and peasant slave" soliloquy we become aware that Hamlet has delayed because he says so. Has he delayed, as he asks himself, because he is insensitive, because he has not been emotionally moved by the Ghost's revelation? What we have seen of Hamlet rules out this explanation. Has he delayed because he is a coward? Nothing in the Hamlet we have seen permits us to believe this. Why, then, these reproaches? What has restrained him when he had been so eager to act? Hamlet does not give his explicit reason until the end of the soliloquy:

"The spirit that I have seen

May be the devil: and the devil hath power

To assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps

Out of my weakness and my melancholy,

As he is very potent with such spirits,

Abuses me to damn me: I'll have grounds

More relative than this."


The above explanation of Hamlet's delay seems to make sense and certainly would have made sense to the Elizabethan audience. Do you think this is a satisfactory explanation of Hamlet's delay. Explain and support fully.

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