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    Action vs. Inaction in “Hamlet”

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    Think before you act. It is one of the most valuable lessons taught to this day above many others as it is vital throughout many stories which includes, William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Action vs Inaction played a big part and Shakespeare brought this concept to life of whether to act on our thoughts right away or wait for the right opportunity. It can be said that Hamlet took all his thoughts into consideration and thought of all the possibilities but he still met his demise. And although men of action such as Claudius, thought of their actions before acting, they also met their inevitable death. While Hamlet chooses to delay his actions against Claudius, he thinks through his actions in a way that Shakespeare would like, which results in Hamlet’s death being more just.

    Acknowledging that Shakespeare conveys deciding factors, he supports the thought process of an action more than doing it without much thought. One of these instances can be the advice Polonius gives to his son Laertes when he’s going to college. One of the first things he states is, “Give thy thoughts no tongue, nor any unproportioned thought his act” (I, iii, l.59-60). Polonius is simply advising Laertes to keep his thoughts to himself and to not act on any unfit or one-sided thoughts. Shakespeare chose this scene to add to the underlying theme of thinking your actions through. He could have included a plethora of other things but saying this emphasizes his message that is good to take action, only when one has thought through it before his/her execution.

    Hamlet had a couple opportunities in which he could’ve gotten back at Claudius for killing his dad. But, his delay in action was justified through various instances as it also proves why Shakespeare favors thought over action. One of them was for a religious reason as he states, “Now might I do it pat, now he is a-praying… prolongs thy sickly days” (III. iii. l.73-96). Hamlet had one of the golden opportunities to avenge his father’s death. But at the time, Claudius was praying to God, repenting for his sins. Hamlet saw this is as unjust for him to exact his revenge because King Hamlet was killed before he got to repent his sins. Hamlet wants to kill Claudius the same way King Hamlet and that is by finding the time he isn’t repenting for his wrongful deeds. Another instance in where he explains in soliloquy that killing Claudius would be a hasty decision to make by stating, “The play’s the thing Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King” (II. ii. l.613-614). Hamlet wants to stage a play, with altered details to fit the circumstance, which will give him the much anticipated reaction from Claudius so he can execute his plans to kill him. If Hamlet went through with his plan to kill Claudius without a form of evaluation, it would result in catastrophic issues. Hamlet, despite all this weight he has about his father’s death, is able to show wisdom and think his actions through. He wants Claudius to have the same demise that King Hamlet got. That is certainly not weak will as it is the contrary.

    Hamlet respects his mother. He seems to understands that she had to marry Claudius so that Hamlet could still become king despite King Hamlet’s death. But, he expresses utter disgust in Gertrude’s remarriage as he states, “ O that this too, too sullied flesh… for I must hold my tongue” (I. ii. L. 129-159). Hamlet is obviously not content with his mother’s hasty decision but he knows he can’t say anything as she has gone through and is still going through her own grief. But, regarding the fact that she has been in bed with King Hamlet’s brother after two months is aggravating for him. He is unhappy that Gertrude has gone off to marry instead of helping him get over his grieving process. Not to mention the fact he also wants to commit suicide when he says, “Everlasting had not fixed His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter!” (I. ii. l.131-132). Even if he wanted to put himself out of this misery, he won’t have his sins repented and he will go to hell. This shows that Hamlet is able to think rationally and about others emotions despite his enormous cloud of grief hanging over him.

    As the play progresses, Hamlet begins to put his plan into action. But this is after young Fortinbras, a man of action, has arrived to invade Denmark. Hamlet here takes another opportunity to indulge in his preference for thought but ironically grieving his tendency to overthink. He states “How all occasions… my thoughts be bloody or nothing worth” (IV. iv. i.34-68). Hamlet, till now, has not taken any action on his retribution. But he identifies the dangers of thinking ‘too precisely’, as it associates with being a coward. However, he keeps on thinking. He admires Fortinbras and desire to take action of his father’s death and seems keen to do the same. But, he can only manage to commit to thinking ‘bloody thoughts’, instead of acting right away. But it still shows the precaution Hamlet wants to take in his murder of Claudius because now he has more incentive to do so, thanks to Fortinbras’ character.

    The last of the many reasons why Shakespeare favors men of thought over men of action is Claudius’s decision to send Hamlet to England and the actions he takes after that. Claudius didn’t die the same way Hamlet did in the sense that Hamlet had satisfaction with his demise. Hamlet came to understand that everything will work out the way it is destined to. In a short brief conversation with Horatio before his fencing match with Laertes, he states “not a whit… if it be now… if it be not to come… let be.” (V. ii. l.219-224). If something is supposed to happen, it will happen and if something will happen later, it won’t happen now. It is important to be ready for what comes. Hamlet has finally came to a decision after careful planning and he will be content with what will come next.

    Men of action like Claudius did indeed think their actions through. But it couldn’t compare to Hamlet’s level of contemplation and resilience. Hamlet took into consideration every action till the very end, even when he’s about to kill Claudius. He was willing to die and to be okay with that shows a level of maturity and bravery that men of action could not attain in Hamlet. Hamlet has his flaws of course. Everyone does. But what Shakespeare is trying to convey is that it is better to think before acting on anything.

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    Action vs. Inaction in “Hamlet”. (2022, May 10). Retrieved from

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