The Shakespeare Geek has asked yet another interesting question that got me thinking quite a bit. “What do you think Hamlet’s relationship was with his father?” and later says, “… I think much of Hamlet’s hesitation comes out of a fear to acknowledge his true feelings about his dad.” The following is mostly in response to the aforementioned post.
Whether or not Hamlet Sr. was a loving and affectionate father, it’s hard to say. Perhaps he was lacking some tenderness toward his son, but I have no doubt that Hamlet had the utmost respect for his father as a person and as a king.
Look at how Hamlet compares his father to Claudius:
So excellent a king, that was to this Hyperion to a satyr
That’s a huge comparison there. His dad is a sun-god and his uncle is a sex-mongering goat man. Hamlet’s comparison here illustrates that he has the most respect for his father and none at all for his uncle.
so loving to my mother That he might not beteem the winds of heaven Visit her face too roughly.
If King Hamlet wasn’t a tender father, he certainly was a very loving husband — at least in Hamlet’s eyes. These words describe the marriage as very caring, very gentle. Back to Hamlet’s relationship with his dad…
If [the ghost] assume my noble father’s person,
Noble isn’t just there because he was a king, or an extra word to fill the pentameter line. If Hamlet calls his dad noble, he thinks that of him in this case. I don’t think there is any irony here. I think you’re starting to get my point. Skipping ahead to the “closet scene,” look at how Hamlet describes his father in the picture he shows to Gertrude.
See what a grace was seated on this brow:
Hyperion’s curls, the front of Jove himself,
An eye like Mars, to threaten and command,
A station like the herald Mercury
New lighted on a heaven-kissing hill,
A combination and a form indeed,
Where every god did seem to set his seal
To give the world assurance of a man.
This was your husband.
And her current husband is nothing but “A slave that is not twentith part the tithe Of your precedent lord.” I’m quite convinced that Hamlet didn’t have a bad relationship with his father. Maybe he feared him some, but not because his was horribly distant or cruel, but because he was a powerful, stern, yet respectable man and king.
As for Hamlet’s hesitation because he’s working out his feelings for his father, I don’t agree. As you can see from what I’ve already said Hamlet is quite clear on how he feels about dear dad.
Hamlet – in his mind – isn’t so much hesitating as being careful. He needs to some time to show the court that he is mad so that he will not be thought of as a threat to the king. He then uses the players to be absolutely sure of Claudius’ guilt. Hamlet wants to be king after (“He that hath [...] Popp’d in between th’ election and my hopes”) and he can’t afford to be wrong about anything. So when Hamlet find Claudius praying, it is really the first time they have been alone together. No is his chance to kill him. But Hamlet doesn’t just want to kill him… he wants to send his uncle’s black soul to hell. The man must be punished, not just released from his Earthly body.
But then Hamlet mistakenly kills Polonius. After this he is sent off to England so his revenge is delayed again (“How all occasions do inform against me.”) But he realizes now that the only way to be revenged is to stop being so careful, and just DO IT.
O, from this time forth, My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!
Hamlet gets back, gets in a fight with Laertes over Ophelia’s grave, and is challenged to a fencing match for “sport.” At this point it’s rather unclear what Hamlet’s plans are toward his uncle, but he’s only been back for a day it would seem. Ever respectful Hamlet’s plans are delayed until after the match. He’s not about to say no to the wishes of the king and his mother I suppose. Maybe he was planning on killing Claudius that night.
But Hamlet ends up mortally wounded, and his mother is poisoned. Laertes tells him “Thy mother’s pois’ned. I can no more—the King, the King’s to blame.” So Hamlet kills Claudius for killing his mother.
Hamlet isn’t procrastinating, and he’s not unsure of whether he should revenge based on his feeling for his father. He is instead trying to carefully plan (“thinking too precisely on th’ event”) so that he can be king after the treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain is sent to hell.