Hamlet desires to avenge his father’s death, but is neither active nor incisive causing him to doubt himself, thus provoking him to seek his revenge by the end of the play. Hamlet is hesitant towards his actions as he finds out from his father’s ghost that Old Hamlet was murdered by his brother Claudius. Hamlet is not quick to believe the ghost, and begins to feign madness to determine whether or not the claims the ghost made were true. This pretend insanity is obvious in Hamlet’s conversations with other characters, especially Polonius. In Act II, for example, Polonius asks Hamlet if he knows him, Hamlet replies: “Excellent well. You are a fishmonger” (II, ii, 174) and continues to pretend being insane throughout the play as a way to investigate Claudius’s crime. He does this to fool those that he does not trust and to gain the truth about Old Hamlet’s death. Besides feigning madness, he is careful and uses the resources around him that are available to help him. When Hamlet learns that players have arrived to perform before the court; he seizes the opportunity and asks one of the players:
Hamlet. “[…] Dost thou hear me, old friend? Can you play The Murder of Gonzago?”
First Player. “Ay, my lord.”
Hamlet. “We’ll ha’t tomorrow night. You could for a need study a speech of some dozen or sixteen lines which I would set down and insert in’t, could you not?”
First Player. “Ay, my lord” (II, ii, 547-554).
Hamlet uses the players to stage an adaptation of The Death of Gonzago which he calls The Mousetrap. Hamlet stages the “play within the play” to acquire the reaction proving that Claudius was guilty. He obtains the reaction verifying that Claudius was not innocent, “The King rises/ Give me some light away!” (III, ii, 271, 275), and decided he would use it as a resolve to kill him. He comes with such intentions but restrains himself when the thought arises in his mind that by killing Claudius, while he is in the act of praying and seeking forgiveness for his sins, will send him directly “to Heaven” (III, iii, 78) and this, according to Hamlet, will not be revenge. When lamenting his inaction in his “O what a rogue and peasant slave am I” soliloquy, Hamlet rhetorically asks, “Am I a coward? / Who calls me villain?” as he conflicts whether or not killing Claudius is the right thing to do. In fact, Hamlet later acknowledges his lack of action when he sees Fortinbras’ army march past:
“[…] How stand I then,
That have a father killed, a mother stained,
[…] while to my shame I see
The imminent death of twenty thousand men
That for a fantasy and trick of fame
Go to their graves like beds, fight for a plot
Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause,
Which is not tomb enough and continent
To hide the slain?