TheTragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark was derived from the legend ofAmleth that was kept in the Saxo Grammaticus chronicle. Its depth andstructure of categorization have enthused much critical analysis. Agood example is a debate on Hamlet`s reluctance to kill his uncle.While some analysts think it was just a plot device to extend theaction, others contend it is an adaptation of the multifacetedtheoretical and moral aspects that revolve around hardhearted murder,thwarted desire, and calculated revenge. Recently, psychoanalyticcritics have assessed Hamlet’s insentient yearnings, while feministcritics re-evaluate the frequently maligned casts of Gertrude andOphelia.
GregoryShafer (2014) puts Halmet’s condition into three aspects: Hamletmay be wholly or totally insane, somewhat mad, but with some control,or he is completely insane, and totally in control. With asuperficial consideration of the proof, the first two possibilitieslook quite feasible, but with more attention, the real situation ofHamlet`s psychological amenities becomes apparent. He affirms thatthere is proof from almost every cast in the drama that he is lessthan stable. As a matter of fact, a significant part of the bookfocuses on Hamlet’s insanity. Additionally, many characters aretasked with establishing whether he was sane or not [CITATION Gre141 p 2 l 1033 ].
Hamletis insane as illustrated by most of the cast. The fact that thecharacters close to Hamlet think he is mad is proof of the same.Shater (2) implies Hamlet is insane as established by most of thecasts in the play. The first person to establish this fact isPolonius, Ophelia’s father. Ophelia was Hamlet’s love. Poloniusdiscovered Hamlet’s condition after intercepting a letter meant forOphelia. He wondered how a high Prince would be interested in alow-life like Ophelia. During subsequent conversations, Poloniusconcludes that Hamlet was mad with anguish due to his father’sdeath as well as love. In that regard, Shafer states that only amadman can effectively act mad to the extent of convincing normalbeings [CITATION Gre141 p 2 l 1033 ].
Furtherillustration of Hamlet’s insanity is evidenced in how Poloniusdescribes him. Polonius description of Hamlet typifies insanity. Atthis stage, “He then declines into the madness [CITATION Wil p 91 l 1033 ]."Additionally,while conversing with Hamlet, Polonius realizes that Hamlet repliedwith "a cheerfulness that habitually insanity hits on."This illustrations show that Hamlet was mad. Additionally, he wasraving in some form of happiness that is attained via irrational andsenseless means. Furthermore, as Polonius affirms, Hamlet wasbeginning to go mad with love. These instances illustrate that heHamlet was indeed mad.
Furtherproof of Hamlet’s insanity can be drawn from how he treats Ophelia.Evidently, couples have a way of knowing each other adequately.Shafer (3) continues to support the notion Hamlet was mad by pointingto the treatment of Ophelia as a key example. Even Ophelia had begunto confirm Hamlet’s madness. From affording her great treatment tocalling her a whore, Hamlet’s behavior illustrates insanity. Atfirst, Hamlet showed love and care to Ophelia, treating her with muchaffection. However, this changes drastically and Hamlet purports thathe does not love her. This behavior makes Ophelia believe Hamlet ismad. Evidently, Hamlet’s behavior in this situation can be regardedas irrational and lacking logic. In one of the love letters, Hamletstates "doubt thou the stars are fire…..doubt I love [CITATION Wil p 133 l 1033 ]."Shafer (3) illustrates how the sentiments seem romantic. Thesentiments seem to be that of a romantic person dedicated to a lover.Instead, in their next meeting, Hamlet changes and behaves coldlytowards Ophelia. Some days later, Hamlet deprecates his love,accusing Ophelia of being unfaithful. He states, “I`ll give theethis plague for thy dowry: be thou as chaste as ice…..[CITATION Wil p 133 l 1033 ]."Itis the contrary to what he had requested of Ophelia to “never doubthis love.” As such, Hamlet’s behavior towards Ophelia defieslogic hence, can be regarded as irrational.
Evenhighly respected figures think Hamlet is mad. Shafer (4) states thatHamlet is insane as confirmed by King Claudius and the Queen. The twohighly regarded figures are completely convinced that Hamlet isinsane. Therefore, Shafer (4) implies that the fact these two highlyrespected figures were convinced, then there are high chances theywere right. Shafer uses the Queens assertions as a founding reasonwhy he thinks Hamlet is mad. The queen sees Hamlet killing Poloniusand starts talking to ghosts. She describes her to being “mad asthe sea and wind when both contend which is mightier [CITATION Wil p 123 l 1033 ]."As such, coming from his own mother, there are high chances Hamletwas insane. As her mother, the Queen knew all about his son. She knewthe degree of his madness and rightly confirms what readers may benoticing that Hamlet was insane.
However,John Decarlo (2011) does not believe Hamlet is mad. Instead, he wasonly playing mad to achieve his target. When following theconversations Hamlet has with the other people, it is evident that heplays mental games with some of them, particularly those he disliked.For example, since he disliked Polonius, Hamlet continuously playsmind games. He would make fun utilizing sarcasm among other formsthat made the other party look silly. However, the other party wouldregularly think that the jokes were illogical or incoherent. In someinstance, Hamlet plays Polonius while conversing. For example, hecalls Polonius a “capital calf” while suggesting that Brutus hadkilled a crucial young cow. In this scene, Polonius was confused andunaware of what Hamlet really meant [CITATION Dec11 p 55 l 1033 ].
Asevidenced in the book, Hamlet only plays insane to achieve hisprospected targets. Decarlo (56) states that Hamlet only claimsinsanity since it permits him to talk and behave in manners thatwould seemingly be impossible if he was sane. As such, it appears tobe part of his previous plan mentioned as he asks Marcellus andHoratio to make any observations regarding his “antic disposition.”Hamlet’s insanity lets him converse with Gertrude, Claudius,Polonius, and Ophelia in a state that seemed inappropriate for aprince. Hamlet is normally insulting and disrespectful in hissentiments [CITATION Dec11 p 56 l 1033 ].
Theinsanity acts gave him the chance to talk to people as he wished.Decarlo (56) thinks that Hamlet’s undoubted senselessness actprovides him with the opportunity to talk to anyone the way he wants.It was only an act that gave him the chance to talk to people in themanner he wanted without facing any repercussions. This particularlytrue as exemplified by how he could address Ophelia in any manner.Likewise, he is able to speak to Polonius openly, telling him thereal truth about what he felt. When Polonius decides to “takeleave,” Hamlet responds, “You cannot take from me anything….”Moreover, Hamlet utilizes his insanity like an excuse whileapologizing to Laertes for killing Polonius [CITATION Wil p 79 l 1033 ]. It begs the query, would an insane person recognize he was mad andaffirm that the actions were uncontainable? Decarlo (56) furtherelucidates that if it were not for his “madness,” perhaps, hewould have been convicted. Instead, he was ignored, pitied, andfeared. Hamlet’s insanity readdresses his thinking on his father’sdeath. This restricts the knowledge of what he was thinking tohimself. He was not mandated to justify himself to the rest on why hewas behaving strangely. It gives him the chance to continue with hisplan to attack Claudius. His idea to stick with a form of an insaneperson is a clever one. The fact that he managed to execute thischaracter with ease makes him more ingenious and not insane [CITATION Dec11 p 56 l 1033 ].
Conversely,Hamlet acts seamlessly sane when behaving like a madman is needless.As Decarlo (55) points out, Hamlet would speak fluently withouthiding his character when he did not feel the need to hide it.Evidently, Hamlet would act sane when necessary or while conversingwith people who he did not have to hide his state. A good instancecan be drawn from how he converses with Horatio on keeping an eye onClaudius for any guilt signs he states, “Give him a watchful note,for I mine eyes will rivet his face….”[CITATION Wil p 87 l 1033 ].”These words are sane.What makes them even more sanely is the fact that he realies his ownjudgment could be wrong. He acts perfectly rational in this scenesince he did not need to act insane in front of Horatio. In otherwords, he acts sanely when there was no need to act insane. To thepeople he did not have to fake his conduct, he played sane thoughwith calculated measures.
Anotheract that shows Hamlet was sane is when he was talking to theperformers. When elucidating to the performers on the means ofperforming, Hamlet is quite natural and organized. For instance, heinquires, “..Study a speech of some dozen or sixteen lines,……couldyou not?” He asks in a direct manner and the player understood.Therefore, Decarlo (56) affirms, it is more credible that a rationalindividual could act insane, than a senseless playing sane, andtherefore reason deems Hamlet sensible.
Furtherevidence of Hamlet’s sanity can be affirmed from his clever speechand retorts. Decarlo (56), implies that Hamlet understood thesituations surrounding him. Clearly, his clever antics do notresemble a madman. In other words, he performs his insane charactervirtually too well, with each of his utterances meant to try toconvey his madness or confuse his enemies. For example, while talkingto Guildenstern and Rosencrantz, he illustrates cleverness byestablishing the real purpose of their coming. He plays them in a waythat seems insane. “I am but mad north-north-west…..[CITATION Wil p 122 l 1033 ].He admits being mad but confuses the two to believe so. Via thisacting, he was able to free himself from their plans and therebymaintain secrecy. He would later manage to have them slain via hisfather’s seal in a cunning manner that even a sane person couldnever achieve with ease. As a matter of fact, in a similarconversation with Polonius, he responds cleverly to the extent thatPolonius notes on their inventiveness. “Though this be madness, yetthere is method in’t.” Hamlet’s intelligence and acting of aninsane person join to make too sharp of an overstated crazyindividual, for him to be mad. All these instances, as Decarno (52)states are not a coincidence. He knew what he was doing and how toachieve them.
ThoughShafer pointed numerous occasions that demonstrated Hamlet was mad,he also illustrates some aspects that evidence his sanity. Forexample, it is easy for people to point to Polonius’s murder astypical madness. One can point to this act as an example of Hamlet’sinsanity. As per this notion, disparate from all his other acts,Hamlet was rash and nearly thoughtless, yet it was not the case.Almost directly prior to his appearance within his mother’schambers, Hamlet plans to kill Claudius had failed since he waspraying. Nonetheless, he was ready to execute his revenge at allcost. While in the chamber, her mother calls for help only forPolonius to emerge. Perhaps, he thought it was Claudius and hencemurdered him without further thoughts. Shafer (4) states, assuming heknew it was Polonius, it still made sense for him to kill him. Thisis because the “rat” which was how Hamlet referred him, could beanyone. They have heard him conversing with his father’s ghost andtherefore could reveal his secret about the feigned insanity. Assuch, killing Polonius and any other rat, in this case, is a rationalaction. It proves that Hamlet was completely cognizant of what he wasdoing [CITATION Gre141 p 4 l 1033 ].
Theacts performed by Hamplet typically illustrate his sanity. He was notinsane in any manner and could think like a sane person. Decarlo (56)notes that Hamlet did not think like an insane person. For instance,when he found Claudius praying, he reasons logically, and hecomprehends that if he murdered him, he would not achieve completerevenge. Hamlet believed killing Claudius at that point would sendhim to heaven. “Now might I do it, now he is a-praying, and nowI’ll don’t. And so he goes to heaven, and so am I revenged…[CITATION Wil p 77 l 1033 ].”Assuch, these thoughts are reminiscent of common sense. They follow anactual path that does not seem to be erratic. He is aware thatkilling Claudius at this moment will only serve him well and as such,Hamlet would not have achieved his intended purpose. They rightlysuggest, Hamlet was sane and had constructed a calculated plan toavenge his father’s death. The manner in which he executes hisplans that are well organized does not exemplify a madman. Instead,they demonstrate a creative individual.
Drawingfrom the articles above, it is evident that Hamlet is a saneindividual only pretending to be mad at the people around him. Thisis also evidenced during all his monologs. In the monologs, he thinksthrough like a normal person. For example, after realizing that theghost of his father may be a devil, he plans to keep a watchful eyeon the king while using a play he had engineered. “I’ll observehis looks I’ll tent him to the quick…The spirit that I have seenmay be a devil [CITATION Wil p 100 l 1033 ].”He even asks Horatio to watch the king in case his assumptions werebiased. An insane person would not have the prudence, reason, or evencare, to act in this manner.
Perhaps,the actual description of insanity can be drawn from Ophelia’scase. She was actually insane when her father is killed. Decarlo (56)describes Ophelia’s version as a good measure of describing aninsane person. It is quite clear that she goes mad after realizingher father was murdered. In her state of madness, she could not speaknormal sentences instead, she sings a verse with no clear meaning.In another instant, she fails to recognize her own brother. She onlymoves around distributing flowers with no apparent meaning. She lookssenseless rightly depicting insanity. On the contrary, Hamlet makesclear sentiments and can converse with people. He was thoughtful andmade careful plans to seek for evidence to avenge his father’smurder [CITATION Dec11 p 56 l 1033 ].
Inconclusion, Hamlet can be regarded as a determined, eccentric, andprobably resolute individual, who is fueled by his father’s murder.His quest to avenge the killing makes him feign his madness touncover the truth. Furthermore, behaving in this manner enabled himto stick with his plans while guarding his secret. Nevertheless, themadness is not evident when the guard is needless. Perhaps Hamlet wasthinking too much, but the thoughts were those of a sane individual.All his actions are undertaken with reason. Moreover, he is too smartand organized to be described as mentally unsound.
Decarlo, John. "Mother and Son: The Dynamics of Hamlet`s Cartesian Madness." Journal of Philosophy: A Cross Disciplinary Inquiry (2011): 51-60.
Shafer, Gregory. "Madness and Difference: Politicizing Insanity in Classical Literary Works." Language Arts Journal of Michigan (2014): 1-7.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Icon Group International, Inc, 2009.