Shakespeare’s “Hamlet, Prince of Denmark”, shows the major character Hamlet moving between sanity and insanity. Hamlet continues to captivate readers across the centuries. He is mysterious and there is more to his character than the other characters know. He becomes mad when it suits his purpose, and takes on an “antic disposition" (ActI.SceneV.Line171). Similarly, he acts sane when he wants to, and is quite logical in his reasoning. Centuries ago Shakespeare wrote of the social issues that existed in his society. Today, the themes in Shakespeare’s works remain common in the society. The deception of his uncle forces Hamlet to play the devil’s advocate as he seeks revenge against his uncle. Pain and suffering caused by betrayal presents itself in many ways, and Hamlet is the victim of such betrayal. Because of his father’s death, Hamlet pretends to be insane, but this is just his deceptive mind working to satisfy his revenge.
Regardless of one’s perception of madness, there are a number of situations in life that individuals cannot control, including sanity. Insanity is a complex issue and it is difficult to determine as it is buried in the mind, and increases as time passes. It is difficult to diagnose madness in today’s society and was more difficult in Shakespeare’s time. Therefore, Hamlet easily passes his revenge as insanity. His need for revenge drives him to a performance that is almost psychotic. He is obsessed with taking revenge for his father’s death, and one could say that while he is not clinically mad, he is insane with anger. It is this insane grief that leads him to risk education and social life to avenge his father’s death.
Mabillard (2008) notes “Hamlet is a man of radical contradictions -- he is reckless yet cautious, courteous yet uncivil, tender yet ferocious”. The readers sees these qualities when he “meets his father's death with consuming outrage and righteous indignation, yet shows no compunction when he is responsible for the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and Polonius” (Mabillard, 2008). One clearly sees that Hamlet has many flaws. He is hasty in his actions, indecisive, consumed by hate, brutal, and obsessive, yet he makes the ideal “prince among men” (Mabillard, 2008). The first impression of Hamlet shows a grief-stricken young man who dresses to suit his dark brooding mood. However, he points out that his outward appearance does not begin to show the sorrow he faces inside. His love and respect for his father forces him to act out his grief through murder.
Hamlet points out that he is mad at times and sane on other occasions, which suggests that he shifts between roles to achieve his goals for revenge. He uses his madness as a weapon to achieve his short – term goals of getting rid of Claudius’ friends. One can clearly see that Hamlet directs his madness at his enemies and the friends of his enemies. Hamlet does serious harm to Gertrude and Ophelia with his insane words and kills Polonius with his insane actions. Gertrude, Polonius, and Ophelia are Claudius' friends, therefore when he hurts these people, he hurts Claudius indirectly. This logical perception shows that Hamlet knows what he is doing, but allows his anger to control his actions. However, Hamlet’s “insanity” concerns Claudius, and he sends two of his men to find the cause of Hamlet’s madness. Hamlet knows the potential of his madness: that it distorts reality and hides the truth, and ultimately causes confusion. His pretense at madness results in Claudius’ heightened anger. As a result, it is Hamlet's insanity that helps him to eliminate Claudius’ friends and confuse him even more. In addition, Hamlet reverts to sanity and the readers see that in this state, Hamlet focuses on the facts at hand. His uncle killed his father and marries his mother. These chains of events would lead anyone to madness.
The reader sees that Hamlet’s madness is a means of getting revenge on his uncle. In addition, Hamlet is insane because he wants revenge against his enemies, and his sanity is a means of concentration. Hamlet informs Horatio that he will "feign madness," and that if Horatio notices any strange behavior from Hamlet, it is because he is putting on an act. (I.v.166-180). However, he remains in the insane role for too long as the events spiral out of his control. Hamlet gradually becomes mad as his madness becomes less calculated. His actions become more irresponsible, and he has very little thoughts of the consequences that may occur. During his madness, he curses Ophelia, but later regrets this in a moment of sanity. One realizes that the simple act of insanity leads to Hamlet’s tragic end. Whether Hamlet’s actions are justified or not is debatable. The events that lead up to Hamlet’s actions are real and anyone would get mad as a result. He is devastated at the death of his father and the reasons for his death. At the start of Act I Scene ii, it is clear that “Hamlet has complete control over his mental faculties” (Crawford, 2009). After the scene with his father’s ghost, Hamlet tells Horatio and Marcellus “How strange or odd some’er I bear myself - I perchance hereafter shall think meet, to put an antic disposition on” (I.v.191-192). His control of the situation and the reasons for his actions are clear. Hamlet makes his friends aware of his premeditated and calculated intentions to seem mad. He tells them so that they know his plans. However, it is through Polonius that the reader recognizes that Hamlet uses his madness for his personal gains. Polonius notes “though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t” (II.ii.223-224). Polonius realizes that Hamlet is coherent in his speech and madness is not lucid.
In the character of Hamlet, Shakespeare creates a master of deception and manipulation. He clarifies his mental status for his mother in the Act three. He tells her that his actions are intentional, and that he only wants to manipulate the events to gain knowledge of his father’s death. "I essentially am not in madness/But mad in craft." (III.iv.187-8). The King does not believe in Hamlet’s insanity and instructs his men to "Get from him why he puts on this confusion" (II.i. 2). This scene shows that Claudius sees the deception for what it is and that Hamlet is not mad: "What he spake, though it lack'd form a little./Was not like madness." (III.i.163-4.) Still, he declares him to be insane and it is the excuse he uses to send him off to England. There are times when Hamlet's madness appears to be real. These instances bring to light Shakespeare’s theme of appearance versus reality. When Hamlet kills Polonius he says, "How now! a rat? Dead for a ducat, dead!" (III. iv. 25). Hamlet's madness is real when he kills Polonius instead of Claudius in a rash way. Similarly, Hamlet commits acts of murder without careful thought. One can say that Hamlet eventually becomes a cold-blooded murderer as he loses his reasoning. His grief consumes him to the point that he no longer selects his actions but instead act without thinking. This irrational behavior leads the reader to realize that even people who are educated succumb to grief and that everyone is capable of murder. Nevertheless, one can argue that the actions of Hamlet are not acts of feigned madness, but of someone who is inherently a cold-blooded killer who uses revenge as an excuse for killing. His reckless actions as he pulls away from his friends to approach the ghost show that Hamlet is headstrong. He notes "Still am I called. Unhand me, gentlemen--/ Heaven, I'll make a ghost of him that lets me!/ I say, away" (I.iv.84-86). He does not think about the consequences but walks towards the ghost without thinking of the risks. Hamlet’s behavior shows the rash and thoughtless actions of an insane psychopath.
One can question his schizophrenic behavior and see through his madness when he tells Polonius "Slanders, sir; for the satirical rogue says here/ that old men have gray beards; that their faces are wrinkled; their eyes purging thick amber and/ plum-tree gum" (II.ii.197-200). His deceptive madness works to his advantage when he insults Polonius indirectly. The reader realizes that Hamlet skillfully crafts the clear portrayal of Polonius’ character. Hamlet's wit and education reveals that he is not insane. Another example of Hamlet's feigned madness is Hamlet's communication with the ghost.
In concluding, Hamlet’s grief and need for revenge are real. They show that his character is human. However, he allows his grief to consume him and eventually his pretense at insanity becomes real. He becomes depressed and fights his inner conflict of his very existence: “To be or not to be, that is the question: Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them” (III.i.58-59). It is this soliloquy that forces the reader to understand his pain and anguish of losing his father. To add to his grief, his mother marries her brother-in-law immediately after her husband’s death. The reality is that, while Hamlet is motivated by his grief to seek revenge, he is weak emotionally because he allows his emotions to dictate his life and ultimately lead to his demise.
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