|Essay type:||Book review|
|Categories:||Shakespeare Character analysis Hamlet Dramatic literature|
In the play, Hamlet struggles with different emotions. Other than suicidal ideation, he also considers killing other people. Owing to these thoughts and the subsequent behaviors, the question of whether Hamlet was sane or insane has been asked throughout history. While there exists evidence in the story to support both sides, it is clear that the author sought to show the thin line between real and unreal. The view and understanding of mental illness at the time are also extensively explored. Looking at the story, it can be argued that Hamlet's behavior which could be viewed as insane was caused by the grief of the loss of his father. There are also several instances where the reader gets the perception that Hamlet was just feigning insanity. As such, this paper seeks to argue that Hamlet was sane.
At the start of the play, Hamlet comes across as a poet, philosopher, and hero. His behavior and speech are articulate, pointing to the fact that he was sane at this period. While he was significantly affected by the death of his father, his behavior still confirms his sanity in several instances. For instance, he organized the performance of The Murder of Gonzago, to prove whether the king had played any role in the death of Hamlet's father. His plan was to write a play mirroring the death of his father and gauge his uncle's reaction to it. This involved a great deal of planning that could not have been achieved by an insane person. As such, Hamlet was sane. This scene also paints him as a great manipulator, a fete that could not be achieved by an insane person. While Hamlet really wanted to avenge the death of his father, he lets the king live when he gets a chance. He could have easily killed the king when he found him praying, but he chose not to. He reasoned that since the king was praying for forgiveness, his soul would go to heaven. However, he thought that murderers should not go to heaven and hence spared him. An insane person cannot have such a stable and sound way of thinking. Therefore, this is yet another proof that Hamlet was sane.
As mentioned in the introduction, though there is evidence to suggest that Hamlet was indeed insane, there is substantial proof that he was pretending. Most prominently, he says that he would "put an antic disposition on" (Mays ACT I Scene 5). Hamlet tells this to his friend, Horatio, warning him not to worry if he notices any insane behavior. When his mother calls him crazy, he states that "I essentially am not in madness, but mad in craft" (Mays ACT III Scene 4). This statement further proves that his madness was just an act. One cannot distinguish rational and disordered behavior without some level of sanity. Therefore, to make such a claim, Hamlet must have been sane. While his behavior and remarks sound silly, even other characters are suspicious that he is only acting. For instance, in reaction to one of his remarks, Polonius states, "How pregnant sometimes his replies are" (Mays ACT II Scene 2). Looking at it from this perspective, it can be concluded that Hamlet was not insane. Rather, his insanity was an act meant to fool Claudius and the other characters. Unfortunately, the act ends up consuming him. He gets obsessed with revenge and hates himself for not acting. Guilt for mistreating Ophelia also overcomes him. Resultantly, he is so overwhelmed with these emotions that he almost loses it and appears insane. However, despite his act and the boiling emotions, he remains a sane man fully aware of his agenda.
Moreover, the fact that his madness manifests only when around certain characters proves that it was just an act. As seen in the story, he behaves irrationally when around Gertrude, Claudius, Polonius, Rosencrantz, Ophelia, and Guildenstern. Hamlet purposely acts insane around these characters to achieve his goal. In this state, if he were to go through with his revenge plan, his madness would be blamed. However, his behavior is rational when around Francisco, Horatio, Bernardo, and others. Hamlet's sanity also comes to the fore when he is sent to England. He is skillful and ruthless in his escape. This behavior can only be exhibited by sane people.
While the line between sanity and insanity in the play is blurred, it is clear that Hamlet is sane. His actions and behavior are sound and similar to that of the characters at the start of the play. However, it is after the death of his father that his behavior changes, and hence this is often cited as the point at which he fell into insanity. As shown in the paper, however, his actions are just an act to cover his plan for revenge. He makes this secret known to both Horatio and his mother. Moreover, as seen in the play, even after the death of his father, his behavior is entirely normal around some characters. Also, some of the activities he engages in, such as the organization of the play, can only be carried out by a sane person. As such, Helmet was sane. His insane behaviors were just an act to disguise his real intentions.
Mays, Kelly J. The Norton Introduction to Literature. 13th. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2020.
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