Essays

William Shakespeares play Hamlet

Pain is a disease who ravaging effects are augmented by thought. It is the great irony of life that consciousness, the driving force of mankind that has delivered us from the age of stone to that of industry, delivers us also to the inescapable prison of the mind. Events that in the cycle of life are little more than trivial, can be given by the mind’s eye power enough to consume us whole. The grief of the moment can become, with thought, a crashing wave that leaves behind only a semblance of sanity in its wake, for in thinking there is both life and death.

Trapped inside the prison of his mind, chained by a grief consciousness served only to torture him with, Hamlet, the prince of Denmark, reveals to the world that more gruesome than the death thinking brings him is the carnage it brings to those around him. The question that puzzles everyone is: Was Hamlet truly insane or was it all an act? The term insanity means a mental disorder, whether it is temporary or permanent that is used to describe a person when they dont know the difference between right and wrong. They dont consider the nature of their actions due to the mental defect.

In William Shakespeares play Hamlet Shakespeare leads you to believe that the main character, Hamlet, might be insane. There are many clues to suggest Hamlet is insane but in fact he is completely sane. Throughout the play Hamlet makes wise decisions to prove his so-called madness to others when obviously it is merely an act. He knows exactly what he is leading up to. He just delays to act due to his indecisiveness or inaction. An example of this is when Hamlet says Now might I do it pat, now a is a-praying;/ And now Ill dot.

And so a/ goes to heaven,/ And so am I revenged that would be scanned:/ A villain kills my father, and for that,/ I, his sole son, do this same villain send/ To heaven. / Why, this is hire and salary, not revenge. (III. iii. 73). This very scene illustrates Hamlets tragic flaw: indecision. He has the perfect opportunity to kill the newly King yet holds himself back from doing what he set out to do. His reason was that by killing him while hes praying, his soul goes to heaven and this wouldnt be considered true revenge. This is not a thought of an insane person.

An insane person would have completed the murder at this opportunity. In Act III, scene I, line 55, To be or not to be… , Hamlet displays his indecisiveness by thinking about suicide because of the situation he is in. He constantly is wavering back and forth stuck somewhere in the middle. He can not do anything about it because he sees two sides to everything. He cant determine his course of action because he is caught in the crossroads (Lowell 187). He would rather be dead than live with the thought of his fathers death going unavenged, but knows that the Everlasting fixed His canon against self-slaughter.

Thus conscience takes a major part in the thought and action of murder. This is why he delays so long to commit the murder. An insane person would not wait. They would be more apt to act in impulse. Hamlets madness only existed when he was in the presence of certain characters. When Hamlet is around Polonius, Claudius, Gertrude, Ophelia, Rosencrantz, and Gildenstern, he behaves irrationally. For example in Act II, scene II, lines 173-174, Polonius asks Hamlet, Do you know me, my Lord? Hamlet replies, Excellent well. You are a fishmonger.

He fools Polonious into believing that Ophelia is the reason for his inexplicable and rash behaviors. Hamlet pretends not to know who Polonius is, even though he is Ophelias father. After Polonious talks with Hamlet he explains to the King the cause of Hamlets crude actions: Fell into a sadness, then into a fast,/ Thence to a watch, thence into a weakness,/ Thence to a lightness, and by this declension/ Into a madness wherein now he raves/ And we all mourn (II. ii. 147-150). When Hamlet is around Horatio, Bernardo, Fransisco, the players and the Gravediggers, he behaves rationally.

In Act II, section II, lines, 378-379, Hamlet says: I am but mad north-north-west. When the/ wind is southernly I know a hawk from a handsaw. He is letting Horatio know that he is completely aware of what is going on and is only playing the part of the madman at times when it is pivotal. He makes Horatio swear on a sword that he will not let others know the reasons for his acting mad. If Horatio isnt surprised by Hamlets supposed madness or he leads on that he knows something, Hamlets antic disposition will not be affective. If Hamlet plans to put on an act of antic disposition then he cant be insane.

Throughout the play Hamlet questions everyone. He questions whether the ghost of Hamlet is real. When Hamlet is in his mothers chambers, the ghost appears to him reiterating what he must do. Although Hamlet sees him and talks to him, when Hamlet asks if Queen Gertrude can see anything, she simply replies: Nothing at all, yet all that is I see. (Act 3, scene 4, line 137). Hamlet is, through the whole play, rather an instument than an agent. He plays the madman the most, when he treats Ophelia with much rudeness, which seems to be useless and warton cruelty (Johnson 181).

In Act III, sc. I, line 103, Hamlet asks Ophelia Ha, Ha! are you honest? Are you fair? /Where is your father? Ophelia tells Hamlet hes at home. Hamlet can see past the pretentiousness and somehow knows that he is being spied on by Claudius and Polonius so he pretends to be mad. At this point Hamlets uncle says: Madness in great ones must not unwatched go (III. i. 81). The King still is not completely convinced of Hamlets madness so he is cautious. Hamlet realizes that through acting insane, he can further plan his revenge without having to worry if the King is catching on or not.

Indeed the King is smart, but being that Hamlet is so astute, he can see past the Kings attempts to prove his sanity thus pretending to play the role of the madman until the very end. Hamlet feigns madness for self-protection. He knows that the King could conceivably kill him at any given point in time, and that he refrains only because he cannot satisfy himself that the boy is in his right mind. He tries to entrap him into some act that will prove his sanity, but in vain. Hamlet carries this pretence of insanity until at last he finds the moment for a terrible revenge (Kittredge 183).

Throughout the entire play Hamlet is careful with his actions. The young prince thinks everything through. Although he delayed his actions longer than Laertes did, he planned all his actions out instead of acting out in a foot of rage. He had to be completely sure before taking action. Hamlet was completely aware of his actions and what was morally correct. He never lost sight of his objective to expose the Kings sin of murdering his father and obtaining revenge. Hamlet was completely sane throughout this Shakespearean tragedy.

Hamlet’s greatest crime was his inherent goodness. In a world of evil, goodness is scarcely seen and often hunted prey. In believing the world could be one of happiness and success, Hamlet was only preparing the cell into which the darkness of reality would exile him and the chains of thought would keep him forever bound. Reality made Hamlet a prisoner and a murderer. Reality made Hamlet capable of acts that can only be justified if one were to view them through his madness. Reality murdered Hamlet long before Alerts was given the chance.

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