Madness or Sanity

Hamlet is a hard character to understand according to Shakespeare. The author portrays him as both sane and mad by considering the things he does. He shows a great degree of emotional changes. This is after his father dies under circumstances that he fails to understand. Hamlet shows more madness than sanity (Gilgenbach, 2011). Due to emotional disturbances, he is caught up in the difficult situations that appear to disturb his mind. His attitude and reaction towards many things and tragedies that happen to him makes him appear insane. Anyone, who has lost a loved one in a manner like Hamlet, would also react the same way. All the people that he trusted and treasured had betrayed him in order to gain favor from Claudius, who had assumed power in the kingdom through the wicked ways (Youngson, 1999). He grieves at the loss of people, who meant much to him, and losing the kingdom to his uncle. His anger increases through the evils his uncle commits. He feigns madness, being the only method that he could use to learn the things he was doing without creating suspicion. He achieves this by playing the part and assuming that he is unaware of the things that are happening (Gilgenbach, 2011).

However, this helps him much in acting different from people’s expectations on him, as in the case when he kills Polonius by mistake. He speaks in anger rather than being apologetic. Everyone, who meant a lot to him, except Horatio, had already betrayed him. That is why he cannot trust anyone. Whenever he plans to do anything, he does it in a way that people will not comprehend. He has a plan to avenge his father’s murder by killing Claudius suspect. One thing is evident in the play: Hamlet acts insane only when situations demand. These are the times, when a tragedy has happened, or when he suspects his friends of evil intentions  (Shakespeare, 1982).

Hamlet is furious because of his father’s sudden death. His uncle assumes leadership and takes the Claudius’s widow, who is his mother, for a wife. He cannot take it that she remarries so soon, while he is in grief alone. He suspects Claudius, his uncle, as the murderer behind his father’s death. He sees it unfit for his mother to marry a man, who killed her former husband. His mother at one time questions his grief for his father, mentioning that it seems common (Shakespeare, 1982). He responds to this by screaming at her and saying he was grieving the murder of his father and that it is not common. He says “seems, madam! Nay it is; I know not 'seems.' 'tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother, nor customary suits of solemn black, nor windy suspiration of forced breath, no, nor the fruitful river in the eye, nor the dejected behavior of the visage, together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief, that can denote me truly: these indeed seem, for they are actions that a man might play: but i have that within which passeth show; these but the trappings and the suits of woe”. It is this action as insanity that gives him the freedom of expression, and now he can question his mother and uncle (Gilgenbach, 2011). This is contrary to their expectations from a prince. This would be interpreted as insanity. He shows his anger towards his mother’s words and inference that he seems to be in common grief.

Hamlet at one time plans to commit suicide. According to Shakespeare, this is to a certain level insanity. Hamlet discusses this with his servant Polonius. This adds to Polonius’ proof that Hamlet is getting insane. The chamber, in which they are at that moment, is drafty. Polonius tries to convince his master to move to a warmer room, but he refuses (Youngson, 1999). He later says that Polonius cannot take anything from him, whom he has willingly considered, and his life is not an exception. He reveals his plans to be free of his own life to Polonius. Hamlet says this out of desperation from the betrayal that he has faced. He sees no need to live because everything goes against his wish. He is not himself anymore and he cannot control any aspect of his life.

Gertrude and Claudius begin to notice the change in Hamlet’s behavior (Shakespeare, 1982). Polonius, the servant, explains to them that Hamlet is insane as a result of his love for Ophelia. He explains this as he tells Claudius of his secret visit to her closet. Polonius has already concluded that Ophelia is the cause of his madness or insanity. This is after Ophelia’s father ordered her not to see Hamlet again. Polonius bases his conclusion on his melancholy, which closely resembles insanity (Shakespeare, 1982). He thinks that Hamlet is so much disappointed by his failed love to Ophelia. Polonius tells Claudius and Gertrude, "your noble son is mad:  mad call i it; for, to define true madness, what is't but to be nothing else but mad?” Polonius thinks to himself: "though this is madness, yet there is a method in't." The king doubts his madness, he describes Hamlet’s love as void and that it lacks a foundation, unlike the way Hamlet expresses (Shakespeare, 1982). The king says thatthere’s something in Hamlet’s soul, where his depression sits on broods and he doubts the hatch and disclose of his love. The king says that he has been put him from understanding himself.  Gertrude describes him as "my too much changed son". Once he screams at Ophelia for lying to him about her father’s whereabouts. There is quite a sarcasm or satire in that all of them think that he has changed and is behaving in a different way. His change is the result of the ill things they have done to him and the betrayal (Shakespeare, 1982).

Insanity is a character that Hamlet assumes. It is a strategy that he uses to confuse others, while at the same time making his own investigations. He knows that acting in that manner will help him to do things that he cannot do in a sober mind. It allows him to gain more information, while escaping people’s suspicion, as no one takes him seriously in his actions. When speaking to Horatio, he states: "how strange or odd soe'er i bear myself, as i perchance hereafter shall think meet to put an antic disposition on..." He fakes insanity, while responding to Horatio's warning when they meet a ghost that he takes to be that of his father. Horatio is worried that this ghost may tempt Hamlet towards flood, or to the dreadful summit of the cliff that beetles o'er his base into the sea. Horatio is concerned that Hamlet is mad, something that Hamlet makes everyone to believe in. Hamlet pretends to be insane only when situations demanded. He organizes a play to dramatize his father’s death. This was to determine if his uncle murdered his father. Hamlet’s acts of thinking that he will play something, so as to make his uncle behave in a suspect manner show Hamlet as insane. Hamlet is thinking that the spirit he had seen earlier is of a devil. He wanted to see his uncle’s reaction during the play. He tells Horatio to watch Claudius for signs of guilt in his uncle during the play. His thinking process shows that he was not thinking in a proper way. His illusionary madness is evident, while dealing with the spies sent by his uncle. Claudius decides to send Guildenstern and Rosencrantz to investigate the other side of Hamlet, so that his uncle would know him better (Gilgenbach, 2011). He tackles this so intelligently that no one among them would suspect it. At first, he conducts himself in a normal way, when the two spies show up. He changes his state, when he suspects their purpose. He says, "I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, i know a hawk from a handsaw”. To the two spies, this shows that Hamlet is insane, and it prevents them from further probe. He maintains secrecy by toying around with them and escaping more questioning. He later gets them killed in a cunning way. He achieves this by using his father’s seal, a phenomenon too intelligent for a mad person.

Hamlet’s pretense of insanity helps him to avoid reprimand. This happens, when he kills Polonius. He calls Polonius "thou wretched, rash, intruding fool". He is not apologetic, but acts like he did not know what he was doing. This pretense helps him to escape the fear that would arise from the incident. He uses his faked madness as an excuse and part of an apology towards Laertes on the murder of Polonius. He refers to his actions as uncontrollable, a statement that a mad man would not make. Hamlet is sane throughout the play. It is his acting that makes it hard to determine it. He only acts insane during rough situations (Youngson, 1999). His two close friends betrayed him by spying on him. There is also betrayal by Ophelia, his mother betraying his father in getting married to his murderer, and his uncle’s betrayal by killing his father and taking over his kingdom and wife. He depicts a stable but cunning and intelligent mind, while tackling the misfortunes that happen to him (Shakespeare, 1982).

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