Hamlet: Sane vs. Insane?
Throughout Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, the main character is faced with the responsibility of gaining revenge for his father’s murder. He decides to make believe that he is crazy as part of his plan to gain the opportunity to kill Claudius. As the play progresses, his depiction of a madman becomes more and more believable, and the characters around him react accordingly. However, through his inner thoughts and the apparent reasons for his actions, it is clear that he is not really mad and is simply an actor pretending to be insane in order to fulfill his duty to his father.
Hamlet claims to be insane because it can allow him to say and do things that he wouldn’t be allowed to do if he wasn’t. This is part of his original plan when he asks Hortatio and Marcellus to not make any comments on his “antic disposition” (1.4.192).
His madness allows him to talk to Claudius, Gertrude, Ophelia, and also Polonius in a disrespectful manner without catching the blame for it. During the play for example, he makes many sexual puns to Ophelia such as “That’s a fair thought to lie between maids’ legs” (3.2.125).
His acting gives him the chance to vent his anger towards her.
When Hamlet enters Gertrude’s chamber in Act III, scene 4 we see a man that is filled with rage, and far from calm. Before he enters the chamber he says that he “shall speak daggers, but use none”(3.2.387) Hamlet is so furious that he knows he could kill Gertrude but he knows that he cannot because his fathers ghost told him that he must kill Claudius and leave his mother to heaven. The ghost is never clear in this scene because his mother never sees the ghost but Hamlet does. Hamlet tries to convince her that it is there but Gertrude thinks that he is insane. Once the ghost reminds Hamlet of his duties Hamlet gets back on track and tries to speak more calmly to his mother.
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While inside of the chamber and between the yelling at his mother and the appearance of the ghost Hamlet hears something behind the curtain, without hesitation Hamlet jabs at the person hoping that it is Claudius. To Hamlets surprise, Polonius falls from behind the curtain… dead. Hamlet barely acknowledges that he just took the life of another being before he starts back in on his mother comparing the life of her once husband to her current husband.
Hamlet acts perfectly sane when acting insane is needless. When he talks to Horatio about watching Claudius for signs of guilt during the play, he says “Give him heedful note, for I mine eyes will rivet his face, and, after, we will both our judgments join in censure of his seeming (3.2.87).” These words sound like a sane man. Horatio is one of the few people to which he does not need to prove he is “insane,” or he does not try. Also when he is explaining to the players how to act, he is surprisingly organized and natural sounding. For example, he asks “You could, for a need, study a speech of some dozen or sixteen lines, which I would set down and insert in ‘t, could you not? (2.2.565)” His questions are short and sweet as they should be, and it seems that the player not only understand completely, but also is comfortable with Hamlet and what he asks. It is much more believable that a sane man could play an insane one, than an insane man could play a sane one, and so reason would consider Hamlet sane.
Hamlet can be considered a strange, determined, and possibly proactive a man, who was made this way by his father’s murder and his request for revenge. His pretend madness is maintained because it allows him to continue with his plans. This madness is not continued when his plan is unnecessary. Maybe Hamlet thought too much, but he thought as a sane man would. He committed no actions without reason, and he is far too intelligent and organized to be considered mentally unstable. Hamlet’s portrayal of a madman is also very detailed because it allows not only his points to be made, but in a believably insane way, which contrasts with the expected “ramblings” of a truly insane person.
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