Undoubtedly, one of the greatest playwrights of all times, William Shakespeare had a great gift. The art of being able to hold the audience captive by creating situations where it was impossible to decide between real and unreal. A blurring of lines that made it difficult for one to decide whether or not what was happening was true or not. It is in Hamlet that this gift shines brilliantly. We are left contemplating whether Hamlet was really mad at one point or was he merely play- acting throughout.
As we go forward, I would explain why I think that Hamlet was simply faking his madness and show that he was intelligent, meticulous and quite logical and reasonable. In other words, he was everything that an insane or mad person would not be. When we first meet Hamlet in Act 1, Scene ii, after the demise of his father, he is accompanied, among others, by his mother Gertrude and Uncle Claudius who have since married. It is evident that he is hurt and angry at the turn of events and feels betrayed by his mother. His interaction with them is sarcastic and veiled.
‘Not so, my lord/I am too much i’ the sun. ’ (I. ii. 67), says he when questioned by his uncle/step-father about his well-being. His grief and anger is truly understandable and it is only natural that the loss of a father and the sudden and soon remarriage of a mother would affect him so deeply. Further, we hear him condemn this alliance and happenings, ‘She married. O, most wicked speed, to post With such dexterity to incestuous sheets! It is not nor it cannot come to good: (I. ii. 156-7). Therefore, it becomes quite evident that he was upset by everything that his uncle and mother had done.
This is also, probably when he starts to think about turning the tables on his uncle and securing, in his own way, justice for his father’s memory. His decision to act insane was probably prompted by seeing the ghost of his father in Act I, scene iv. The Ghost had already been sighted by Horatio and Marcellus so we cannot say that this was a figment of Hamlet’s imagination. ‘Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder. ’ (I. iv. 25). This statement by the Ghost of Hamlet’s father sets the stage for everything else that unfolds, including Hamlet’s act of insanity.
It all begins with Hamlet putting up an act for Ophelia, knowing well that the information would surely reach Polonius, her father and a loyalist of Claudius. In Act II, Scene i, when Polonius meets Hamlet and questions him, he, himself remarks ‘Though this be madness/ yet there is method in ‘t. ’ (II. ii. 195-6). This just proves that Hamlet’s insanity was merely an act and there was careful thinking behind it. As we proceed and get deeper into the intricacies of the plot for revenge, Hamlet recounts with perfect clarity a speech he had heard long before to one of the visiting players in Act II, Scene ii.
Although Hamlet is not insane, he is clearly disturbed and depressed as he himself says in his soliloquy at the end of Act II, Scene ii. In Act III, Scene i, when he again meets Ophelia, who he suspects of spying on him, he tells her in no uncertain terms what he thinks of her. His harsh words brushed off as insane ramblings are, in truth, his real feelings concealed and worded with great cleverness. He clearly asks her if she is honest (III. i. 106) and also, with great ingenuity expresses that he knows that she is spying for her father. ‘God has given you one face/ and you make yourselves another’ (III.
i. 144-5) As a matter of fact, even King Claudius and Polonius are not convinced that he is completely insane, ‘Nor what he spake, though it lack’d form a little/Was not like madness. There’s something in his soul/O’er which his melancholy sits on brood; ‘(III. i. 164-6) rather they believe that he is seriously troubled and saddened. Hamlet’s intention to convince everyone that he is losing his mind is quite successful but at the same time, the other players are also, of the opinion that the current circumstances and Ophelia’s aloofness are disturbing him rather than believing that he is mad.
Even if we were to for a moment believe that Hamlet was insane, how would we explain the careful planning that went into the enactment of ‘The Mousetrap’, in Act III, Scene ii? He is in fact, quite a master of the craft and never for once lets his guard down. That is what actually, tends to convince everyone that he is truly insane. He knows that the women he loves –Ophelia and Gertrude are also part of the conspiracy and therefore, does not let them in on his faked madness. His conversation with Gertrude in Act III, Scene iv, is a revelation that he is in perfect control of his senses.
‘Mother, you have my father much offended. ’ (III. iv. 10). He accuses her of betraying her loving and brave husband (III. iv. 55-77) and even his accidental slaying of Polonius was actually a case of mistaken identity and not an act of madness. If he were a raving lunatic, he would not be able to use words crafted to make Gertrude feel guilty and remorseful. It is also, to Gertrude that he nearly confesses that he is not really mad but simply putting up a facade ‘That I essentially am not in madness/ But mad in craft. ’ (III. iv. 191-2).
Hamlet’s veiled barbs to Claudius in Act IV, Scene iii also, support the fact that he is not mad. Rather he is able to use words that bring out his innermost emotions quite honestly ‘Nothing but to show you how a king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar. ’ (IV. iii. 31-2). Insanity, even in episodes, would not have allowed Hamlet to be so clever with words and be such a good planner. It would have cast a heavy burden on him, physically as well as mentally. Hamlet retained his common sense along with his physical agility right till the very end.
The clarity of thought displayed by Hamlet and the meticulous attention to details (V. i. 116-20) makes it even more evident that all his ramblings were really just an act; a way to distract Claudius and everyone else from catching on to his plan for revenge. As he explains to Horatio in Act V, Scene ii, he gave great thought to getting back to Denmark and how he planned the whole episode. Any one who is suffering from insanity would never be able to execute something like that with such finesse.
Hamlet is essentially, a master player and so angry is he with the situation in his family that it expresses itself in the form of sarcasm and speeches that may seem meaningless but are actually deep and profound. It becomes easy for us to believe that he actually is insane if we simply take his speeches at face value. However, if we read between the lines, he makes a lot of sense and is at all times, telling people around him, such as, Claudius and Gertrude what he truly thinks about them. Hamlet is surely one of Shakespeare’s greatest creations.
He brings to life the dilemmas faced by a man whose life is in turmoil; the pressures and the stress that he must face and the ingenuity that he must employ in order to battle these challenges. His soliloquies throughout the play are clear expressions of the confusion, disillusionment and stress that prevailed in his mind. Hamlet was not insane, not for one minute. He was angry, disappointed and felt deeply betrayed by those he held closest. It was only natural for him to devise a plan to avenge his father’s death, even though eventually, that plan took his own life.
He was a loving and devoted son, who felt let down by his mother as well as other people, whom he had trusted. He was a good actor, probably even, a great one to be able to convince everyone of his insanity. Shakespeare truly succeeded in his aim of leaving the audience wondering whether or not Hamlet was insane, yet in my opinion and as demonstrated by the textual evidence above, Hamlet was at all times, sane, sensible, articulate and supremely confident of his actions. Works Cited Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. http://shakespeare. mit. edu/hamlet/full. html
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