and by agreeing or disagreeing with those opinions I will prove that he was acting in very
logic way, and his decisions and actions were very deliberate.
If Shakespeare had not given us the complex psychological state of Hamlet, then
one could conclude that Hamlet was really insane (electric library), but Shakespeare did.
He made sure that there was an explanation and, or logical reason for all his actions.
Hamlet proves to be in complete control of his psyche in several parts of the play.
First, the fact that Hamlet acts irrationally only in front of certain individuals
shows that he is only acting. He acts insane in front of Polonius, Claudius, Gertrude and
Ophelia; while remaining perfectly normal in front of Horatio, Marcellus, the players and
the gravedigger. “I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind is southerly I know a
hawk from a handsaw”(Guth, hamlet, p. 820, v.35-37). This is the classic example of the
“wild and whirling words” (Guth, hamlet, p808, v.90) with which Hamlet hopes to
persuade people to believe that he is mad. These words, however, prove that beneath his
emotional disposition, caused by his father’s death and very fast remarriage of his
mother, Hamlet is very sane. Our hero is saying that he knows a hunting hawk from a
hunted “handsaw” or heron in other words, that, very far from being mad, he is perfectly
capable of recognizing his enemies. His imagery involving points of the compass, the
weather, and hunting birds, he is announcing that he is precisely and calculatedly
choosing the time when to appear mad.
Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” is based on the legend of fabled Danish Prince Amleth,
who feigned insanity to veil a plot of revenge against his uncle for his father’s murder.
Set down by Saxo Grammaticus at the end of the twelfth century in the Historiae
Danicae, the legend included two parts, however, we have no evidence that Shakespeare
came into contact with either of these versions. The most direct source for his drama
seems to have been another play of around 1588 know as Ur-Hamlet, which was based on
Belleforest’s, one of these versions, but is now lost (Watts, p.2).
In Saxo version of the tale, Amleth not only killed the eavesdropper (the Polonius
character in Hamlet) but also cut his body into morsels, he seethed it in boiling water, and
flung it through the mouth of the swine to eat (Watts, p.5).
In contrast, Shakespeare’s Hamlet feels remorse after the murder of Polonius:
“I do repent; but heaven hath pleas’d it so, to punish me with this, and this with me, that I
must be their scourge and minister.” (Guth, Hamlet, 3.4. v.175-178, p.851).
Hamlet’s speech reflects the more Christian viewpoint of Shakespeare’s time, but
also tells us that he is not a coward, like some critics say. Fact that he actually kills
Polonius (being sure that he is killing Claudius) proves that he does not suffer from any
weakness of will or inability to act, that he has the ability to think clearly, and that he
does not suffer from any mental disorder. Moreover, E. E. Stoll said: “The delay
functions in Hamlet as it had from the Greeks on, as part of the epical tradition; it does
not reflect upon the defects of the hero, but makes the deed momentous when it comes at
the end of the play.” (Weitz, Hamlet, p.50)
Hamlet has really strong character, which we can also witness in the very
democratic and human way he treats Horatio and the players. His hesitation is not a result
of cowardice, but a result of evil nature of the society in which he lives. “Hamlet himself
is a moral man in an immoral world, a sensitive man in a cruel society, society which
accepts the concept of revenge as perfectly moral. (Aichinger, criticism, Vol. 35). This
social roles tell him to take revenge, but the socially created urges to revenge, force him
to do something against his real nature. Hamlet’s rejection of the moral standards of his
society is crystallized by his father’s death, his loss of the election to the throne,
Gertrude’s casual acceptance of her husband’s death, and her hasty marriage. These
events serve to heighten his awareness of the condition of society (Aichinger, criticism,
Vol. 35). One can say, that they could go their way and he his, but the problem and the
tragedy is that this society and this individuals make a specific demand upon him. Hamlet
thinks about rejecting these standards of his society but, on the other hand, he also thinks
But this is not the only reason for which Hamlet delays in killing the king. The
other reason is, that he is not sure of the Ghost’s origins and its reality. Critic E. E. Stoll
says: “The doubting of the Ghost is not moment of weakness; this is Hamlet as a typical
Elizabethan, knowing that the Ghost could be the devil rather than his father’s spirit.”
(Weitz, Hamlet, p. 52) “The spirit that I have seen /May be the devil” (Guth, Hamlet,
p.828, v.616-618). Horatio’s comment that the ghost disappeared because of the rooster
crowing which, in Hamlet’s times, was considered as a God’s sign, makes Hamlet
wonder even more. If this is the God’s sign, and if the ghost is not evil, then why the
Ghost disappeared after hearing it?
Hamlet also wants to find out whether the Ghost tale of murder is true. In order to
do it, he decides that when he finds it suitable or advantageous to him, he will put on a
“mask of madness so to speak” (Schucking, Hamlet, p. 67).He confides to Horatio that
when he finds the occasion appropriate, he will “put an antic disposition on” (Guth,
Hamlet, p. 810, 1.5.172). Mark Van Doren points out in his book “Shakespeare”, that
“Hamlet’s antic disposition” is used “as a device for seeming mad” (162). He uses it as a
tactic in order to buy time in which he can discover the truth. If the Ghost is telling the
true, this strategy will give Hamlet a chance to find proof of Claudius’ guilt, and to
First, he decides to “appear unthreatening and harmless” so that people will
divulge information to him, much in the same way that an adult will talk about an
important secret in the presence of a child. (Barnes ; Noble, A review of Hamlet, Vol.
To convince everyone of his madness, Hamlet spends many hours walking
back and forth alone in the lobby talking like a crazy man. When asked if he recognizes
Polonius, Hamlet replies, “Excellent well; you are a fishmonger” (Guth, hamlet, p. 819,
2.2.175). Although the response seems crazy since a fish-seller would look totally
different that expensively dressed lord Polonius, “Hamlet is actually criticizing Polonius
for his management of Ophelia, since fishmonger is Elizabethan slang for pimp”
(Addison, Shakespearian criticism, Vol. 1). He also plays mind-games with Polonius,
first agreeing that a cloud looks like a camel, then a veasel, then a whale, and
finally, he comments, in very sane way, that “They fool me to the top of my bent” (Guth,
Hamlet, p. 843, 3.2.393). Although he appears to have lost touch with reality, he kips
reminding us that he is not at all “far gone, far gone” (Guth, Hamlet, p. 819, 2.2.190) as
Polonius claims, but, in fact, Hamlet can control himself and the situation very well.
Although Hamlet manages to convince Ophelia, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern of
his insanity, other characters in the play such as Claudius, Gertrude, and even Polonius
Claudius is constantly “on his guard” (Internet),
because of his guilty conscience and he therefore recognizes that Hamlet is faking. The
king is suspicious of Hamlet from very beginning. He denies Hamlet permission to return
to university, so that he can keep an eye on him. When Hamlet starts acting strangely,
Claudius becomes more suspicious and sends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to spy on
him. Their tasks are to discover why Hamlet is pretending to be mad: “And can you, by
no drift of conference, Get from him why he puts on his confusion, Grating so harshly all
his days of quiet With turbulent and dangerous lunacy?” (Guth, Hamlet, p.829, 3.1.1-4).
Claudius doesn’t believe that Ophelia’s rejection has caused Hamlet’s lunacy, because he
does not believe in his madness at all. Even if Claudius has any doubts of Hamlet’s
sanity, he gets rid of it in “The main action, which reaches its apogee in the play within
plays.” (Schucking, hamlet, p.3) When Claudius realizes that Hamlet knows the truth
about his father’s death, he immediately sends him away to England. The final and
prevailing evidence demonstrating Claudius’ knowledge of Hamlet’s sanity is the fact
that he, filling threatened by Hamlet, orders the king of England to kill him. “For like the
hectic in my blood he rages, And thou must cure me: till I know ’tis done, Howe’er my
haps, my joys were ne’er begun.” (Guth, Hamlet, p.857, 4.3.67-69)
A lot of people and some critics state that Hamlet is insane because of the way he
acts toward his mother; but those people obviously didn’t read the play carefully enough.
Hamlet, in the scene in his mother’s bedroom, tells Gertrude by himself that his insanity
is faked: “It is not madness That I have Utter’d: bring me to the test, And I the matter will
re-word, which madness would Gambol from.” (Guth, Hamlet, p 850, 3.4.143-146).
Gertrude, like Polonius and Claudius, does not believe in Hamlet’s insanity. Even
without his confirmation, the queen sees through his act. While Hamlet is reprimanding
her, she is so upset that she describes his words as “daggers” (Guth, Hamlet, p. 848,
3.4.98) and claims, “Thou hast cleft my heart in twain” (Guth, Hamlet, p. 850, 3.4.158).
The words of madman could not have penetrated her soul to such an extent. (Johnston, p.
28). The Queen takes every word Hamlet says seriously, proving that she respects him
and believes him. She also believes in Hamlet’s confession of sanity immediately. Instead
of questioning him, Gertrude promises to keep it in secret: “Be thou assur’d, if words be
made of breath, And breath of life, I have no life to breathe What thou hast said to me.”
(Guth, hamlet, p. 851, 3.4.199-201). D.A. Traversi in his “An Approach to Shakespeare,”
points out that “Hamlet’s concern with action, upon which his dilemma is finally
concentrated, is most fully developed, immediately after his confrontation with his
mother” (358). If Hamlet was truly insane, this is the scene where he would show it the
most, however, he proves, once more, that he is very sane.
Polonius is the third person, which can see that Hamlet has not completely lost
touch with the world. Although he frequently misses the meanings of Hamlet’s remarks
and insults, he does recognize that they make some sense. After a confusing conversation
with Hamlet he says: “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t” (Guth, Hamlet,
p. 819, 2.2.208). When his theory of rejected love proves wrong, he becomes very
suspicious of Hamlet’s behavior and hides behind the “arras” in Gertrude’s bedroom in
order to listen Hamlet’s private conversation with his mother. Eventually, Polonius’
curiosity leads to his death when Hamlet stabs the “arras” in the mistaken believe that he
Hamlet’s soliloquies and his confidences to Horatio, are another, the most
Throughout the play, Hamlet’s soliloquies reveal his inner thoughts, which are
completely rational. In one of the speeches, Hamlet criticizes himself for not taking yet
an action to avenge his father’s murder: “O what a rogue and peasant slave am I
That I, the son of the dear murder’d, Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell, Must,
like a whore, unpack my heart with words.” (Guth, Hamlet, p., 2.2.495-530). Hamlet
calls himself a “dull and muddy-mettled rascal” (Guth, Hamlet, p, 2.2.510), a villain
and a coward, but when he realizes that his anger “does not achieve anything else but the
unpacking of his heart” (Electric Library), he stops. These are not the thoughts of a
madman; his emotions are very real and his thoughts are those of rational man. Even
when he contemplates suicide in the “To be or not to be” soliloquy, “he
reasons himself out of it” (Cliffs, Hamlet, p.18) because of his very sane
consideration of the dangers of an unknown afterlife: “And thus the native hue of
resolution / Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought” (Guth, Hamlet, p , 3.1.86-87).
Orson Welles states in the book “The Friendly Shakespeare,” “I don’t think any madman
ever said ‘Why, what an ass am I,’ I think that is a divinely sane remark.” (Epstein, p350)
A further important proof of Hamlet’s sanity is how patiently he devises plans to
prepare for his revenge. First, he puts on an ”antic disposition” as a device to test his
enemies; and second, he mounts the play-within-play, another well-laid plan to trap
Claudius into admitting guilt: “The play’s the thing / Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of
the king” (Guth, Hamlet, p. 828, 2.2.622-23) Even when the play brings him concrete
proof, he is careful not to rush to take his revenge at the wrong moment. He could easily
kill Claudius while he is praying, but restrains himself thinking that Claudius might enter
heaven. His patience is a sign of rationality. Hamlet shows himself perfectly capable of
action, as well as of rational though, in escaping the king’s armed guard, dispatching
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to their deaths in England, dealing with the pirates and
The last conviction of Hamlet’s sanity is the normality in his reactions to the
people around him. He is perfectly sane, friendly, and courteous with the players, giving
them good acting tips, which they appreciate and respect. He treats Ophelia with love,
and gets little cold after he has not seen her “for this many days” and finally, he becomes
completely furious, insulting womankind in general, but one have to remember that she
gives him a reason for that. First, Ophelia returns his remembrances, then she lies to him
about her father’s whereabouts. He reacts in away that any hurt young rejected lover
would, so for those people who see Hamlet insanity in the way he treats Ophelia, I have
just one thing to say: If his behavior was the result of madness then, this means that we
Summarizing all this evidences, I can say that they are a great proof of Hamlet’s
sanity, and that all these others critics evidences of his madness, or those Freud’s
believes of Hamlet’s melancholy, are nothing else but empty words.
I truly believe that he was grief-stricken rather than insane or melancholic. Kirsch,
in the “Shakespearean Criticism”, says that: “the betrayed character of Hamlet suffers
throughout the play in a manner more consistent with a state of mourning than one of
melancholy and mental derangement. (pp. 17-36) Like Kirsch, I also think that Hamlet is
in a state of mourning rather than of disease, partially because he is always conscious of
the manic roles he plays, and is always lucid with Horatio, but also because “his thoughts
and feelings turn outward as well as inward and his behavior is finally a symbiotic
response to the actually diseased world of the play. And though that diseased world,
poisoned at the root by a truly guilty King, eventually represents an overwhelming tangle
of guilt, its main emphasis, both for Hamlet and for us, is the experience of grief. The
essential focus of the action as well as the source of its consistent pulsations of feeling,
the pulsations which continuously charge both Hamlet’s sorrow and his anger (and in
which the whole issue of delay is subsumed) is the actuality of conscious, not
unconscious loss.” (Alexander, p.73).
We have to remember that although king offers his consolation for Hamlet’s grief,
it comes at the wrong time, from the wrong person and with wrong inflection. Even if the
words were true, not the words, but sympathy is what the grieving Hamlet needs; but this
Hamlet does not receive, not from the court, not from his uncle,
and most important, not from his own mother. Moreover, for those people, his grief over
his father’s death is alien and unwelcome. This is shown in the beginning of the play,
even before Hamlet sees the ghost, where Gertrude, ask him: “Good Hamlet, cast thy
knighted color off, And let thine eye look like a friend on Denmark. Do not for ever
with thy vailed lids / Seek for thy noble father in the dust. Thou know’st ’tis commonall
that lives must die, Passing through nature to eternity.” After Hamlet’s respond, ”Ay,
madam, it is common, if it be” she then asks: “Why seems it so particular with thee?”
After this question, Hamlet revolts: “Seems, madam! Nay, it is; I know not seems.”
Throughout the play, hamlet is preoccupied with delay, and with the metaphysical
Issue of the relation between thought and action, but as his own experience shows, “there
is finally no action that can be commensurate with his grief, and it is Hamlet’s experience
of grief, and his recovery from it, to which we ourselves respond most deeply.” (Downer,
Hamlet is acting sometimes uncommonly during the play, but one must recognize
that he is a young man who comes home from his university to find his father dead and
his mother remarried to his father’s murderer. In the same time, the women he loves
rejects him, he is betrayed by his friends, and finally and most painfully, he is betrayed
by his mother. In addition, the ghost of his father visits him and assures Hamlet of his
love and ask for vengeance. Now, one has to answer if he or she, being in this kind of
situation wouldn’t act with the presence of frailty, or grief which is so common in our
life. Moreover, I think that Hamlet handles this situation way better than majority would.
He not just deals with these events, but also, in the same time, thinks so clearly and
makes plans, which finally helps him to discover the truth. The same way he ask himself
if he should live or die, he also plans and questions the strategy of his plans: To be insane
or not to be insane? If I will appear sane, I might never discover the truth. From
pretending madness, I can only benefit. Then I will pretend to be sane. Can we blame
Hamlet for the way he thinks? Can we blame him because he thinks?
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