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The subject of madness is time and again a brilliant theme for tragedy, as William Shakespeare masterfully displayed in his classic and unforgettable play “Hamlet”. In this tragedy, the youthful prince of Denmark discovers the terrible truth from his father’s ghost that his uncle Claudius, married to his mother, poisoned his father. Hamlet devises a plan whereby he will pretend to be mad in an attempt to set Claudius straight, but perhaps he is crazed from the start as the prince sincerely believes he sees and talks to ghosts. Although Hamlet at first seems to be absolutely insane, Shakespeare reveals through language and action that there is a specific technique behind Hamlet’s craziness, and so he is only acting insane.
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Why Hamlet is not really mad
At the beginning of the story, Hamlet is presented to the readers as an intellectual young man, perhaps a bit depraved. He is fully conscious of his responsibilities as a prince and son, and his future once seemed promising as his father was the king of Denmark. Simultaneously, Hamlet is in a state of severe depression after his father’s death and his mother’s treacherous act, and only his religious background prevents him from committing suicide.
Over the course of the play, Hamlet is portrayed as an unstable character who either wants to die or wants to take part in incomprehensible actions intended to persuade others of his madness. This image provides the Prince with absolute freedom of action, therefore showing not that he is deranged, but that he is a deeply conflicted character. In his relationship with Ophelia, Hamlet can afford many provocative expressions that would not be unacceptable in a diverse setting, although he makes it obvious that he wants nothing to do with her and misleads everyone else with wordplay.
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In spite of all the crazy delusions and actions of the protagonist, there is a definite consistency and plan in Hamlet’s madness, which proves that his common sense clearly perceives all the events. This is primarily manifested in the language he employs and his skill with the language of others. His capacity to instantly grasp the double or triple sense in a phrase or word represents the first sign of a remarkably clever mind. The amplest proof that Hamlet is sane, however, is his power to apply his discretion according to who may be listening.
Hamlet’s swift deductions regarding the appearance of his father’s ghost indicates that he is unusually perceptive, extremely reasonable, and able to reach a logical decision and subsequent plan of action, all features that prove the character’s sanity. A critical clue in an initial chapter that possibly Hamlet is not as mad as he seems is provided by his demand that both Horatio and Marcellus swear on his sword never to reveal the ghost to anyone and to quit trusting that he recognizes what he is performing. Over the course of the play, even in his delusions, Hamlet turns out to be surprisingly insightful in his reflections, just as he presents himself at the outset.
The ultimate factor comes in Hamlet’s tendency to maintain an irrational game in the presence of people he feels he must deceive and in his successive moves to expose his uncle’s betrayal. Every move the prince takes, from the time he encounters his father’s ghost, is aimed at publicly confirming Claudius’s guilt and carrying out the revenge his father wanted. In front of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet stays in character until he stumbles upon a player and comes up with a plot to stage “The Murder of Gonzago” to bring his uncle to light. His rational behavior with the murderers reveals that although he is occupied with planning his uncle’s downfall, Hamlet is not so singular-minded as to ignore other potential warning signs. While his attitude towards Ophelia is often perceived as cruel, Hamlet is aware that her gentle words and bright nature also endanger the purposeful quest he has undertaken.
Shakespeare masterfully shows both Hamlet’s insanity and his common sense by manipulating language, actions and similes, ultimately allowing the reader or viewer to derive the final conclusion and produce their own reflections. That eventual decision is whether Hamlet can be considered mad at the beginning of the play. Within the context of the plot itself, with the perception of Hamlet as a perfectly reasonable and logical, though gloomy young man, there is no question that Hamlet is as adequate a man as most of the other characters. His way of adopting language, his sustained ability to stick to his plan and his ultimate success in exposing the king illustrate that he had a goal, a determination and a coherent plan of action. This can be easily contrasted with the opposing actions of Ophelia, who is unable to engage in ordinary conversation, supports no aim, and receives no ultimate success after her insanity begins.
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