What is it that classifies an individual s sanity? How does one react when the obsession of destroying something is developed, yet risks of experiencing psychological instability exist if he attempts to destroy that something is made? In one of Shakespeare s most renowned tragedies, Hamlet, the main character Hamlet faces that very dilemma. Returning to Denmark to attend the funeral of his father, the king, and the remarriage of his mother to his uncle Claudius, Hamlet is visited by his father s ghost. The ghost recounts his murder by Claudius, and commands Hamlet to seek revenge. Between the actual murder of Claudius one explores Hamlet s complicated frame of mind and his madness. Hamlet s attitudes and actions throughout the play, influenced at times by others, illustrate that this madness is less than madness and more than feigned.
Hamlet s role in the Danish society is one of high rank. He is the son of the late king of Denmark. Denmark, at that time being the head of world affairs. Hamlet is well known by all of his countrymen, and therefore any open thoughts, feelings or acts in a hostile manner will not be tolerated by them.
Hamlet purposely wears the mask of one that is mad as a result of his desire to be isolated from others. In isolating himself from others, Hamlet can fulfill his plan to avenge his father s death. What would be a more suitable way to attain solitude that behaving insanely? The effect of his lunacy creates his isolation. Disconnection from others was his intent as he states:
And thy commandment all alone shall live
Within the book and volume of my brain,
Un mix d with baser matter yes, by heaven!
(I, V, ll 103-105)
Hamlet s insanity is also a reminder of his moral obligations. Following his encounter with the ghost of his father, Hamlet can only bring himself to recall the ghost s last words, Adieu, adieu! Remember me. I have sworn t. (I, V, ll 112-113) In Hamlet s moral universe the phrase, an eye for an eye, prevails over forgiveness. Since Claudius is King Hamlet s murderer, Claudius death would be the only rational equalizer. Hamlet does need a reminder to remind him of his task or keep the steps to his plan organized for the reason that he constantly procrastinates. Once in the presence of others, Hamlet is undoubtedly reminded of his duty to his father. How is Hamlet going to avenge his father s death? First he needs further confirmation that Claudius killed his father, since he does not want to be solely dependent on the apparition of a ghost. Hamlet needs to ensure that the ghost is, in fact, an apparition of his father and not a demon. He uncovers evidence through Claudius reaction to the play The Mouse Trap. As the re-enactment of the murder takes place, Claudius rises and leaves the theatre. (III, II, ll 264) Once Claudius departs from the theatre area, he retreats to a secluded chamber with the intent of praying. However, Claudius finds himself unable to pray. Hamlet approaches the vulnerable Claudius from behind, and decides not to kill him. Hamlet believes that Claudius has been praying and if murdered one having repented, his sins will be forgiven and he will ascend into heaven. (III, III, ll 75-80) In Hamlet s opinion, heaven would not be an apt punishment for Claudius, not in the least. Hamlet chooses to procrastinate for a longer period of time. Is it possible for an insane individual to be aware of their actions?
Not only is Hamlet aware of his actions, he is also able to evaluate and determine his plans of action. In keeping to himself and withholding his thoughts and observations from others, Hamlet is able to concentrate on the careful demise of his own actions and those of others .
Hamlet is not only exclusively conscious of his own actions, he is also aware of the actions of others. Spying on Hamlet seems to be the one thing that a majority of the other characters in the play share. Polonius attempts to retrieve information about Hamlet, although he is unsuccessful. Hamlet fully aware of Polonius motive, and remarks, Excellent well; you are a fishmonger. (II, II, ll 72) Refusing to take the bait, Hamlet calls Polonius a fisherman since he is fishing for information about him. The wise Polonius does not understand Hamlet s comparison as a result of his disregard for anything Hamlet might say. Polonius is convinced that Hamlet is mad and anything he has to say is lunacy speaking. Old friends of Hamlet s, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, spy on Hamlet in order to reveal the cause of his madness. Their attempt has also failed, this seen as Hamlet states:
Were you sent for?
And there is a kind of confession in your looks,
Which your modesties have not craft enough to colour:
(II, II, ll 274-281)
Hamlet finds it odd that two old friends from school would arrive unannounced just to visit. Polonius and Claudius attempt once more to discover the cause of Hamlet s madness, using Ophelia as a lure. Hamlet takes the bait and manages to remove the hook before being reeled in. Hamlet tells Ophelia that he loved her once, then objects his own statement and says, I loved you not. (III, I, ll 117-119) as a result of Ophelia s response, Indeed my lord, you made me believe so. (III, I, ll 116) Hamlet is aware of the actions of the other characters. His perceptiveness allows him to see through the illusions presented before him, into the truth hidden behind them.
Thus far, characters supposedly close to Hamlet, namely Polonius, Claudius, Ophelia, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern attempt to spy on him. Hamlet s agitation as a result of this is unveiled little by little. Hamlet instructs Ophelia to blame her actions on her ignorance of anything better. Hamlet is not only referring to her sexual teases, but her involvement in the set up with Polonius and Claudius as well. Before his departure, Hamlet tells Ophelia, Go to, I ll no more on t; it hath made me mad. (III, I, ll 147-148) Although the purpose behind Rosencrantz and Guildenstern s visit is revealed to Hamlet, they still attempt to retrieve information about him. Hamlet assures them,
You play upon me; you would seem
Be played on than a pipe? Call me what instrument
You will, though you can fret me, yet you
Cannot play upon me.
(III, II, ll 335-363)
At first Hamlet simply tolerated the spying. However, his statements are becoming increasingly straightforward and reveal his impatience. How does Hamlet rectify the situation? Claudius carefully plans hamlet s death: Hamlet is to be murdered once he enters England by order of the King (of England). Hamlet arranges for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to take his place. One woman that Hamlet cares for has already tried to spy on him. Can Hamlet endure another disappointment by another woman that he is affectionate towards? While in Gertrude s room, Hamlet hears a voice from behind the curtains and says, How now! A rat? Dead, for a ducat, dead. (III, IV, ll 25) Hamlet s feelings are now a mixture of betrayal, frustration, and anger. This is the crucial point where Hamlet reaches temporary insanity. A spy in his mother s room is too much for Hamlet to bear. Polonius murder was committed in a brief instance of insanity. This proven as later, when his mind becomes focused and he is questioned about the murder he admits to the act, I here proclaim was madness. (V, II, ll 223) Hamlet admits his loss of control.
Hamlet has reasoning behind his acts of insanity. Hamlet feigns madness in order to protect himself from his enemies and allows for a certain margin of imaginative freedom. Hamlet acts insanely to attain isolation from others and to remind him of his father s murder. He has a blueprint of his vengeful plan towards Claudius. Hamlet is aware of others like Polonius, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Ophelia trying to spy on him. From his sharp intuition and intelligence, Hamlet s activities are never uncovered. Although he is sane, Hamlet does temporarily lose his mind. Hamlet grows tired of the attempted trickery, and his frustration causes his temporary insanity. When emotions clash, madness is derived. The actions and attitudes as expressed by Hamlet and other characters prove that his madness is less than madness and more than feigned.