ELA 12. 30.1
March 23, 2004
One of the most difficult questions to answer in William Shakespeares play, Hamlet, is; was Prince Hamlet truly mad, or was he just putting on an antic-disposition(I.v.173) Hamlets behavior is frequently changes throughout the course of the play and it makes it hard to distinguish his true nature. However after an in-depth analysis of Hamlets words and actions, prove for both his sanity and madness is evident.
Proof toward Hamlets madness first becomes evident in the beginning of the play when Hamlet, upon hearing the truth of his fathers death, began speaking wild and whirling words,(I.v.134) to Horatio and Marcellus. This is significant because Hamlet, usually, is calm, focused, and takes time to think things over, but instead is ranting on about, literally, nothing. Also Horatio pleads to Hamlet not to follow the Ghost, Horatio believes that the ghost cannot be trusted because it may “assume some other horrible form, / Which might deprive Hamlets sovereignty of reason / And draw Hamlet into madness” (I.iv.72-74) Horatio also believes that spirit could lure Hamlet to the edge of a cliff, where the sight of the depth “so many fathoms to the sea,”(I.iv.77) would Hamlet fall. This is also significant because Hamlet again does not think about the consequences of his actions, instead he rather risk everything just to find out meaning of the ghost being clothed in his fathers battle uniform, again showing that Hamlet is outside himself. His sarcastic comment, O, wonderful,(I.v.119) also shows that Hamlet is in madness because Hamlet should be furious about what he has been told, but instead he seems happy. How can Hamlet be calm after hearing that his own uncle murdered his father? Its because Hamlet is unable to take control over his actions because what he has heard is unbearable. However not only Horatio and Marcellus think Hamlet is mad, Ophelia and Polonius both believe that Hamlet is “Mad for Ophelias love?” (II.i.886). They think this because Hamlet came into Ophelias chamber with his doublet all unbracedand pale as his shirt (II.i.79-82). This is, again, not like Hamlet at all; his behavior has been changing constantly, ever since he spoke with the ghost, and now Hamlet seems to have become even deeper into madness because Ophelia, on her father’s orders, won’t see him anymore. Hamlet should be thinking out a plan to avenge his fathers death, not work out issues about him and Ophelia. However Hamlet shows true madness when he kills Polonius in his mothers chamber.
Hamlet acted solemnly on impulse when he killed Polonius, and only madmen act on impulse rather than their conscience. He didnt even make an attempt to ask who it was, he just stabbed thinking it might be Claudius because he believed that only Claudius would hide in his mothers chamber. Also when Gertrude asks, what hast thou done,(III.iv.27) Hamlet responds with Nay, I know not.(III.iv.28) This again shows that Hamlet did not know what he was doing when he stabbed through the arras, Hamlet, for the moment was being ruled by his emotions, rather than his conscience, and his emotions overwhelmed him, and therefore if he was not in control of his actions he must be mad. Moreover, after Hamlet kills Polonius the ghost of Hamlets father appears and only he can see him. Hamlet then says to his father to save me, and hover oer me with his wings (III.iv.105), which Gertrude replies, alas, hes mad,(III.iv.107), because she can not believe that Hamlet bends his eye on vacancy(III.iv.119). This is very strange because Horatio and Marcellus were able to see the ghost in the beginning of act one, when they were by themselves, and then when Hamlet was around at the end of act one. But now only Hamlet can see him, this clearly shows that Hamlet, at this time, was mad. However, even thought the evidence towards madness is quite strong the evidence towards his sanity is even stronger.
Hamlet, despite his frequent loss of control of his self, is in fact sane. In the beginning of the play Hamlet told Horatio that he was going to fake everything and if anything that Horatio sees is strange or erratic it is because Hamlet is putting an antic disposition on(I.v.173). Hamlet does this so that he would not alert Claudius, and others, of his plan to avenge his father; this tells us that from now on that whatever Hamlet does, he does in a conscientious state. Moreover Hamlet’s portrays himself as mad only when he is in the presence of certain people. When Hamlet is around Polonius he insults him with decisive comments that are to pregnant,(II.ii.207) for Polonius to comprehend. To Ophelia, he portrays to be madly in love with her and that she should get thee to a nunnery,(III.i.121) for Hamlet does not want Ophelia to be in harms way because of what his course is. This shows that Hamlet is sane because he is still showing compassion and love towards other characters. However, when Hamlet is around Horatio he behaves normally, and tells him his deepest thoughts and plans; showing that he has trust in certain people, not something a madman would have. I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw,” (II.ii.376-377) this shows that Hamlet still knows who is enemies are and that he can be mad when he wants to be showing he is in control of himself. Hamlet also contemplates considerably on many issues especially about life and death. In Hamlets soliloquy to be or not to be,(III.i.57-91) Hamlet reflects upon committing suicide as answer to getting rid all of this pain and misery, but the dread of something after death,(III.i.79) holds him back. This shows that Hamlet is not in madness but instead he is in turmoil, and he does not know what he should do. Hamlet also tells his mother that he is not in madness, but mad in craft,(III.iv.189-190) after he killed Polonius, this shows that Hamlet fell into madness for a slight moment but then came back in control. Hamlet again considers about killing Claudius when he is praying, but comes to the conclusion that this is not the right time.
Hamlet after the play Hamlet knew for sure that Claudius killed his father and had grounds(II.ii.601) to commit this. Hamlet then was given a perfect opportunity to kill Claudius when he has praying. Now I might do itand so he goes to heaventhat would be scanned,(III.iii.74-76) Hamlet does not want Claudius to go to heaven he wants him to go to hell. Hamlets father is in a prison house,(I.v.14) because he could not clear himself of all his sins, and now he is unable to go to heaven. Hamlet says no,(III.iii.89) because he will wait for to commit a more horrid hent,(III.iii.89) before he kills Claudius. This is significant to prove Hamlets madness because it shows that Hamlet is still thinking conscientiously and not out of rage or impulse. However Hamlets sanity is best proven when he reflects on Yorick, and his life and death. Alas, Poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio.(V.i.178-179) Hamlet is reminiscing the days when he was a child, and all the joys of life that he once knew, instead of all this pain and anguish. Hamlet remembers Yorick as a father figure because Yorick was always around to make Hamlet laugh or pick Hamlet up on to his shoulders. This shows that Hamlet has feelings towards others, and therefore still sane. Hamlet also contemplates about the life of Alexander and Caesar for they both looked o this fashion i’ the earth,(V.i.192-193) and will eventually be compounded into dust, whereto tis kin.(IV.ii.7) This is Hamlets epiphany because he finally comes to the conclusion that death cannot be avoided, it is our fate and nothing can be done about it. Hamlet also makes the decision to not kill Claudius because life is to precious to be taken away, and that it should be cherished to the fullest. This is not something that a madman would consider because a madman would not consider life to be that important.
Hamlet throughout the play undergoes many erratic and abrupt changes. Hamlet, despite he frequently fell in and out in madness, finally was able to cope with his pain, emotions and his life, and therefore was able to regain his sanity. He was able to do this because he resorted to his intelligence and careful thought to think things through, instead of acting solely on impulse.