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Professor Misak Comp. 2 Essay on Hamlet Mohammad Zaidi Hamlet: crazy or not?

3/28/07

Arguably one of the most controversial aspects of William Shakespeares Hamlet, is the sanity of the hero. Throughout most of the play Hamlet is depicted as a rash, rude, unstable individual, whose sense of judgment is clouded by his rage against his incestuous mother and traitorous uncle. Fueled by his wrath, Hamlet puts on the appearance of a lunatic, to provide himself with the opportunity to avenge his fathers death. The real question is then; did Hamlet pretend to be insane to move closer to his uncle or was it his insanity that ultimately leads to his uncles death? It is important to note that Hamlets lunacy manifest itself only after he learns of his uncles breach of loyalty. After meeting with the ghost of his father, and being informed of the nature of his murder, Hamlet resolves to settle the score with his uncle. Hamlet commands the only witnesses to the ghosts appearance Never to speak of this that you have seen. Hamlet takes this precaution to disguise his intentions, and create an opportune situation to kill his uncle; also, it can be assumed that anything he does after this meeting will be in response to what hes learned. However, for his plan to work, Hamlet must keep close to his uncle, the King, without making his intentions known. As for the full nature of his plan, we can only speculate as to how Hamlet has planned to go about killing the king. Holding on to the assumption that Hamlet acts crazy as a way to ultimately kill the king it only makes sense that Hamlet would act crazy only around correspondents of the king or the king himself. It holds especially true in act two scene two, in a conversation between Polonius and Hamlet, where not only does Hamlet conduct himself

in a non-sensical manner, his choice of dress his words and his reasoning give rise to the suspicion that Hamlet might be crazy. Giving Polonius, an advisor of the king, the impression that that something is wrong with him is only the beginning of a series of events that would confirm in the mind of the king that Hamlet truly is a maniac. Hamlets character makes a sharp change when he realizes that he is being observed by the king. As seen in act 3 scene one, Hamlet, who is addressing Ophelia in a calm collected manner, makes a dramatic transition into his crazier alter-ego upon learning that the king is spying on him in order to convince bystanders of his absolute insanity (Bloom, ix). Hamlet obviously makes a calculated effort to mold the opinion of the king and his entourage. It is worth noting that Hamlet does, in fact, have some degree of control over himself. A striking contrast to Hamlets crazy behavior can be seen in his soliloquies, which reflect what is going on in the privacy of his mind. Hamlet exhibits many different attitudes and ideas, some which help him to focus on the task at hand, some which reveal an internal conflict between right and wrong, but never does Shakespeare allude to any sort of dementia in Hamlets character. Hamlet in act one scene 5, expresses his anger towards his uncle. This scene works as a set up for the entire play; it tells the viewer that Hamlet intends to kill his uncle, and also that he will follow the ghosts advice. Some of the most important points in the play, analytically speaking, can be found through an examination of Hamlets soliloquies. In act 2 scene 2 Hamlet expresses his guilt for not obeying his fathers wishes; He keeps his wits about him but shows grief that he has not yet killed his uncle. Not only is Hamlet keeping focus, but he is still capable of making judgments on his actions. One of Hamlets most emotionally charged soliloquies, in act 4

scene 4, revolves around Hamlets anger and frustration at his own inability to act on his desire to take revenge. Hamlet shows that he is upset with him self for not yet taking vengeance for his father and commits to devoting every moment of the rest of his life to completing the task. Hamlets focus is once again back on the prize; having strengthened his conviction, he never gives any indication that he truly is as mad as Polonius and Claudius believe him to be. When approaching a question such as this, independent speculation and reasoning can only get you so far and it also becomes important to see things from the authors point of view. So to call Hamlet mad, we must first know what this is relative to. Shakespeare makes it clear that Ophelia is insane, who, when compared to Hamlet, shows the viewer that he is not crazy. Some might confuse Hamlets choice of dress, words, or actions for insanity, but when placed next to Ophelias; distortion, confusion, babbling, and clumsiness, it becomes more apparent that Shakespeare chooses to depict insanity in a way not found when dealing with Hamlets character. In many ways Shakespeare, creates the character of Ophelia to be opposed to Hamlet, throughout the play Ophelia follows her fathers orders down to the smallest detail, she doesnt exhibit great wit, and she loves the other members of her family. Hamlet on the other hand; deviates from his fathers plans, he thinks ahead in most situations, and has nothing but animosity towards his family. Most striking amongst these differences is the nature of the characters following their fathers deaths, Hamlet maintains his composure while seeking revenge for his father, while Ophelia breaks down and seeks nothing more from her life. The question of Hamlets insanity goes back to Shakespeares intentions, which clearly are not geared towards depicting Hamlet as a madman.

Hamlets character is carefully crafted to have the mask of a lunatic, with a genuinely brilliant individual underneath. Shakespeare has Hamlet deceiving people and thinking ahead at multiple instances, he gives the idea that Hamlet is intelligent. In act three scene two Hamlet writes a play, in which a group of actors perform in the kings court. This play both gives the king insight to Hamlets intentions, and reveals to him that Hamlets knows what he has done without letting anyone else know that what to others appears to be madness in Hamlet, is in fact the dark shadow cast upon him by their own sins (Kitto, 290) . This is just a small testament to Hamlets strategic efforts to take revenge on the king. Another somewhat more remarkable quality in Hamlet is his ability to see the intentions of those around him, his ability to differentiate between friend and foe even when such is a distinction is difficult to make. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were sent by the king to spy on Hamlet and see to it that he wasnt going to cause trouble, Hamlet who recognized this at first glace asked do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe? Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, yet you cannot play upon me. Hamlets mind is conspicuously clear and quick; there is such method to his madness that his speech is full of double meanings (Kitto, 290). He is painted to be an alert individual, well aware of what goes on around him and one that takes full advantage of this knowledge. One of the most daring moves on Hamlets part was to send Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to their deaths, through a complex plan laden with deceit and advance planning. In the process Hamlet saved his own life just long enough to finish the job he had promised to do at the beginning of the play. The insanity that Hamlet forcibly portrays throughout the play serves only to further his own self interests, namely, enacting his revenge upon his uncle. By making

him self appear to be of unsound mind, he allows himself access to his uncles court, while simultaneously avoiding suspicion or detection. It is the perfect ploy, masking the true intellect and power of a strong man under the guise of a lunatic. A plan that protects Hamlet and his sworn oaths throughout the play.