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Is Shakespeare’s Hamlet Really Crazy? Essay

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Updated: Sep 6th, 2022

There is hardly a better-known tragedy by William Shakespeare than “Hamlet”. His character was not a banal avenger or “psycho”; everything is much more complicated. The poem suggests a wide variety of interpretations, but mainly there are two points of view. According to the first one, Hamlet pretends to be mad, so that he is not taken seriously and is not considered as dangerous, under the guise of a madman, he can say anything. It gives him the opportunity to observe others, to collect evidence that Claudius really killed his father. According to another point of view, he is actually insane.

Unbearable grief from the death of a loved one can affect a person in different ways, driving him or her into complete despair or igniting a fire in the soul. It often depends on external influences, the environment, the outer world, as well as on the inner world of a person, his or her character, beliefs. However, personal choice still plays a crucial role, so from my point of view, Hamlet’s insanity is fictional.

Hamlet put on fake insanity and simulated that his mind is greatly damaged, in order not to incur the suspicions of his uncle. Hamlet says, “Here, as before, never, so help you mercy, How strange or odd some’er I bear myself” (Shakespeare 69). When Hamlet explains to Horatio what qualities he values in him, the Prince abruptly stops speaking when he sees the king and all the court attendants approaching, and says, “They are coming to the play. I must be idle. Get you a place.” In the second act, there is a line “I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw. (Shakespeare 107). From these words, it is clear that Hamlet’s madness is a mask that he puts on himself.

Prince is not mad as he shows it to others – it’s all just a game. By playing his part, he delayed the desired ending for as long, waiting for the right moment. All this time, his soul is eager for action, Hamlet blames himself for the delay but does not want to rush. In his famous monologue, he asks the question “To be or not to be—that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles And, by opposing, end them.” (Shakespeare 127). His speech is often directed not to someone, but to himself. The culmination of this internal struggle is a conversation with Gertrude and the murder of Polonius. Hamlet can’t wait any longer, he takes out all his anger and grief on his mother and, wanting to do his duty without delay, impales Polonius. He expected to see Claudius in his place, but he was mistaken.

But still, does Hamlet go crazy or not? Not that he was mad with grief, like Ophelia, or with a desire for revenge, like Laertes. In this Hamlet was rational: Prince did not believe the Ghost, he developed a plan, conducted a real investigative experiment, did not kill Claudius while praying. He also repeatedly admits that his insanity is feigned. Thus, Hamlet was not actually mad, but the game that he played did not pass without a trace for his consciousness. Hamlet’s former integrity of views on life and reality, as it then seemed to him, was broken.

Work Cited

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Edited by Barbara A. Mowat, and Paul Werstine, The Folger Shakespeare Library, 2012.

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