Hamlets Madness Essay, Research Paper
After Hamlet discovers the truth of his father’s death, he goes through a very traumatic period, which is interpreted by many as madness. Hamlet fakes this insanity to appear unthreatening to Claudius and to avoid raising suspicion of his actions. “I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw” (II.ii.387-8). This is a classic example of the “wild and whirling words” (I.v.133) with which Hamlet hopes to persuade people that he is mad. These words, however, prove that beneath his “antic disposition,”(I.v.172) Hamlet is very sane indeed. Beneath his strange choice of imagery involving points of the compass, the weather, and hunting birds, he is announcing that he is choosing when to appear mad. He warned his friends he intended to fake madness, but Gertrude as well as Claudius saw through it, and even the slightly dull-witted Polonius was suspicious. Hamlet’s public face is one of insanity but, in his private moments of soliloquy, in his conversations with Polonius, and in his actions, Shakespeare demonstrates that his madness is assumed. Throughout the play, Hamlet’s soliloquies reveal his inner thoughts, which are completely rational. In one such speech, Hamlet criticizes himself for not having yet taken action to avenge his father’s murder: “O what a rogue and peasant slave am I / . . . the son of the dear murdered, / Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell, / Must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words” (II. ii. 560, 595-7). Hamlet calls himself a “dull and muddy-mettled rascal” (II.ii.578), a villain and a coward, but when he realizes that his anger doesn’t achieve anything practical other than the unpacking of his heart, he stops. These are not the thoughts of a madman; his emotions are real and his thoughts are those of a rational person. Even when he contemplates suicide in the “to be or not to be” soliloquy, his reasons himself out of it through a very sane consideration of the dangers of an unknown afterlife: “For in that sleep of death what dreams may come” (III.i.66).To convince everyone of his madness, Hamlet spends many hours walking back and forth alone in the lobby, speaking those “wild and whirling words” which make little sense on the surface but in fact carry a meaningful subtext. When asked if he recognizes Polonius, Hamlet promptly replies, “Excellent well; you are a fishmonger” (II.ii.174). Although the response seems crazy since a fish-seller would look completely unlike the expensively dressed lord Polonius, Hamlet is actually criticizing Polonius for his management of Ophelia, since “fishmonger” is Elizabethan slang for “pimp.” Although Polonius frequently misses the meanings of Hamlet’s remarks and insults, he does recognize that they make some sense. After a confusing conversation with Hamlet the lord remarks, ” Though this be madness, yet there / is method in’t” (II.ii.207-8).
Hamlet’s play The Mouse Trap is a well-laid plan to trap Claudius into admitting guilt: “The play’s the thing / Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king” (II.ii.616-7). Even when the play brings him concrete proof, he is careful not to rush to take his revenge at the wrong moment. He could easily kill Claudius while he is praying but restrains himself so that there is no chance of Claudius’s entering heaven. Although Hamlet’s patience can be seen as an example of his procrastination, it is in truth a sign of rationality. Hamlet shows himself perfectly capable of action, as well as of rational thought, in escaping the king’s armed guard, dispatching Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to their deaths in England, dealing with the pirates and making it back to Denmark. In addition, the letter from Hamlet bound for England is clear and precise and shows no signs of a befuddled mind. Finally, I am convinced of Hamlet’s sanity by his very normal reactions to the people around him. He is perfectly sane, friendly and courteous with the players, giving them good acting tips, which they appreciate and respect.In the end, it is surprising that he is able to keep up the charade of feigning madness for so long. Part of his tragedy is that pretending insanity doesn’t help him anyway. In the end, he avenges his father by killing Claudius not through an act of madness, but as a result of Claudius’s own treachery.
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