Hamlet: Was He Really Insane? Essay, Research Paper
One of the most asked questions concerning Hamlet, is whether or not during the play he was actually insane or merely acting. This issue is confusing because Hamlet states that he will act insane to exact revenge upon Claudius after he has met his father?s supposed ghost. However, there are many times during the play where it seems Hamlet could not possibly be acting. But while it is possible to be sane and act insane, by definition it is impossible to be insane and act sane because an insane person lacks the ability to reason and tell the difference between right and wrong. Since Hamlet exhibited both these characteristics throughout the play, it is obvious that he was sane.
Hamlet displays the ability to reason on several occasions. The first display occurs in the beginning, when Hamlet expresses his doubts about whether the ghost he saw was really his father: “The spirit that I have seen / May be the devil, and the devil hath power / T’ assume a pleasing shape,” (2.2.627-629), and whether the supposed ghost was merely telling him what he wanted to hear: “Yea, and perhaps, / out of my weakness and my melancholy, / ? / Abuses me to damn me,” (2.2.629-632). Hamlet has the sense to question the identity of the ghost. He realizes although it does look like his father, appearance isn?t everything, and it might have been a demon trying to trick him into committing a deadly sin, namely, killing Claudius. Hamlet would only have been able to reason this if he had been in full control of his mental capacities.
To test whether indeed the ghost was telling the truth, Hamlet has players perform a play before Claudius and the rest of the cast with events similar to the ones the ghost described to him. “I’ll have these players / Play something like the murder of my father / Before mine uncle. I’ll observe his looks,” (2.2.623-625). Hamlet reasons that if the ghost is telling the truth, then Claudius will give away his guilt through his facial expression when he sees the play. No man who is insane could have thought up such a plan.
Hamlet again displays the ability to reason when he goes to talk to his mother about his plan for revenge. Hamlet reveals to his mother that he is aware of Claudius’s attempt to send him to his death in England: “There’s letters seal’d: and my two schoolfellows, / Whom I will trust as I will adders fang’d, / They bear the mandate; they must sweep my way, / And marshal me to knavery.” (3.4.225-228). This shows that Hamlet is aware of what is occurring around him and he possesses the ability to analyze the actions of others and discover the secret plots that are lain against him. An insane man would have such sharp sense of the secret plans everywhere.
Hamlet’s final display of his ability to reason occurs before his fencing match. Hamlet is talking about death with Horatio and about his eminent fight with Laertes:
? There is (a) special
providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis
not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it
be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all. Since
no man of aught he leaves knows, what is ‘t to leave
Hamlet states that death will occur when it wants to and there is nothing you can do about it. His statements show that Hamlet has the ability to reason and contemplate death.
Hamlet also gives proof that he understands the difference between right and wrong, another important characteristic of sanity, throughout the play. Hamlet first reveals this knowledge when he plans the “Mousetrap” to try to determine Claudius? guilt by judging his reaction to the play:
“There is a play to-night before the king;
One scene of it comes near the circumstance
Which I have told thee of my father’s death:
I prithee, when thou seest that act afoot,
Even with the very comment of thy soul
Observe mine uncle: if his occulted guilt
Do not itself unkennel in one speech,
It is a damned ghost that we have seen,”(3.2.74-81)
Hamlet does this because he does not want to kill Claudius unless he has some evidence that Claudius is guilty. He does not want to base his actions on the word of a ghost who may or may not have been his father, but instead on proof unintentionally given to him by Claudius himself. This shows Hamlet still has regard for what is right and honorable, and he is not just a son driven insane by the need to avenge his father?s death.
Hamlet again questions the lawfulness of killing, when he has the chance to kill Claudius after Guildenstern and Rosencrantz leave, but doesn?t because Claudius is praying, and killing him would send his soul to heaven: “A villain kills my father, and for that, / I, his sole son, do this same villain send / To heaven,” (3.3.81-83). Hamlet understands that even though Claudius is a murderer, if Hamlet kills him in cold blood, Hamlet will send Claudius’ soul to heaven and condemn his own. Hamlet understands that in the eyes of God his actions would be wrong.
Before he goes to see his mother, Hamlet utters the lines: “?Soft, now to my mother / Oh heart, lose not thy nature! Let not ever the soul of Nero enter this firm bosom,” (3.2.425-427) to remind himself to contain the anger he feels towards his mother, and to not harm her. He understands that it would be wrong to harm her, since she had nothing to do with his father?s murder, and he tries to act in an honorable manner. Even though he eventually loses his anger and begins to talk to his mother in a dishonorable way, the fact that Hamlet still tried to be polite and gentle shows he was still in control of his mind.
Hamlet also displays the knowledge of right and wrong in the last scene. He condemns Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Claudius for committing acts that were deceitful and dishonorable:
?Their defeat / Does by their own insinuation grow.
He that hath killed my king and whored my mother,
Popped in between the election and my hopes,
Thrown out his angle for my proper life,
and with such cozenage,? (5.2.58-67).
Unless Hamlet himself knew what honor and dishonor are, he could not have condemned others for being dishonorable.
Many people have questioned whether Hamlet was actually insane or merely acting that way during the play. But it is obvious that from the very beginning of the play until the final scene Hamlet displays unmistakable characteristics of sanity, such as the ability to reason and knowledge of the difference between right and wrong. Such evidence proves beyond a doubt that Hamlet was merely acting insane.