The Responsibility Of Attaining Vengeance Through Hamlet English Literature Essay

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Throughout Shakespeare's play, Hamlet, is faced with the responsibility of attaining vengeance for his father's seemingly unjust murder. He decides to feign madness as part of his plan to gain the opportunity to kill Claudius, the suspected murderer. As the play continues, his depiction of a madman becomes even more believable, and the characters around him react as if he were crazy. However, through his inner thoughts, actions and assumptions as to why he would do what he does, it can be concluded that Hamlet is merely acting insane in order to justify the actions he must take to prove Claudius' guilt and in order to murder him.

Hamlet only claims madness because it allows him to say and perform actions he otherwise would be prohibited from, all the while keeping people from taking his actions seriously. This seems to be part of his plan that he first mentioned when he asks Horatio and Marcellus not to make any remarks in relation to his "antic disposition (I,V,192)." Hamlet's madness allows him to talk to Claudius, Gertrude, Ophelia, Polonius and others in a manner unsuitable for a prince. He is often disrespectful and insulting in his remarks. Hamlet is able to severely criticize Gertrude for her actions because she thinks he is insane. During the play he also makes many sexual innuendos and even blatantly sexual remarks towards Ophelia such as "That's a fair thought to lie between maids' legs (III, II, 125)." His convincing insanity act gives him the chance to vent his anger towards Ophelia for her abandonment. Similarly, in another scene, he is able to tell Polonius his true feelings through this guise of his. Upon Polonius deciding to "take leave" of Hamlet, Hamlet replies, "You cannot, take from me anything that I will more willingly part withal (II, I, 233)." Furthermore, Hamlet uses his madness as almost an excuse at times, and even uses it his his apology towards Laertes for murdering his father Polonius. It is not reasonable to say that a madman would be able to call himself mad unless he was in a logical state of mind. Were it not for his "madness" he would have been reprimanded rather than feared, pitied, or ignored. Hamlet's madness redirects attention away from what he is thinking about his father's death, and puts it on why he has gone insane. He does all this as a way to enact his revenge, and such clarity and logic thought would not be capable by someone who was truly insane. This also allows himself a sense of sanity; he does not have to question why he is doing what he is doing, because he is acting the part of a madman. This also allows him to continue to plan his revenge on Claudius without anyone knowing anything about the matter because they are too centered on curing Hamlet of his "insanity". His plans to maintain an appearance of a madman is an incredulous one, and because he can act the part so well, it should make him seem more intelligent and crafty rather than insane.

Another point in arguing for the sanity of Hamlet is that he acts perfectly sane when acting insane is not a necessity. When he talks to Horatio about watching Claudius for signs of guilt during the play, he says "Give him heedful note, for I mine eyes will rivet his face, and, after, we will both our judgments join in censure of his seeming (III, II, 87)." When he speaks with Horatio he seems of level judgment and logical in the actions he is presenting. Horatio is one of the few people who actually saw the Ghost along with him and because of this, Hamlet has nothing to hide from him, so he has no need to act crazy. This is a peek into who the real Hamlet is. Also, when asking the players to perform a play for him, he is very clear and concise in his directions. For example, he asks "You could, for a need, study a speech of some dozen or sixteen lines, which I would set down and insert in't, could you not (II, II, 565)?" His question is direct and simple and it seems that the player not only understands completely, but also is comfortable with Hamlet's request. In analyzing Hamlets character, it seems it is much easier to pretend a madman and be sane, than it would be to be a madman and appear sane.

Additional proof that Hamlet must be sane is that he is clever in his retorts and speech, and has full understanding of his surroundings. He plays his madman character very well, and when looking in from the reader's perspective, it should be obvious that each line he says to another character is very put on; it is said in an attempt to make them think that he is crazy. When speaking to Claudius, even though he fills his remarks to him with hidden insults, he says nothing that could be taken in a sane way. When he talks to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, not only is Hamlet clever enough to realize their true purpose for visiting, he tells them that he is not really insane, but he does so in such a way to give doubt to what he just told them, "I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw. (II, II, 401). Hamlet is able to remain honest with his two friends, but honest in such a way as to cause them doubt of his sanity, and thus allowing Hamlet to continue on with his plan and not worry about their snooping around. Later, he is even able to have them killed in his place using his father's seal. This is a tricky thing for even a sane man to perform…a mad one would not be able to pull off such a feat. In fact, Hamlet, in a conversation with Polonius, is so clever in his responses created to make people think that he is crazy, Polonius is astonished at his genius in insanity, "Though this be madness, yet there is method in't (II, II, 223)." Hamlet's wit and role-playing of a madman combine to make too witty of an exaggerated madman, for him to actually be insane. 

One large part of evidence used to convince others of Hamlet's insanity is his murder of Polonius, which does, at a first glance, seem like insanity. Hamlet is often viewed as spontaneous and quick acting, though this is very wrong, however, it is also wrong to say that this act of his was because of insanity. Right before Hamlet was to meet his mother he had been thwarted in his attempt to kill Claudius because he was praying. When he goes to his mother's room, he was fired up from the near action of his revenge and her reaction towards his attempt at an explanation further upset him and caused him to be even angrier. When she calls for help and Polonius, his voice muffled from behind the curtains, calls back, Hamlet thought that the man behind the curtain was Claudius and so he killed him without even blinking an eye. Even if Hamlet knew it was Polonius, or someone other than the king, it still makes sense for him to kill that person. The "rat" as Hamlet calls him, regardless of who it was, would've now know everything and that would've just gotten in the way of Hamlet's plan to enact revenge on Claudius. Killing Polonius or anyone who was behind the curtain was a rational action no matter how one looks at it. Most importantly, Hamlet does not think in the way an insane person would. When he sees Claudius praying he thinks very logically, and realizes that he will not attain full revenge if he kills Claudius and sends him to heaven. "Now might I do it, now he is a-praying, and now I'll do't. And so he goes to heaven, and so am I revenged…A villain kills my father, and for that I, his sole son, do this same villain send to heaven (III,III,77)." His thoughts are very logical and make sense, they are in no way insane. He is merely acting the role of an insane man. In each of his soliloquies, he thinks in the process almost anyone would, albeit more genius than the average person. For instance, he does not immediately go out and kill Claudius after he speaks to the Ghost, he is sane enough to realize that the Ghost may be the Devil and so he looks for evidence, and get that through the play he has planned to have shown, "I'll have these players play something like the murder of my father before mine uncle. I'll observe his looks; I'll tent him to the quick…The spirit that I have seen may be a devil…(II,II,623)." Hamlet even asks Horatio to watch the response of Claudius with him, so as to make sure that Hamlet is not just letting his thirst for revenge get in his way. This is a very considerate thought for a "madman" to have.. Even in his questioning of whether "to be or not to be (3.1.64)", Hamlet is sane in his thinking. He thinks about whether it would be a good or bad thing to die, even though the thought of suicide is usually defined as insane, Hamlet thinks about it in such a logical and realistic way that it cannot be anything but true sanity.

Hamlet is nothing but a genius and slow acting man. He only pretends to be mad because it is helpful in the ultimate scheme of things. However, the reader can see Hamlet's sanity though the quite frequent soliloquies. Every action Hamlet makes has a good reason behind it, he does nothing just for the sake of doing it. Hamlets portrayal of a madman is something that can only be seen as a pure stroke of genius, no sane person could have pulled off the character that Hamlet did so well.