The Theme Of Insanity In Hamlet English Literature Essay

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Websters dictionary defines insanity as "a deranged state of the mind usually occurring as a specific disorder (as schizophrenia)" (Websters Dictionary). Hamlet, written by William Shakespeare around 1600, is considered to be one of the most tragic plays in literature history. The age old question of Hamlets supposed "insanity" prevails to this day. Hamlet's drive to seek revenge on his uncle for killing his father drives him to extremities one can only imagine would be possible in the world of today. Throughout the play, he is administered with the responsibility of avenging his father's murder. One of his master plans to seek vengeance is to intentionally disguise himself as insane. As the plot unfolds further, Hamlet's act becomes increasingly more convincing, and he uses this disguise as a way of keeping the people around him in the dark. Throughout his "insanity", Hamlet's inner thoughts are prevailing, and he seems to be fully aware and responsible regarding the acts he is committing. Hamlet is not insane, but instead disguising a state of delirium since he shows signs of intelligence when planning his moves, shows complete control over his thoughts in isolation, and displays a wide range of emotions when interacting with different people. Hamlet is sane from the moment we meet him to the moment he dies.

Looking back at Hamlet's main purpose, he starts his journey on the road to revenge not by acting on instinct or letting his anger take over, instead by formulating step-by-step plans all along; " Yea, from the table of my memory/I'll wipe away all trivial fond records/All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past/That youth and observation copied there/And thy commandment all alone shall live/Within the book and volume of my brain"(1.5.99-104) is a purpose to Hamlet's every move. Hamlet displays complete alertness and capability when thinking about how to advance further in his strategic games. This is seen clearly when Hamlet asks Horatio to watch Claudius' reaction throughout the play, "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" (3.2.73-76) If Hamlet were insane, he would not be thinking logically and disclose to Horatio those instructions. Revenge is the only thing on his mind, and if he were truly delirious, he would not have had the mental capacity of formulating such a plan to catch the King's guilt. Hamlet also gives the players instructions on how to act during the play, and to recite a section from the Trojan Wars; "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" (3.2) These are the words of someone who is completely in his senses, and knows what he is talking about. If Hamlet was completely insane, he would not be thinking straight and putting so much detail into every step of his plan.

In Hamlet's soliloquys and conversations with himself, he shows complete and rational control over his thoughts, and his intellectual side shows as he considers the possible consequences of his actions. One of the pivotal moments in Hamlet's course of action is when he fails to kill Claudius thinking he is in prayer, in the fear that a murderer will go to heaven; "And so am I revenged.-That would be scanned/A villain kills my father, and, for that/I, his sole son, do this same villain send/To heaven." (3.1.76-79) Hamlet is fully aware of his religious beliefs, and knows the consequences of killing a person while they are in the process of religious worship. Hamlet's common sense never seems to fail him, even at the moments where attaining revenge seems like the easiest thing to do. Like a man full of wisdom, he thinks about the positive and negative repercussions of each act he is about to commit, and truly reflects on the aftermath. For the most part, a man who is deranged would act quite spontaneously, and the aftereffects would not mean much to him due to his mental state of mind. Hamlet also seems to do a whole lot of thinking for someone who is supposedly deranged. In his infamous 'To be or not to be' soliloquy, Hamlet says although some people are sick and tired of life, they are only living because of the mystery of the afterlife; " To sleep, perchance to dream - ay, there's the rub/For in that sleep of death what dreams may come/When we have shuffled off this mortal coil/Must give us pause. There's the respect/That makes calamity of so long life" (3.1.66-70) A truly demented person would not be thinking so deeply about life and what it holds for its inhabitants. Hamlet's intellect and wisdom show in his conversations with himself, and prove that he knows exactly what he is talking about.

Hamlet also has a wide-range of emotions he uses when interacting with different people throughout the play. His interaction with women throughout the novel is that of a very perplexed nature. The only two women he seems acquainted with are his mother Gertrude and his ex-lover Ophelia. Hamlet's concealment of his sanity is shown clearly at times he is interacting with these women in his life. After all Hamlet has been through, love is a confusing concept for him to grasp. However, Hamlet cannot seem to help but act like himself when he finally confronts Gertrude. He forgets all about his act and breaks down, telling his mother the truth about Claudius and how her husband truly died; "A murderer and a villain/A slave that is not twentieth part the tithe/Of your precedent lord, a vice of kings/A cutpurse of the empire and the rule/That from a shelf the precious diadem stole/And put it in his pocket-"(3.4.97-102) This goes to show Hamlet is completely in his senses, and has not forgotten anything. He remembers what happened before and after the ghost appeared to him. This is one of the only moments in the novel where Hamlet seems to speak his true mind when interacting with someone in the outside world. For a moment, it seems that he does not remember to put on a mask, and says what he truly feels. Hamlet also seems to display a varying set of emotions when interacting with Ophelia, which leads to her tragic death. Hamlet, at times, treats her with gentle and kind words ;"Soft you now/The fair Ophelia!-Nymph, in thy orisons/Be all my sins remembered."(3.1.89-91), and at other times uses harsh language; Get thee to a nunnery. Why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners? I am myself indifferent honest, but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me"(3.1.123-6) A man who is not completely in control of his emotional state would be unable to act so differently in certain circumstances. Hamlet knows what emotion to display at what appropriate timing, just like any normal person would. When interacting with Horatio, Hamlet seems to be his normal self, because Horatio is the only one he trusts and can be himself around. When interacting with Polonius, he acts delusional; "Excellent well. You are a fishmonger " (2.2.165) His sanity is clear throughout the play as he knows how to display emotions when interacting with different people, whether it be an enemy or a friend.

In conclusion, Hamlet is extremely careful and precise in carrying out his action plan, which shows he is not insane but simply concentrating on the task he has been assigned by the ghost of his late father. In fact, his rantings and twisting of words simply goes to show that he is not at all insane, but quite an intelligent and wise man for being able to fool even the most royal persons, who could not see through his mask of insanity. To be able to fool even the greatest minds is not a small matter, but shows a man of extreme intelligence and intellect. Hamlet deserves credit for his brave persona, and ability to mask his true identity even after all the things he has been through in his life. Hamlet only shows signs of insanity when he wishes for someone to believe so, and to mislead his enemies. Although Hamlet's hamartia and procrastination gets the best of him in the end, his ability to keep us his disguise constantly is applaudable.