Hamlet is a tragic play and the longest for William Shakespeare. It was set in Denmark and tries to recount the life of prince Hamlet, and how he wants to work out the revenge for King Claudius who proved guilty of having killed his father. The murderer was the king then, and once he has taken the throne, he adds salt on the injury by marrying Hamlet’s mother. The play therefore explores on the feigned and real madness which befalls Hamlet for these happenings. Its real; and overwhelming grief which becomes a seething rages later. Major themes include; incest, revenge, treachery, fate and chance, and moral corruption. The essay argues on whether Hamlet was a crazy character or not (Wells 203).
It is possible to say that the way Hamlet views himself in the play is not the same way the readers interpret him. It is a play which is typical of the Hamlet’s situation which turns out to be moving from sanity to insanity. “He is just too passionate on his roles in the play to the extent that, his mind becomes naturally rational” (Stoll 58). He can be compared to those people who tell many lies to an extent that they start believing in their lies. Hamlet is going against the will of every other person in order to adhere to the instructions given to him by the ghost as pertaining his father’s death. According to him, everybody is crazy and guilty of the murder. Hamlet appears to be crazy, but he is actually not. There seems to be a great vehemence on the issue and most people cannot figure out what Shakespeare’s intention was (Stoll 58).
It is hard to conclude that Hamlet was crazy from the literary materials we read everyday, but it all depends on our interpretations. “Hamlet’s behavior can be attributed to the death of his father, and therefore readers need not question his behavior much. Part of the debate becomes a problem and I can say that he decides to act in this manner deliberately” (Moulton 501).This way it is possible for him to put his step- father and mother crazy by way of depicting his uncle as being the murderer. Hamlet’s actions need to be considered here. To start with, in his delusion, he sees his father, and the second thing is that, he thinks of committing suicide. He also sends his friends to death like Ophelia, and he also kills Polonius though it’s taken like an accidental incidence. The other thing is this; “he undertakes the killing of his uncle who was his step father also” (Moulton 501). These actions clearly qualify to prove that Hamlet was actually sane and not crazy, even if the accidental murder could be discounted from the list. These are things which happen with some sequence in them, hence well planned. Thinking of suicide and using suicidal language can be said to be an act of insanity, but the explanation behind is: Hamlet is struggling through some severe depression and disillusionment he has in life, as well as some guilt. His dead father and more so the ghost disrupts him in his intentions and planned pursuits, by revealing the facts from his father and showing him that revenge was not necessary. These make him behave like a mad person (Moulton 501).
Additionally, whatever Hamlet perceives as good in the world and for him turns out to be all questionable like the love he has for Ophelia and the relationship that exists between him and his mother. The last part reveals that Hamlet kills the stepfather, something he had planned to do to some extend. This is questionable as to whether he is crazy or insane, because if someone is sane they would look for better ways of dealing with the situation rather than committing murder or suicide. However this was deliberate for character Hamlet, because he wanted to ply with the minds of those who were following his actions. Many critics have argued that, Hamlet begins acting being very sane, but as he progresses acting as a crazy character, he becomes more typical of a crazy person. This is because he has been absorbed into the play and wants to produce typical situations of his characterization. Others see him as just being crazy from beginning to the end of the play. “The play reveals that, Hamlet is in deep physical and internal conflicts with himself, and is inwardly being tortured by the reflections of his father’s death as well as the suspicions he has over his mother’s behavior” (Rosenberg 141). The mother’s behavior makes Hamlet loose trust in women and he is a young man. Hamlet cannot understand why nature is so unfair at times, hence his disillusionment. His long soliloquies show that, he was really disturbed by the shortcomings in life, although this was a convention by the characters, but Hamlet is not mad (Rosenberg 141).
Looking at his encounter with his father (ghost), it is hard to believe the scenario, whether it was real or truthful. May be it would be better to say that, his behavior was as a result of paranoid delusion. May be the uncle to Hamlet was just a plain good person and Hamlet himself was evil, but he forces readers to believe in him, other than the other characters. People with delusions and perceptions are believed to behave like Hamlet, so he is justified here because he is fixated to Claudius the murderer. In the real sense, “Hamlet has undergone much which would make anyone believe that he has gone crazy, but he is just an intelligent character” (Moulton 501).
Hamlets actions seem to change from the middle of the play and he behaves differently to many characters, and remains shady till the play ends. Many of the scenes depict a crazy character, but other critics have different opinions on the same. According to Joshua Wells, “Hamlet can be sane as well as be insane, but most stick to the point that Hamlet is sane and was working on his revenge” (Moulton 501). In Was Hamlet mentally disturbed? by Wells, he states that, this protagonist is insane. From the moment he hears bout the death of his father, he is crazy because from his conversation with Horatio, he seems to be speaking using whirling and wild words. However, Hamlet appears to be playing with Horatio, but does not tell him the real message which he is given by the ghost. He is trying to pursue his will through the mask of being insane (Moulton 501).
On top of that, when Horatio asks about the news, Hamlet answers and says, “O wonderful,” (Stoll 57) but in the real sense, nothing can be called good news from the message. If anything it was something which made him more confused. Hamlet sees a ghost in the chambers of his mother, but he cannot encounter the ghost directly. This appears to be very strange because other characters like the watchmen and Horatio had encountered with the ghost earlier on (Stoll 57). When Hamlet starts conversing with the ghost, his mother claims that, he is being mad, but on the same it is hard to prove that, Hamlet was talking to any ghost here. On a different note, Hamlet appears to change his mood abruptly for no good and seen reason. For instance, during the time when he is speaking to her mother at the chambers, they appear to initiate the talk on a calm note but he changes and becomes violent towards the mother, which can be explained by the fact that, he remembers what the mother has done (marriage) and becomes angry with her. Other Hamlet actions like; jumping on to a pirate ship, when there is no one to protect him, are calculated behaviors to corrupt the minds of the people around him and blackmail them to believe his “intelligent madness” (Stoll 57).
Hamlet makes sure that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are killed even though this were not included in his avenge plan. He hides the body of Polonius and does not plan to tell anyone where it was, which a sane act is really. If at all he was mad, he would have revealed the secrets, because a crazy person does not have a second thought. All what this man does is telling Laertes that, he did kill Polonius but in a manner through which Laertes takes it as just madness speaking in Hamlet. There are very many reasons which can drive any reader to believe that Hamlet was actually insane, because generally he acted in a harsh manner and his thoughts appear to be random and un-unified, but this as a result of his creativity. Hamlet behaves in a manner to suggest that, “the world has come to an end for him and this force the people who happen to be around him to believe that the character is actually insane” (Rosenberg 141). The explanation to the argument is that, Hamlet is trying to bring out an episode in the play, and other critics say that, “this is a way of bringing out a plot on his revenge” (Rosenberg 141). However, this character should be credited for his sharp way of executing actions in the whole play. Critics like Wells argue that, the madness for this character remained active when Hamlet was around some other characters and not just throughout the play, “so he knew what he was doing” (Rosenberg 141) and it was just a calculated craziness. It is evident that when he was near Bernardo, Horatio, Francisco, gravediggers and the players, Hamlet behaved rationally, but when around Ophelia, Claudius, Polonius, Gertrude, Guildenstern, and Rosencrantz, he appears to be deeply possessed by some insanity (Rosenberg 141).
On other scenes, he appears to be making some comments which seem to be meaningless, but do make some perfect sense. For instance, Hamlet compares the two characters who are the king’s spies with sponges which is a very smart comment. He says, “When he (Claudius) needs what you have gleaned, it is but squeezing you and, sponge, you shall be dry again” (Gallagher 135). The two do not understand what Hamlet says but, he means that, they are so much possessed with soaking too much in executing many duties in favor of the king, but soon they will just be dry once they would have cleared the responsibility. On the same scene still Hamlet makes rude comment to Claudius saying, “'A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm,” (Gallagher 135) which proves that Hamlet is not insane. This is because they are asking about the welfare of Polonius and Hamlet answers by saying that he is taking supper. His implication is that, Polonius is being eaten by worms for supper, and this qualifies to be some planned insanity. Research shows that, some characters can suspect that Hamlet is not crazy neither insane, but it is just something in his soul which dictates him to act in a brooding and melancholic manner. Claudius says that, Hamlet behaves this way because something was really disturbing him. “Polonius claims that the actions by Hamlet had a method in them and therefore this was deliberate madness” (Gallagher 135). This is true because Hamlet is going through so much in his head which is enough to drive him nuts, hence crazy for justified plea (Gallagher 135).
In act one; Hamlet confesses that he is not crazy, and once more tells it to Horatio in scene five. He declares that, he is aspiring in faking some mad ness and therefore any strange behavior would be justified for an act. “In act three, Hamlet repeats the same when he tells his mother that, he was not mad rather he was in a craft” (Berkoff 60).The points which suggest that Hamlet was not crazy are very much justified. Hamlet seems to be aware of his actions as well as his words. Hamlet wants to act crazy because he wants to achieve a way which is hard for him to reveal any information to the two spies of the king, because he is working on murder. If this character is crazy, “how comes he doubts what the ghost tells him and how does he wait to kill Claudius later” (Berkoff 60). These questions can be used as the basis that Hamlet is not and was not crazy. Hamlet wanted to get the right information before he executed his avenge for his father’s death. If he had killed Claudius immediately, then he would not have known who the murderer was and that is why he waits deliberately. If he was insane, he could not have done that, and he could be the one imprisoned. This is clear evidence that Hamlet was mentally healthy (Berkoff 60).
Shakespeare makes this character three-dimensional and portrays Hamlet as having a subconscious mind. The soliloquy depicts him as a depressed person who is working on the courage to carry out suicide, but he does not reveal his point of killing himself, rather posses a philosophical debate whenever he speaks. “Hamlet appears to mean the opposite of what he says in order to make himself crazy which he is not” (Wells 203). This is arrived at after a close watch at him by Claudius and Polonius and they say that he is doing it to appear crazy. He had earlier on said that he would act and pretend to be crazy, so there would not be such a coincidence of him becoming crazy just after he said it. But his behavior to Ophelia seems to have some emotional intensity. He reveals his discontentedness over the whole world, and he cannot tell why people have to have predetermined destinies. But Hamlet is just a confused young man, who cannot comprehend what life is all about (Wells 203).
In conclusion, I can say that, it is possible to support either side because Hamlet’s behavior is still relative and debatable. It is possible to declare that, he is actually crazy and at the same time say that he is not. It is evident that, Hamlet seems to be in a psychological torment and some acts like the marriage of his mother and the death of his father drive him crazy. Hamlet believes in fate and chance and this is what makes his life funny and absurd in the play. It is just that, he is forced by circumstances to behave this way, which would be a similar case for any human being. But, Hamlet was not crazy. It is only that roles required him to act crazy. On the other hand, a larger percentage of people claim that, Hamlet is not crazy, rather his is a calculated way of behavior to achieve what he desires to achieve. Facts on the whole are that, Hamlet had so much going in his mind, but whatever he did was all justified and he is crazy for the sake of his own goals. Much of his scenes and also from the soliloquy can show that, he carried out the roles in a controlled manner, and he knew the consequence of each action he did. He is crazy because he wants to be, but he is just an intelligent and melancholic character, sharp on stage, and very sane.