Discussion of Evidence for Hamlet’s Madness

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Whether Hamlet actually is insane or not, remains among the most debatable questions in studying Shakespeare’s masterpiece. In one respect, the plot includes his decision to imitate mental illness, to which many appeal as to the main argument that it was not real. On the contrary, the essential specialty of such disorders is their ability to progress, which is observable in the protagonist throughout the play. Thus, Hamlet apparently realizes the difference between normal and abnormal behavior at the beginning, but with the time, the line between those blurs, which hints at his real insanity.

The topic of mental illness begins in the scene where Hamlet has a conversation with the ghost of his father. At that moment, he apparently is sane; first, his friends see the Ghost as well, second, he is able to make conscious decisions. “I perchance hereafter shall think meet / To put an antic disposition on”, he says, warning his nearest about his intention to fake madness (1, 5: 177-178). As mentioned, many believe this utterance to be the conclusive proof that the protagonist has no mental disorders. An essential point is, however, that he addresses it to his immediate circle but not to the audience; the latter receive signals from his behavior rather than words. Meanwhile, his actions in some of the further scenes illustrate that he loses connection with reality gradually but inevitably.

Prior to analyzing the protagonist’s behavior, it would be relevant to mention that he was warned on the possibility of turning mad but ignored that remark. Specifically, Hamlet’s mate Horatio persuades him not to talk to the Ghost because of the possible unwanted consequences. According to him, the conversation “might deprive your sovereignty of reason / And draw you into madness” (1, 4: 52-53). Therefore, Horatio and the guardian Marcellus, who has seen the Ghost as well, try to restrain the prince, but his desire to hear his dead parent again is unbreakable, and the meeting occurs. This moment actually can serve as the starting point in the protagonist’s insanity, which grows more and more obvious throughout the plot.

Even from a materialistic viewpoint, which hardly regards speaking with the Ghost as the cause, not consequence, of madness, the prerequisites are sufficient. Notably, the Prince of Denmark had to discontinue his studies at a university due to his father’s death; furthermore, his mother married again, apparently without sorrow. He, therefore, feels dramatically lost and disappointed, considering “all the uses of this world” “weary, stale, flat and unprofitable” (1, 1: 133-134). In the simplest terms, the young man, who, being a prince, presumably had lived in the best conditions his epoch could provide, experienced a sudden and extreme commotion. The great shock could have harmed his psyche, which the following analysis seeks to show.

The primary aspect to consider is that only Hamlet can see the Ghost during his next apparition; this hints at hallucinations, which, in turn, are a frequent marker of insanity. For instance, his mother, Gertrude, worries about his state when a dialog occurs in her closet. “You do bend your eye on vacancy, / And with th’ incorporal air do hold discourse”; this phrase makes it doubtless that she cannot see or hear the Ghost (3, 4: 110-111). Naturally, she asks her son how he is feeling and tries to convince him that the apparition is “the very coinage of [his] brain” (ibid: 132). The audience can assume this as well because, if the prince were only pretending to be insane, no sensory abnormalities would occur in him.

It is worth noting that Hamlet disagrees with Gertrude in the above scene, insisting on the complete rationality of his actions, which marks the insufficient adequacy of his self-assessment. “My pulse, as yours, does temperately keep time / […] It is not madness / That I have uttered”, he proclaims (3, 4: 136-138). Apparently, the fact that his mother did not see and hear the Ghost does not awaken any doubt in the protagonist; his own view of reality is his main reference point. Such reduced ability to think critically and evaluate the own behavior, regarding it from various angles and doubting certain actions, also frequently accompanies mental disorders.

Finally, the scene that reveals the protagonist’s insanity permanently is where he occasionally kills Polonius instead of Claudius and does not feel any regret or remorse afterwards. Specifically, Hamlet does not even admit to his deed, responding that Polonius is at supper to the question on his current whereabouts; furthermore, he mocks at the situation. “Not where he eats, but where he is eaten […] you shall nose him as you go […] into the lobby”, he tells explaining where the king’s advisor is (4, 3: 20, 35-36). The utterances of such a kind show the complete lack of any negative emotions in the murderer, notwithstanding the fact that his victim was innocent. While a sane person would experience dramatic turmoil of guilt, Hamlet is satisfied, which behavior doubtlessly can classify as psychopathic.

To summarize, Shakespeare gives sufficient evidence for the real insanity of Hamlet, even though the character himself says that he will only pretend to be mad. In fact, the denial of mental illness is among the nuances that mark its presence in him because he apparently is unable to assess his own behavior adequately. In addition, the moment where he discovers that his mother cannot see or hear the Ghost while he can illustrates quite brightly that his perception of reality is different from hers. The final point is the lack of repentance in him after killing an innocent individual; such emotional response is a known marker of psychopathy.

Work Cited

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. My Shakespeare, Web.