Hamlet the Indecisive Academic

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Hamlet is the first of Shakespeare’s major tragedies; it had its first performance around 1601 and is the most often performed of Shakespeare’s plays. It is written in verse, in this case unrhymed iambic pentameter, and prose, how we speak every day. When reading this play it does seem as though it is one very long poem, which isn’t surprising as about 27% of it is written in verse. This essay will look at Hamlet’s soliloquy in act 2 scene 2 and at his state of mind at this point of the play and to compare this to different points of the play. The question being asked is what is his state of mind? Is he insane or not? Hamlet is the Prince of Denmark and a scholar whose studies are cut short due to the terrible death of his father King Hamlet and the hasty marriage of his mother to his uncle. In the soliloquy “Ay, so, god be wi’ ye!.......Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king”, act 2 scene 2, Hamlet is showing the very essence of his conflict, that is seeking revenge for his father’s death. However, he is unable to act on behalf of his father because of his revulsion toward exacting that cold and calculating revenge. Alex Newell states; “Hamlets self condemnation takes several bizarre forms (in this soliloquy) including histrionic imaginings of a series of demeaning insults that he absorbs like a coward because he feels he has done nothing to take revenge on Claudius”. (Newell 61.) Hamlet works himself into a frenzy hoping his passions will halt his better judgement and he can then charge forward and exact revenge on Claudius without hesitation but because of his apprehensions he is unable to act immediately, so he focuses his attention on a plan to ensure Claudius admits his own guilt by staging the play “The Mouse Trap”. As Claudius watches the play within a play re-enacted surely he will reveal his own guilt. Hamlet cannot take the word of his father’s ghost because he may be “the devil”,(act 2, scene 2, 586) trying to trick him in to damning himself, here is seen the conflict in his thoughts, he has seen a ghost and wants to believe it is of his father but still he assesses and re-assesses the situation. His father was known as a great warrior king and Hamlet wants to be the same, he wants to be able to seek vengeance. The way one of the players is able to summon tears through his acting sends Hamlet into a scathing attack on himself because what sort of a man can he call himself if he is unable to feel in such a way as to summon the rage needed to kill Claudius and yet he will question himself at every opportunity and this itself makes him see himself as a weak and vulnerable man. At this point in the play Hamlet is seen as a thinker and completely sane, although he is still very depressed and in conflict with himself he knows he has to be clever in his revenge on Claudius and to do this he has to make everyone around him think that he is insane. At other points in the play he is seen to be consistent to seem insane so he is able to move about the court relatively unseen and anything he does will be seen as the making of an insane mind, “I am mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a hand saw”, (act 2, scene 2, 368-369). Polonius has the ear of the king and Hamlet uses this to his advantage by making him think that Hamlet doesn’t recognise him, he says he is a “fishmonger”, and this could be meant as an insult to Polonius’ daughter. The fact that he sounds disjointed and fractured in his thought at this part of the play is to Hamlets advantage because this will be conveyed back to Claudius and will show that Hamlet is mad and harmless. After the meeting with Polonius Hamlets state of mind alters as he meets with his university friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. He is very normal and is pleased to see them even though he knows that the King and Queen sent for them specifically to find out why he is still so depressed. Hamlets most famous speech in this play, “to be or not to...
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