Certainty and Insanity: Hamlet
With no way to be absolutely certain about anything in life, it makes it hard to deliver the justice some may need. In William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Hamlet never allows himself to come to an absolute certainty that Claudius killed his father. Whether it was his insanity or his morals, he is unable to take retribution for the murder of his father, which helps drive him insane. By not taking justice into his own hands, Hamlet’s indecision, and his insanity, ultimately leads him to his own death.
When Hamlet first meets with the ghost of his father and hears the story of his death, he doesn’t want to believe the ghost outright. Upon finding out that Claudius has killed his father, Hamlet could have simply went to the Kings’ bedroom and slit his throat while he slept. He ignored this opportunity, which allowed his mind to begin questioning his actions. This is the first time Hamlet will delay the killing of Claudius. He begins to slip into insanity, which paralyzes his actions. Hamlet explains that the time for action isn’t right when he is speaking with Horatio the night he first saw the ghost. “The time is out of joint. O cursed spite, / That ever I was born to set it right” (I. v. 88-89). Hamlet explains that he understands that the situation of seeing the ghost or even the story may not be right, but he feels like he is the person to fix it. This puts a great deal of pressure on Hamlet, which starts the downward spiral of his insanity. Hamlet faces many dilemmas during the course of the play. He has the dilemma of having to come to terms with losing his father. He then has to deal with the anger he has towards his mother for her quick remarriage. Then when Hamlet finds out that his mother’s new husband, his uncle, was the murderer, he isn’t able to deal with any more. With dilemmas keep piling on top of one another, Hamlet has a psychotic break. As Ophelia explains it to her father, My Lord, as I was sewing in my closet,
Lord Hamlet, with his doublet all unbraced;
No hat upon his head; his stockings fouled,
Ungartered, and down-gyved to his ankle;
Pale as his shirt; his knees knocking each other;
With a look so piteous in purport
As if he had been loosed out of hell
To speak of horrors, he comes before me. (II, i, 77-84)
In this explanation, one begins to understand that Hamlet has been unable to deal with the death of his father, much less the fact that he was murdered by his uncle. The behaviors exhibited by Hamlet are not the actions a normal person would have, especially one of royalty. As Edward Foster explains, “That Hamlet loses his mental stability is arguable from his behavior toward Ophelia …” (Foster, par 17). A person not suffering from some form of psychosis would have been more put together and rational. Hamlet’s insanity allows him to sink into a reality that isn’t real, “….results in the development if a sense of unreality in the affected individual” (“Hamlet”, par 2)
While the ghosts’ story shouldn’t have left any doubt in Hamlet’s mind, he is still uncertain that Claudius did commit the act, fearing that the ghost could be the devil in disguise, just trying to make him a murderer. So in a poorly devised plan, Hamlet thinks he knows a way to get absolute certainty that Claudius killed his father. Hamlet’s plan is, “There is a play tonight before the king. / One scene of it comes near the circumstance / Which I have told thee of my father’s death” (III, ii. 68-70). This plan is used to gauge Claudius’s reaction, so as to tell if he has a guilty conscious or not. This is where Hamlet’s sanity is furthered questioned. If Claudius’s realizes this is Hamlet’s actions, then he can assume Hamlet knows about his terrible deed, and may send for him to be executed. John Alvis agrees by stating, “…Hamlet’s deeds appear ill considered and politically feeble” (par 9). While that does happen later, Hamlet gets the proof he needs, when Claudius...
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