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Hamlet Insane or Antic Disposition?

Topics: Hamlet, Characters in Hamlet, Consciousness, Mind, Ghost, Prince Hamlet / Pages: 4 (1397 words) / Published: Nov 2nd, 2014
Hamlet Insane or “Antic Disposition”? Is Hamlet mad? This is a question that has plagued the minds of generations of readers and critics, and is one that has drawn various analyses and theories. Hamlet’s sanity is not just an academic debate, but also one that is contemplated by every reader and viewer of the play when he plays the play again and again in his mind since the fact whether he is sane or not affects the perceptions of the reader in many significant ways. However, before passing on a judgment about Hamlet’s sanity, it is essential to define what insanity is. The first modern definition for insanity was formed during a trial in England, held in the year 1843, whereby insanity was termed as an inability of a person to appreciate the wrongful nature of his actions or the consequences of those actions. (Devine 2012) This was not the case for Hamlet. He was clearly a sane person who feigned madness or in Shakespeare’s words put on an antic disposition all for the purpose of taking revenge on his uncle. Through his ability to plot and ploy, pick whom he acts insane around and have consciousness and control over his emotions, it becomes abundantly clear that Hamlet is indeed sane.
During the opening of this play, Hamlet is asked by the ghost of King Hamlet, his deceased father, to avenge his death. He has recently lost his father, and has seen his mother marrying his uncle, who is the murderer of his father according to the ghost. These facts are enough to cause chaos and emotional turmoil to any person’s mind. Hamlets states, "And so I am revenged. That would be scanned: A villain kills my father, and for that, I, his sole son, d this same villain send to heaven;” (3.3.76-78). Hamlet’s words reflect those of a son who will do anything to fulfill his father’s wishes. He feels morally obliged but Hamlet could not go about taking revenge on his uncle in an apparent manner, as his Uncle is the new king and any such overt expression of his rage, would have put an end to all his ambitions. After his conversation with the ghost of King Hamlet, Hamlet states, "I perchance hereafter shall think meet to put an antic disposition on"(1.5.171-172).
Consequently, Hamlet begins to plot in order to discover the truth behind his father’s murder. Hamlet’s plan is to “have these players play something like the murder of my father before mine uncle,” (2.2.623-638) and then have Horatio observe Claudius’ reaction. Hamlet acts most insane when the play is performed than at any other point in the entire play. He even goes as far as placing his head in Ophelia’s lap muttering phrases like: “lady should I lie in your lap”(3.2.102) and “for look you how cheerfully my mother looks, and my father died within ’s two hours”(3.2.114). Hamlet makes inappropriate comments such as these in his attempt to act insane in order to draw the attention of Gertrude and Claudius. He acts like a fool in order to get a reaction from them, and so they listen to his comments during the course of the play. In the process, Hamlet makes it clear that he is deliberately acting foolish only in order to receive a confession from Claudius. Hamlet’s idea to catch the king’s guilty conscience cannot be the idea of an insane person. Only a brilliant man would be able to devise such an intricate plot, even though it would have been much simpler to take his father’s ghost at his word and kill Claudius without proof.

Another point to be noted is that Hamlet's insanity only manifests itself when he is in the presence of certain characters. Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, is one of the characters that consider Hamlet to be insane. When she sees Hamlet talking to himself, she declares, “Alas, he's mad!" (3.4.105), but what she does not realize that Hamlet is actually talking to the ghost. Polonius thinks Hamlet is “far gone, far gone" (2.2.8) because he is convinced that his daughter Ophelia’s refusal to meet him or receive his messages would have hurt him badly. And Claudius thinks Hamlet is feigning madness, because he fears that Hamlet might have known his hand in his father’s death and might be seeking revenge. But none of these characters were privy to the inner turmoil that Hamlet undergoes after encountering his father’s ghost. Even though Hamlet’s speech patterns are very twisted and illogical only when he is around these characters, the audience is able to witness Hamlet speak to himself in an organized and understandable manner. In one of Hamlet’s most famous soliloquys, “To Be or Not To Be”, Hamlet analyzes his grave situation in a rational and distinct function. He questions life when he says:
“ To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?”(3.1.55-59).
Although this reaction to his conflicts is emotional and dramatic, it is nonetheless clear and structured. He draws deep correlations between whether life or death suits him and while some argue that his contemplated suicide prove genuine insanity, any normal person would have suicide in the back of their mind when faced with such a unique and unfortunate situation such as Hamlet’s. However, it is not the topic of Hamlet’s speech that proves his antic disposition, it is the pathology of his speech. Unlike when he is talking to others, when Hamlet much speaks to himself he has complete awareness of his surroundings and thinks in an effective manner. The logical way in which Hamlet's scrutinizes his situation does not resemble the thought process of someone who is truly insane.
Another piece of evidence that helps prove Hamlet’s sanity is his eloquence and the insightfulness of his strange behavior, like when he says to his mother, “That I essentially am not in madness, but mad in craft “(3.4.194-195). Hamlet does not have trouble recognizing and accepting that that his behavior is strange and makes him look crazy, he remains unbothered by how others view his actions. In fact, one of the primary signs that Hamlet is not insane is the fact that he openly admits that he might be. When speaking to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet tells them, “I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw,” (2.2.368-369). This completely open acceptance that he may perhaps be mad is a solid indication that he is actually not, as people who are genuinely insane believe that they are completely normal. The fact that Hamlet recognizes that he is not in tune with the world around him and to demonstrate conscious awareness that his behavior could be perceived as unusual demonstrates that he is aware of what is socially and culturally acceptable. The lack of consciousness of what is normal is what makes one insane. Hamlet, however, knows that his conduct is strange, and this demonstrates that he is not insane because he is consciously aware of what is normal.
Eventually, as the play comes to an end, Hamlet deliberately forces Claudius to drink from the poisoned cup so as to kill him. This is a conscious action because Hamlet later tells his closest accomplice to spread the word that it was indeed Claudius who had killed his father, King Hamlet. The audience then witnesses Hamlet asking God for forgiveness: “I do repent. But heaven hath pleased it so,…. The death I gave him”. (3.4.176). Hamlet’s ability to appreciate the wrongful nature of his actions proves his sanity. In fact, his actions ultimately lead him to make the right decisions for his country, Denmark, and in a way leaves himself unprotected from his Uncle’s manipulations, and in the process loses his life, dying a tragic hero.
Therefore it is clear that Hamlet is certainly not insane. Hamlet’s attempt at feigned madness was result of his own incapacity to achieve his most obvious duty, avenging his father’s death, despite having a strong motive. Hamlet’s intricate plotting, timed acts of insanity and his eloquence proves beyond doubt that he does not fit the characteristic of an insane man.

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