Is Hamlet Insane?
Is Hamlet Insane?
Shakespeare's Hamlet is the tragic play about a son seeking revenge for the murder of his father. Hamlet's father, the late king of Denmark, is murdered by Hamlet's uncle, Claudius, who then marries Hamlet's mother. Finding out the true nature of his father's death, Hamlet sets out to avenge his father's murder. In acting with all the passion of an avenging son, Hamlet is perceived to be mad by his peers, and the King and Queen. Thus the question arises, is Hamlet insane? Webster's dictionary defines insane as a condition in which a person is utterly senseless; irrational. When one is irrational, one is not governed by or according to reason. So was Hamlet acting out of pure passion and insanity in his quest for revenge or was he following a clearly reasoned path towards a reasonable goal? There are three paths of interpretation one can take with this line of reasoning: Hamlet is totally and completely insane, Hamlet is somewhat mad, but still somewhat in control, or Hamlet is totally insane, and absolutely in control. With a cursory examination of the evidence, the first two options seem quite viable, but with further attention, the true condition of Hamlet's mental facilities becomes clear.
There is evidence from virtually every character in the play that Hamlet is less then sane. In fact, a major portion of the book is given to Hamlet's insanity, with several characters being given the sole task of determining Hamlet's sanity, or lack thereof. Their conclusion: Hamlet is insane. The first character to notice Hamlet's odd behavior is Polonius, the father of Ophelia, Hamlet's love. Polonius comes to the King (Claudius) and Queen with the news that their "noble son is mad." (89) Polonius first begins to believe this when he intercepts a love letter intended for Ophelia, and wonders why a high Prince like Hamlet should be interested in his lowly daughter. In subsequent conversations with Hamlet, Polonius comes to the conclusion that Hamlet is mad with love and anguish over his father's death. Polonius explains that he sees Hamlet experiencing the classic stages of the declination into love-madness--"And he, repelled (a short tale to make), fell into a sadness, then into a fast, thence to a watch, thence into weakness, thence to (a) lightness, and, by this declension, into the madness wherein now he raves, and all we mourn for." (91) In...