Great literary works retain their popularity as a result of many different factors. One such factor which can lead to popularity of a work, current or consistent discussion of a work’s merit, can come into play when an author or playwright leaves questions unanswered in his work. In Hamlet, William Shakespeare creates such a situation. As a result of the ambiguity of clues given throughout this play, critics may argue for or against the idea that Prince Hamlet’s “antic disposition” put on as a facade to mislead the royal family pales in comparison to the disposition of Hamlet’s problems, or in other words, that Hamlet in fact truly succumbs to insanity due to the weakness of his character. Evidence for this opinion can be derived from Hamlet’s erratic mood changes, careless slaughter of those not directly involved in the murder of his father, and interactions with the ghost of King Hamlet.
For a man thought to be feigning insanity, Prince Hamlet seems to have very little control of his emotions. In fact, Hamlet admits this to Horatio, when he says, “Sir, in my heart there was a kind of fighting that would not let me sleep”(5.2 lines 4-5). This lack of restraint leads to Hamlet’s unpredictable mood swings throughout the play. Hamlet’s relationship with Ophelia easily spawns such dramatic alterations in the prince’s attitude. For example, when Hamlet first suspects Ophelia acting only as a pawn for her father Polonius’s benefit, he reacts rashly, bitterly denying that he ever loved her. Hamlet said to Ophelia in a very firm and rude manner “You should not have believed me, for virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock, but we shall relish of it. I loved you not”(3.1 lines 117-119). This massive reversal in disposition is later contrasted by another reversal when Hamlet leaps into Ophelia’s open grave at her funeral to dispute Laretes and claim, “I loved Ophelia, forty thousand brothers could not with all their quantity of love make up my sum” (5.1 lines 252-254). These abrupt mood changes also appear in Hamlet’s relationship with his mother. He seemed to believe in his mother’s purity and goodness, but eventually Hamlet seems to hold a great mount of contempt for Gertrude, especially when he mocks her words, and then proclaims: “You are the queen, your husband’s brother’s wife, and would it were not so you are my mother” (3.4 lines 15-16). Such mood swings as these have definitely proven, if anything, that Hamlet due to the weakness of his character causes his own problems.
This Lack of discipline also leads to Hamlet to Shamelessly murder several people not directly related to his plot to avenge his father’s death. Hamlet in says to the queen after killing Polonius” Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell! I took thee for thy better” (3.4 lines 38-39). This showed that Hamlet in all his insanity killed Polonius and he thought that he was to doing him a favor by killing him, saying “I took thee for thy Better”. After words he flaunts this deed in the presence of the King and Laertes. Hamlet also boasts to Horatio of his cunning plan which resulted in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern delivering their own execution notices to the English crown. Is it possible for a sane man to gloat over the death of another man by his own hand? In addition to these deaths, Hamlet can be indirectly linked to the deaths of Ophelia and Gertrude. The turmoil Hamlet faces due to these killings is due to the weakness of his character and because of his weak character he has to face the many problems that it brings.
To father this idea of Hamlet’s insanity of problems, one can observe the prince’s interaction with the ghost of his father. For example, after Hamlet’s first interaction with the ghost, he puts forth, as Horatio calls them, “wild and whirling words. Why right, you are in the right, and so without more circumstance at all I hold it fit that we shake hands and part, You, as your business and desire shall point you, for every man hath business and desire such as it is, and for my own poor part, look you, I will go pray.”(1.5 lines 127-134) Anther possibility exists in relation to Act 3 Scene 4 in which Hamlet sees the ghost of his father, while Gertrude cannot see the specter. It is important to remember that in all other encounters with the ghost, Hamlet was not the only person to behold the spirit. In this scene however Hamlet alone sees the ghost suggesting that the second ghost was only his imagination. This imagination would suggest the weakness of his character and the source of his problems.
In conclusion, Hamlets “antic disposition’ can easily be understood, through examples of Hamlet’s unpredictable attitude changes, slaughter of innocents, and interactions with the ghost of his father, to be only the tip of the iceberg concerning the weakness of his character and the bringing about his constant turmoil and problems.
There is much evidence in the play that Hamlet deliberately feigned fits of madness in order to confuse and disconcert the king and his attendants. His avowed intention to act "strange or odd" and to "put an antic disposition on" 1 (I. v. 170, 172) is not the only indication. The latter phrase, which is of doubtful interpretation, should be taken in its context and in connection with his other remarks that bear on the same question. To his old friend, Guildenstem, he intimates that "his uncle-father and aunt-mother are deceived," and that he is only "mad north-north-west." (II. ii. 360.) But the intimation seems to mean nothing to the dull ears of his old school-fellow. His only comment is given later when he advises that Hamlet's is "a crafty madness." (III. i. 8.)
When completing with Horatio the arrangements for the play, and just before the entrance of the court party, Hamlet says, "I must be idle." (III. ii. 85.) This evidently is a declaration of his intention to be "foolish," as Schmidt has explained the word. 2 Then to his mother in the Closet Scene, he distinctly refers to the belief held by some about the court that he is mad, and assures her that he is intentionally acting the part of madness in order to attain his object:
"I essentially am not in madness,
But mad in craft."
(III. iv. 187-8.)
This pretense of madness Shakespeare borrowed from the earlier versions of the story. The fact that he has made it appear like real madness to many critics today only goes to show the wideness of his knowledge and the greatness of his dramatic skill.
In the play the only persons who regard Hamlet as really mad are the king and his henchmen, and even these are troubled with many doubts. Polonius is the first to declare him mad, and he thinks it is because Ophelia has repelled his love. He therefore reports to the king that "Your noble son is mad" (II. ii. 92), and records the various stages leading to his so-called madness (II. ii. 145-150). No sooner.
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An Analysis of Hamlet s antic disposition
Is Hamlet mad? A close analysis of the play reveals that Hamlet is straightforward and sane. His actions and thoughts are a logical response to the situation in which he finds himself. However, he assumes antic-disposition to undercover the truth of his father s death.
In the first act, Hamlet appears to be very straightforward in his actions and thoughts. When questioned by Gertrude about his melancholy appearance Hamlet says, Seems, madam? Nay it is know not seems (I, ii, 76). This is to say, I am what I appear to be. Later he makes a clear statement about his thoughts of mind when he commits himself to revenge. Hamlet says, I ll wipe away all trivial fond records, All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past, That youth and observation copied there, And thy commandment all alone shall live Within the book and volume of my brain (I, iv, 99-103). With this statement, the play makes a transition. Hamlet gives up the role of a student and mourning son, and commits himself to nothing else but the revenge of his father s death. There is no confusion and certainly no sign of madness in Hamlet s character. In Chapel Scene, when Claudius is praying alone for his guilt, Hamlet accidentally sees him. He realizes that this is the perfect opportunity to perform the revenge. Seeing the opportunity, Hamlet says, Now might I do it pat, now a is a-praying; And now I ll do it, and so he goes to heaven, And so am I reveng d. That would be scann d; A villain kills my father, for that, I, his sole son, do this same villain send To heaven. O, this is hire and salary, not revenge. (III, iii, 73-79). This shows, Hamlet has a sound mind and is not mad. He knew that if he killed Claudius, he would go to heaven upon death whereas his father s soul was unprepared for death and so went to purgatory. He has said earlier that he is what he appears to be, and there is no reason to doubt it.
When Hamlet appears again in Act Two, it seems that he has lost the conviction and shows a puzzling duplicitous nature. He has yet to take up the part assigned to him by the ghost. He spends the act walking around, reading, talking with Polonius, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and the players. It is not until the very end of the act that he even mentions vengeance. If he had any of the conviction shown earlier, he would be presently working on his vengeance. So instead of playing the part of vengeful son, or dropping the issue entirely, he hangs out in the middle, pretending to be mad. This is shown when he says to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, I know not lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercise (II, ii, 298-299). Later he tells them that he is just feigning madness when he says, I am but mad north-north-west, when the wind is southerly, and I know a hawk from a handsaw (II, ii, 380-381). Admitting so blatantly that he is only feigning madness would imply that he is comfortable with it. He also seems to be generally comfortable with acting. This is evidenced when he says, there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so (II, ii, 250-251). Hamlet is saying that thought shapes our perception of reality. It is puzzling that Hamlet is comfortable with his antic disposition at this point but not with the role that he said he would play earlier. Ever since the death of King Hamlet, young Hamlet has been in what has appeared to be in a state of melancholy. In a discussion with Polonius, Hamlet questions Polonius by asking him have you a daughter (II, ii, 182). In this discussion Hamlet mocks Polonius when Hamlet would usually show great respect for him because of he age and of his high position in court. This sudden question to Polonius has causes him to believe that Hamlet has a form of love-sickness sees as a form of madness. Hamlet knows Polonius is sure to tell Claudius of his condition. Hamlet also accuses Polonius of being the Jephthah, judge of Israel, (II, ii, 399) meaning that Polonius would put his country in front of his daughter. Hamlet has now convinced Polonius that he is in a state of madness because he knows that Polonius cares for his daughter very much. Hamlet s above actions of pretended madness and thoughts are justified to the situation he finds himself.
The purpose of Hamlet feigning madness is to undercover the truth about the events leading up to and involving the death of his father. Hamlet says to Horatio, How strange or odd soe er I bear myself, As I perchance hereafter shall think meet To put an antic disposition on (I, v, 169-171). This play-acting allows Hamlet to determine if his uncle has played any part in the scheme. By pretending he is insane, he is able to get more information about the death of his father. Play goers are shocked when Hamlet burst into his mother s bedroom. This action is generally interpreted as a sign of his discourteous nature. In the Queen s closet scene, Hamlet also acts crazy in front of his mother imagining that there is a ghost in her room. He tries to make her feel guilty enough to confess her sins. He says to his mother, Why, look you there! Look, how it steals away! My father, in his habit as he liv d! Look, where he goes, even now out at the portal! (III, iv, 132-136). I believe another reason for Hamlet to feign madness in front of Claudius is as for her mother, he wanted to drive Claudius to the breaking point of confession and he was successful. In Chapel Scene, Claudius gives way to the guilt which is beginning to torment him despite all his practical efforts to protect himself. He says, O, my offence is rank, it smells to heaven. It hath the primal eldest curse upon t, A brother s murder (III, iii, 36-38).
From the foregoing analysis it can be concluded that Hamlet is quite a sane person. His depression, the hopeless note in his attitude towards others and towards the value of life, his reference to ghost, his self accusations, his desperate efforts to get away from the thoughts of his duty are just a logical response to the circumstances in which he finds himself. This ambiguity is demonstrated by his alleged madness for he does behave madly to become perfectly calm and rational and instant later. He assumes antic-disposition only to undercover the truth and events relating to the death of his father.
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to conclude that revenge was indeed the solution for his internal conflicts and malaise? What was Hamlet's rationale in making the decision to commit violent revenge? At what point in the play does Hamlet decide to embark on this mission of revenge, to devote his life to avenging the death of his father? Is Hamlet successful in his plan, and when does his plan effectively end? The analysis of certain key scenes will be required to provide conclusive evidence in
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engage in some discourse-as during the previous night, The Ghost eluded the queries of Horatio and Marcellus to retreat at the call of a crow. At this point none of Horatio, Hamlet or Marcellus are certain whether the Ghost had come bearing evil or good sentiments. Hamlet is obviously intrigued by this spectre, and agrees to follow it, forcing his way past the concerned pair of Horatio and Marcellus. Scene v. of the Act begins with Hamlet and the Ghost
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engaging in conversation on another platform of the battlements. Hamlet is shocked to learn that Claudius was responsible for his father's death, and readily agrees to avenge his "most foul, strange, and unnatural murder." The Ghost tells Hamlet, and effectively, the audiences, for the first time the complete story of the King's death. The Ghost incriminates Gertrude concurrently, telling Hamlet of her adulterous ways with Claudius while the King was still living. Hamlet is upset by this, but the Ghost
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orders Hamlet to let God deliver the punishment to her and to concentrate on Claudius solely. The dawn then comes, forcing the ghost to return to the purgatory he must inhabit, because of the wrongful deeds he did prior to his own death. Afterward, Hamlet concludes he must put aside trivial matters and dedicate himself to the vengeance his father deserves. When Horatio and Marcellus catch up to Hamlet, he forces them to swear an oath of secrecy on all
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plot against Claudius. Here the plot is embarked upon. What rationale beyond seeing the phantom image of one's murdered father would be required to justify a plan of revenge as such? Any debate on whether the Ghost actually exists at this point is redundant: the sheer fact that Horatio and Marcellus witnessed its manifestation on more than one occasion, in addition to Hamlet's lengthy discourse with the spectre, is proof enough for the audience. At this point, we are
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meant to assume that the Ghost is indeed some ethereal reflection of the deceased King. Indeed, the Ghost even appears in the dramatis personae. The only doubt comes later, with Gertrude's failure to see the phantom while Hamlet speaks to it in her presence. In the previous acts, both Laertes and Polonius question Hamlet's nobility and ethics ;no doubt in response to the mounting allegations of the young prince's affairs with "loose women," "gaming" and "the drink." Laertes previously convinces
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Ophelia of Hamlet's ill worth: as a man set to inherit the throne, he would have no time for matters of love while affairs of state await him. Hamlet is almost equally dismayed by the superficial, almost foolish celebration of the king's health by the shooting off of cannons ;as he tells his mates in Horatio and Marcellus promptly before encountering the Ghost in I,v. Couple this with the murder of his father, his "incestuous," "adulterous" mother ;and what rationale
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could he possibly require beyond to fulfill the phantom wishes of his father, trapped in Purgatory? At this point, his worldview is best summed up by "How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable Seem to me all the uses of the world" (I.ii.133-134). And this is before he learns the truth surrounding the circumstances of his father's departure into death. We are convinced, easily, that Hamlet is indeed lucid and logical, although somehow fated to remain unhappy. By taking on the
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task of murdering Claudius, Hamlet suddenly finds himself something to live for. Two months after Hamlet had met with the Ghost, in II, ii. Claudius and Gertrude are found discussing Hamlet's strange behaviour with two of his friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The audience is still of the idea that Hamlet is acting the lunatic, rather than actually insane. Here we find ourselves doubting, for the first time, whether or not Hamlet is still playing the lunatic or is actually becoming
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one. Although Gertrude is certain her quick re-marriage and the late king's death are the cause of Hamlet's ill-behaviour, Claudius is still uncertain as to the cause. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are sent to effectively spy on Hamlet, as Polonius was. As they are leaving, Polonius enters with the messengers returning
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