Unlawfully Insane (Blog 6)


Shakespeare leaves much room for multiple interpretations of important matters in his play Hamlet. One place where the reader can witness this ambiguity regards Hamlet’s sanity, or perhaps lack thereof. Throughout the play, Hamlet is seen by the other characters to be mad and driven to insanity after his father’s death. However, Hamlet believes that he puts on his act and thinks he can distinguish the difference between his true sanity and his acting insane. As a reader, it is unsure which view is correct and there is textual evidence supporting either side. Being a play, the reader never has the opportunity to be inside the characters heads and get insight into their thoughts. Instead, all the information the reader receives is through the mouth of one of the characters, which can never be taken as absolute truth or fact.


While Hamlet is surrounded by other characters, he acts in ways that are outside of the norms and could convince people that he is not mentally stable. These actions include appearing half-dressed in Ophelia’s bedroom and then killing Polonius (3.4) without seeming to truly think about it or acknowledge that he killed a man. For these reasons among others, people like Gertrude become concerned with his state of mental health and are even scared by him and what he is capable of, “I like him not, nor stands it safe with us/ To let his madness range” (3.3.1-2). Gertrude wants only to keep him sheltered and away from trouble and danger until he returns to his state of normalcy that he portrayed before his father’s murder, “So shall I hope your virtues/ Will bring him to his wonted way again” (3.1.40-41). She hopes that Claudius and others will help return him to this state and rid him of this craziness.
In Hamlet’s eyes, however, he is not crazy at all and only pretends to be mad in hopes that when it comes time for him to kill Claudius, his insanity will act as a cover for his actions. Hamlet does not disagree that he acts crazy at times, but he claims to make the conscious decision of when to act crazy when he sees it as beneficial for his grander scheme, “I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is/southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw” (2.2.369-370). Hamlet is convinced that his plan is working and everyone is falling for it just as he thought they would, “these tedious old fools” (2.2.215). The reader can still not be certain though if Hamlet’s words and judgement can be trusted. Given no evidence other than Hamlet’s words himself, the reader can not trust that this is accurate information. Wouldn’t all crazy people claim that they are not crazy? How could you trust a crazy person pleaded for their sanity? Shakespeare leaves it up to the reader to decide which side she believes more to be the truth. As this is a piece of literature, Hamlet’s insanity can never be truly proved.


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