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Hamlet is Crazy

Introduction

Hamlet is considered as one of the masterpieces by one of the greatest dramatists of

all times William Shakespeare. The exact date of its conceptions is a matter of controversy

among critics, but the general consensus is that it was written between 1599 and 1601. The

tragedy, complying with the contemporary tastes, narrates the story of the prince of Denmark

whose father, the king, was killed by his uncle Claudius for the throne. Claudius later married

Hamlet’s mother Gertrude as well. The theme of the story revolves around madness (both

real and feigned), springing from immense feeling of grief and uncontrollable rage. The other

discussed themes are treachery, incest, revenge and moral corruption.

Synopsis

A number of psychoanalysts, including Sigmund Freud; Jacques Lacan and Ernest

Jones, have tried to evaluate the character of Hamlet on various parameters of sanity. The

only thing that they all agree is that Hamlet was, without any doubt, not sane in most of the

parts of the novel. (Freud, S. 1900)

Psychologically, craziness is defined as a mood shift genarally accompanied by

euphoric states, excessive talkativeness, extreme physical activity, distractedness and
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occaisionally grandiosity. During craziness a person 's self esteem often gets really inflated.

These people tend to become aggressive and hostile towards others as a consequence of

exaggeration and infaltion of self confidence. Insomnia, little/no sleep are other common

sysmtoms. Interestingly, Hamlet, during the course of the drama, has shown several of the

aforementioned symptoms and on lot of occasions a clear mood swing is also displayed by

him.

The biggest argument advocates of this acquired insanity present is that Hamlet was

not earning any gain or benefit from playing mad in the last parts of the play and indeed this

is alone is a significant proof of his dilapidating mental status. Although he acquired the

knowledge of Claudius’s killing his father (at least by 1.4), but he still didn’t rush the revenge

plot. According to Freud this is a repercussion of the Oedipal Complex Hamlet was

experiencing.

The Act V presents a completely different aspect of Hamlet’s personality disorders;

prior to this act he had never made the audience/readers feel that he is not normal.

Critics have continuously credited Hamlet’s insanity as a result of his mother

Gertrude’s hasty decision of marrying her deceased husband’s brother. Whereas some

amounts it to be a result of Ophelia’s supposed betrayal. At Ophelia’s burial, Hamlet jumps

in her grave in front of Laertes and exploded beyond all reason. He said:

“I lov'd Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers

Could not (with all their quantity of love)

Make up my sum.”
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Another most quoted part of the play to emphasize Hamlet’s lack of sanity is when

Hamlet ponders the notion that the apparition is actually a progeny of the Devil pretending as

the late king in order to increase the persisting chaos.

The brutal slaying of Hamlet’s friends Guildenstern and Rosencratz provides another

proof for the idea that one may act mad at his/her friends at times, but not crazy enough to

kill them. Hamlet not only committed the killings but he never considered it as an important

issue. And then the murder of, Lord Polonius, Ophelia’s father without trying to know the

identity of the person behind the curtain who got stabbed, is another indicator of Hamlet’s

deteriorating mental state. His passionate thinking and the continual feigning of insanity, I

believe, had ultimately drove Hamlet insane.

Some people say that Hamlet’s insanity had stemmed from his thinking himself as

being weak: "My father's brother, but no more like my father/ than I to Hercules" (1.2) The

apparent struggle between his avenge-seeking desire and his personal views of incompetence

was probably the cause of his unrest. "Haste me to know’t that I, with wings as swift, as

meditation or thoughts of love, may sweep to my revenge. (1.5)

King Claudius also admitted that Hamlet has gone mad when he said "I like him not,

nor stands it safe with us to let his madness range. Therefore prepares you. I your commission

will forth with dispatch, and he to England shall along with you." (3.3)

Hamlet’s dismal mental status is also revealed when he did not kill Claudius due to

the fear that if he got killed during praying, Claudius may go to heaven. This thinking was

manifested in the following lines when Hamlet said "Then trip him, that his heels may kick at

heaven, and that his soul may be as damned and black as hell, whereto it goes" (3.3)
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Hamlet’s crazy behavior gets highlighted in its performance, as most of the subtle

cues are generally missed by readers but when performed on stage, they certainly leave the

audience in no doubt about the sanity, or the lack of it, in Hamlet’s personality. For example,

in “the scene with Polonius, in 2.2, Linklater (an actor) played up the physical gags,

continually thrusting his hips into the air for the ‘conception is a blessing’ line, and then

walking onstage with his legs spread apart for the line, ‘like a crab you could go backward.’

(Park, Samuel. 2008)

“Several times during the play, Hamlet expresses dissatisfaction with words [...] In

fact; the play has been described as a portrait of a man who thinks too much--that is, a

man whose head is so filled with interior verbalizations that he is incapable of taking

action.” (Delaney, B. 2005)

One critic has given his views in the following words:

“Oscar James Campbell describes Hamlet as a series of meditative pauses followed by

bursts of action – this is consistent with manic depressive behavior. Hamlet's

depressed phase is marked by brooding inaction and his manic phase is characterized

by abrupt lunges toward action. During the entire play, Hamlet is in a state of

paralyzing perplexity; from scene to scene he contemplates deeply over which course

of action he should adopt.”

In fact one cannot miss the eerie feeling that apparently most of the characters in the

drama had some degree of innate insanity. The only people who seem to have normal endings

are Horatio and Fortinbras: Fortinbras is shown as an impetuous, detestable lad who does not

care about others’ feelings and thinking. In actuality, he was trying to refuse a confirmation

of their realities. Horatio rarely speaks throughout the play but prefers to just listen. The
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reason is that because he has no agenda, unlike everyone else, except trying to piece reality

together.

Even the strictest of the critics had to concede that, if not crazy, at least Hamlet was

morbid and neurotic. Hamlet’s last act which he called “self-slaughter” (a suicide), to me,

provides the final proof of his deteriorating state of mind.

Conclusion

The notion of Hamlet’s craziness is more of a matter of personal interpretation. Over

the years, critics have taken sides on this issue with great stubbornness. Some of them argue

that Hamlet starts as sane, but by “acting crazy” he becomes so. To others Hamlet was simply

acting crazy the whole time. Yet, when Hamlet contemplates murder, his sanity was clearly

challenged by that thought no morally correct individual cannot think about murder so

casually.

Hamlet was definitely tortured inwardly by the untimely demise, in unusual

circumstances, of his father, and his growing suspicions about his mother infidelity had only

increased his agony. It was from Gertrude’s behavior he conjectures that all women are

unfaithful.

Moreover, a present day reader cannot possibly ascertain Shakespeare’s intentions

fully due to time difference and changes in societal norms and thought patterns. Modern

productions tend to be subjective interpretation of the original text, and each

director/audience may arrive on unique conclusions.

If someone tries to define crazy by modern day standards, then Hamlet clearly

qualifies. The issue of Hamlet’s conversation with his dead father is also questionable,

whether it was real or Hamlet has become a person suffering from paranoid delusion. Despite
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all the conclusions the modern day audience may draw, some critics argue one must read the

play as a creation of the time it was conceived. We can safely say that Hamlet sounds perhaps

even crazier today, than a 400 years old audience would have thought him.

Bipolar Disorder is a disorder, characterized by sudden mood swings, in which both

craziness and depression are present. The periods of craziness and depression alternate along

with normal mood interventions. Hamlet also expresses these characteristics. Day by day

Hamlet continually plunges from the heights of rationality to the abyss of irrationality,

tenacity and impulsiveness. His behavioral and action patterns show that he was suffering

from bipolar disease.

One more critic has dug up some interesting facts

“Yet Hamlet, if emotionally immature, isn't a boy. On the evidence of the

gravediggers' scene, he is 30. This prompted Auden to ask why he is still a student.

(Doing a PhD at Wittenberg, perhaps?) It makes me wonder why everyone seems to

have accepted without demur that Claudius should succeed his brother as king, rather

than the Prince who is heir-apparent. This is all the stranger because Claudius tells us

that Hamlet 'is lov'd of the distracted multitude' -- like Edward VIII?

Did the Establishment, as in Edward's case, see something unstable and rotten in

him?” (Massie, A. 2006)

An interesting anticlimax is written by someone who is also fighting with the notion

of Hamlet’s sanity, or the lack of it. According to her:

“I can imagine Shakespeare on a late-night talk show. The host asks him, ‘Mr.

Shakespeare, in your play Hamlet, you have the lead character apparently pretending

to be mad. However some critics have suggested the possibility that Hamlet might
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have actually been really crazy. Can you tell us, sir, when you wrote that play, what

was in your mind? Were you thinking that Hamlet was in fact crazy, or only

pretending to be crazy?’

And I can imagine Shakespeare answering, ‘Actually, my intention was to make it

impossible for the audience to ever figure out whether Hamlet was really crazy or

not.’” (Lady, L. 2002.)
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Works Cited

Delaney, B. Shakespeare's Hamlet. The Explicator 63.2 (Winter 2005), Volume 66, Number

3. Expanded Academic ASAP. Thomson Gale. King County Library System.

Retrieved December 7, 2008 from <http://find.galegroup.com>

Freud, S. 1900. Strachey, J. (Trans.); Richards, A. (Ed.). The Interpretation of Dreams. The Penguin

Freud Library. London: Penguin, 1991.

Lady, L. 2002. Thoughts on Hamlet. Retrieved December 7, 2008 from

<http://www2.hawaii.edu/~lady/lit/shakespeare/Hamlet2.html>

Manic Hamlet. 123HelpMe.com. Retrieved December 7, 2008 from

<http://www.123HelpMe.com/view.asp?id=4532>

Massie, A. Prince of self-pity. (Hamlet)(Critical essay). Spectator (July 15, 2006): NA.

Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Thomson Gale. King County Library System.

Retrieved December 7, 2008 from <http://find.galegroup.com>

Moore, V. Scotch mist. New Statesman. Volume 127, Issue 4408, p. 41.1998.

Park, Samuel. Hamlet at the South Coast Repertory Theatre. Shakespeare Bulletin. Volume

26, Issue 1, p. 141+. 2008.

Youngson, R. M. The Madness of Prince Hamlet. Da Capo Press. 1999.