To Be Sane, or Not To Be Sane

May 6, 2008
By Timothy Gibbons, Braintree, MA

To be sane, or not to be sane, that is the question. In Hamlet by William Shakespeare, the tragic hero Prince Hamlet appears to be insane, when in fact, it is just an act. This deception of his is exemplified through many of his actions, and peculiar moments. However, the truth slips through in scenes when he must make a quick decision, his reasoning is that of a sane man. Hamlet is sane enough to solve a murder, avoid death when he sees it coming, and leave the woman he loves, just so she does not get caught up in his chaos.

When Hamlet learned of his father’s death, he was greatly angered and wanted to know the cause, and obtain the proper justice. After speaking to his father’s ghost, he was told that the murderer was Hamlet’s new father, Claudius. Hamlet’s father asked Prince Hamlet to get his revenge when he said “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder,” (I.v.31). Claudius was the one that poured the earwax in the former King of Denmark’s ear, and took over his reign. Hamlet had to find a way to prove this, so he set up a play to reenact the actions his father had described. He invited the common people and of course his father Claudius and mother Gertrude. When the scene involving the earwax arrived, Claudius became very angry, stood up abruptly and when everyone was in shock to his response, he left in a fit of rage. Hamlet was extremely elated about his work, and ability to expose his father to the people of Denmark. Claudius’s actions and his father’s testimony were enough evidence for Hamlet to carry through his plot to seek his father’s revenge and take over as the new King of Denmark.

After the death of his father King Hamlet, Prince Hamlet wanted to return to college with his friends; however, his new father Claudius forbade Hamlet to go. Claudius showed he was hostile to Hamlet returning when he said “For your intent In going back to school in Wittenberg, It is most retrograde to our desire: And we beseech you, bend you to remain Here,” (I.ii.116-120). This was not a good beginning for their new relationship. As bad occurrences continued between the two, Claudius wanted Hamlet out of his life. He arranged for two of Hamlet’s friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to take Hamlet on a voyage to England. They were given a letter that was required to be delivered to men as soon as the ship had reached England. For Hamlet’s sake, he never arrived in England, because the ship was taken over by a pirate ship, and Hamlet was returned to Denmark. The letter had called for Hamlets immediate execution, and if Hamlet was not a sane man, he would not have crafted up the ability to change the letter to call for the lives of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, have it stamped properly, and arrive in England with the two, to have their lives taken.

One of Hamlets good female friends is Ophelia, whom he was having a relationship with until his father passed away. When his father’s ghost demanded Hamlet seek his revenge, Hamlet could not be distracted with a female friend, and if he was devoting himself to killing Claudius, he had to keep a clear mind. Since he truly loves Ophelia, he did what he thought was best for her, and kept her out of his life. A mad man would not have the sense and regard for human nature to care that much about someone to watch out for their life and tell them what is for the best. Hamlet storms in on Ophelia, grabs her wrist, turns away, sighs with emphases, and then leaves abruptly. This was told by Ophelia when she said “He took me by the wrist and held me hard; Then goes he to the length of all his arm; And, with his other hand thus o'er his brow, He falls to such perusal of my face As he would draw it. Long stay'd he so; At last, a little shaking of mine arm And thrice is head thus waving up and down, He raised a sigh so piteous and profound As it did seem to shatter all his bulk,” (II.i.99-107). To many, that may seem like the acts of a madman, but it could easily be the acts of a sane man as well. Hamlet knows what he is doing, acting mad so Ophelia will be concerned about his mind and stay away from him, which will allow him total freedom to carry through his plot to bring Claudius to his demise.

If Hamlet is sane enough to solve a murder, avoid death when he sees it coming, and leave the woman he loves, for her own good, there is no debate on his state of mind. Any man in his situation would execute similar actions to those of Hamlet, and for that, his work should not be questioned. They are definitely the actions of a man who knows what he is doing, and is in no way, insane.

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