Johnson 1Jodi JohnsonEnglish 101Ryan BartlettMarch 7th, 2012 Hamlet’s Sanity Hamlet is a tragedy written by Shakespeare. It is about a prince of Denmark who plots revengeagainst his uncle who killed his father in order to take the throne. At first Hamlet is not aware ofthe murder. He is upset because his mother re-maries directly after his father’s funeral andinvolves herself in an incestuous relationship, but soon after this dilemma Horatio, who isHamlet’s good friend from Wittenburg University, comes to Denmark as well. He tells Hamletthere is a ghostly apparition looming about the castle in the form of King Hamlet. Hearing thisprompts Hamlet to investigate for himself, which then, leads him to meet the ghost. The ghostinforms Hamlet that Claudius murdered his father by pouring poison down his ear. It is from thispoint on that Hamlet begins to act strangely because he isn’t sure if he should avenge his father’sdeath and ruin the kingdom, or ignore the ghost because it could just be “the devil” leading himinto damnation. There could be many reasons for why Hamlet acts strangely throughout the play. He could beacting the way he does because it is a reaction to his father’s death. He could also be acting theway he is because of his mother’s complacency towards the death of King Hamlet. I believehowever that the main reason is the ghost. In those times a ghost wasn’t just seen as a ghost. Itwas seen potentially as a devil. He is confused about whether or not to believe this ghost because
Johnson 2of this. This makes him feel helpless and might eventually lead him into acting “insane”. He actsstrangely because he cannot decide whether or not to kill King Claudius as well. It bothers himso much that he calls himself a coward and even contemplates suicide in his soliloquy “to be ornot to be” (3.1.58). Hamlet does not act strangely because he is upset that he is not heir to the throne. I believe hewas too upset about the murder of his father to care too much about whether or not he would bethe king. He was preoccupied with figuring out if he needed to avenge his father by killingClaudius. There was a dialogue in the play though where he could have been hinting at wantingto be a King, but overall Hamlet’s actions are motivated by his feelings toward the unjust killingof his father. The closest he comes to saying he wants to be king though is in act five when hesays, “He that have killed my king and whored my mother (Claudius)/popp’d in-between theelection and my hopes/thrown out his angle for my proper life” (5.2.65-66). In this line he istalking about how Claudius “pops in-between his hopes”. The reference to hopes could be hishope to become king or it could be referencing his will to go back to Wittenburg to become ascholar. Hamlet did not want to become king from the beginning and only wanted to become ascholar. His mother even had to ask him not to return to Wittenburg by saying “Let not thymother lose her prayers, Hamlet: / I pray thee, stay with us; go not to Wittenberg”. (1.2.118-119.)”Another reason Hamlet could be acting strangely is because of the ghost he meets in Act 1,Scene 5. The ghost that Hamlet met claimed to be the spirit of his father but it is possible it didnot directly cause Hamlet to think morbidly of the afterlife. However, if it wasn’t for thepresence of the ghost, Hamlet probably would not have questioned whether or not it was a deviland consequently become indecisive/insane. For example, if Horatio would have just told Hamlet
Johnson 3that Claudius killed his father, Hamlet would have had no problem deciding whether or not tokill Claudius, but because it was a ghost (potentially a devil) it leads Hamlet to go insane. In thestory, Hamlet is paranoid that the ghost may be a devil attempting to send Hamlet to an afterlifeof damnation.Hamlet does not act the way that he does because of his mother and does not hate womenbecause of what his mother did. Hamlet respects his mother and loathes Claudius only. Forexample when his mother, Gertrude, pleads for him not to return to Wittenberg, Hamlet says, “Ishall in all my best obey you, madam” (1.2.120). Hamlet did not only say this to snub Claudius.The meaning of this phrase shows that Hamlet is not on bad terms with his mother, justdisappointed with her decisions.I think the most convincing reason for why Hamlet acts the way he does is the ghost causing himto think morbidly of the afterlife. The ghost he thinks may actually be a devil. If the ghost thenwas an actual person and not a ghost, Hamlet would not have to question his sanity and whetheror not it was alright for him to kill Claudius. If he did not have to feel so indecisive aboutwhether or not it was alright for him to kill Claudius, then most of the drama in the play wouldhave happened a lot differently.