Questioning the Sanity of Hamlet in Shakespeare's Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

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In William Shakespeare’s tragedy, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, we, as readers, increasingly question the sanity of the protagonist, Hamlet, as the play continues. His seemingly psychotic banter with the other characters of the play begins to convince us that Hamlet is, indeed, insane. Hamlet, however, states, “How strange or odd soe’er I bear myself, as I perchance hereafter shall think meet to put an antic disposition on” (1.5.171). He specifically tells Horatio and Marcellus that he will be acting mad, as a front. Hamlet has an exceptional grasp on mental philosophy and the uses and effects of logic, more so than the other characters of the play. Because of this, Hamlet appears insane to others, but in fact remains true to his original statement of simply using an “antic disposition.”

Hamlet is grounded in logic throughout the entire play. His logic is more blatant than the average man’s, therefore confusing some of the other characters. Rather than stating something profound in response to when Polonius asks what Hamlet is reading, he says only the most obvious and elementary of answers possible, “words, words, words” (2.2.192). This trend between Polonius and Hamlet continues. “What is the matter my lord?” asks Polonius. Hamlet answers, “Between who?” (2.2.193-194). Tenney Davis responds to this by saying that Hamlet feigned his insanity convincingly by taking things too literally, which manifested in a desire to “split hairs” (Davis 630). Hamlet was always annoyed with Polonius and his garrulous speeches, but reacted not in an irrational way, but to the contrary, with the most simple, though rude, coherent answers. If Hamlet were truly mad, he would not have been able to give make such a guileless and processed ...

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...te plots, such as the play. Hamlet’s feigned insanity was all a part of his overall scheme to avenge his father, King Hamlet.

In addition, Hamlet’s feigned insanity fooled Polonius into believing that he was simply mad with love for Ophelia. Because Polonius was the king’s advisor, he was greatly trusted by King Claudius. After Polonius reads Hamlet’s love letter, the king and queen begin to believe what Polonius is saying about Hamlet just being madly in love. “Do you think ‘tis this?” asked King Claudius. The queen responds with, “It may be; very likely” (2.2.152-153). Therefore, Hamlet’s feigned insanity allowed for Polonius, King Claudius, and Queen Gertrude to focus on something other than what Hamlet was up to. Hamlet was simply in love with Ophelia, hence the love letters. Polonius, as always, read more into the letter than was there to be read.
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