The Validity of Hamlet's Insanity in William Shakespeare's Hamlet

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The Validity of Hamlet's Insanity in William Shakespeare's Hamlet

One of the most asked questions concerning Hamlet, is whether or not during the play he was actually insane or merely acting. This issue is confusing because Hamlet states that he will act insane to exact revenge upon Claudius after he has met his father's supposed ghost. However, there are many times during the play where it seems Hamlet could not possibly be acting. But while it is possible to be sane and act insane, by definition it is impossible to be insane and act sane because an insane person lacks the ability to reason and tell the difference between right and wrong. Since Hamlet exhibited both these characteristics throughout the play, it is obvious that he was sane.

Hamlet displays the ability to reason on several occasions. The first display occurs in the beginning, when Hamlet expresses his doubts about whether the ghost he saw was really his father: "The spirit that I have seen / May be the devil, and the devil hath power / T' assume a pleasing shape," (2.2.627-629), and whether the supposed ghost was merely telling him what he wanted to hear: "Yea, and perhaps, / out of my weakness and my melancholy, / … / Abuses me to damn me," (2.2.629-632). Hamlet has the sense to question the identity of the ghost. He realizes although it does look like his father, appearance isn't everything, and it might have been a demon trying to trick him into committing a deadly sin, namely, killing Claudius. Hamlet would only have been able to reason this if he had been in full control of his mental capacities.

To test whether indeed the ghost was telling the truth, Hamlet has players perform a play before Claudius and the rest of the cast with events similar...

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...He condemns Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Claudius for committing acts that were deceitful and dishonorable:

"Their defeat / Does by their own insinuation grow.

He that hath killed my king and whored my mother,

Popped in between the election and my hopes,

Thrown out his angle for my proper life,

and with such cozenage," (5.2.58-67).

Unless Hamlet himself knew what honor and dishonor are, he could not have condemned others for being dishonorable.

Many people have questioned whether Hamlet was actually insane or merely acting that way during the play. But it is obvious that from the very beginning of the play until the final scene Hamlet displays unmistakable characteristics of sanity, such as the ability to reason and knowledge of the difference between right and wrong. Such evidence proves beyond a doubt that Hamlet was merely acting insane.
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