One of the most controversial questions surrounding William Shakespeare's tragedy, Hamlet, is whether or not the title character was insane or merely acting. By examining Hamlet and his actions throughout the play against the characteristics of sanity, such as the ability to reason and knowledge of the difference between right and wrong, it will be shown that Hamlet was in fact sane.
Many have tried to determine sanity by proving him insane. However, this is difficult because Hamlet states he will act insane to exact revenge upon Claudius (1.5.180-181). Therefore, the reader is unsure whether Hamlet is acting or not when he appears to be insane. While it is possible to be sane and act insane, by definition it is impossible to be insane and act sane because insanity lacks the characteristics essential to controlling the thought process necessary (the ability to reason) to act sane. By examining Hamlet's sanity instead of his perceived insanity a more accurate conclusion of his mental status can be achieved.
Hamlet displays the ability to reason on several occasions. The first display occurs in act 2 scene 2. Hamlet is unsure 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," (2.2.599-601). Hamlet also questions whether the devil was merely telling him what he wanted to hear. "Yea, and perhaps, / out of my weakness and my melancholy, / . . . / Abuses me to damn me," (2.2.601-604). In these lines Hamlet questions the truthfulness of the ghost and his own inner desires. This shows that Hamlet is able to reason that the ghost may not have been his father and that he may have wanted...
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Findlay, Alison. "Hamlet: A Document in Madness." New Essays on Hamlet. Ed. Mark Thornton Burnett and John Manning. New York: AMS Press, 1994. 189-205.
Goldman, Michael. "Hamlet and Our Problems." Critical Essays on Shakespeare's Hamlet. Ed. David Scott Kaston. New York City: Prentice Hall International. 1995. 43-55
Hart, Bernard. The Psychology of Insanity. London: Cambridge, 1914.
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