Antic Disposition - Hamlet

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Editorial and Opinion  |  House: Booksie Classic
In this essay I analyze Hamlet's insanity and prove that his madness is simply feigned in order to move along his master plan.

Submitted: January 12, 2010

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Submitted: January 12, 2010

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Hamlet’s Feigned Insanity

A simple analysis of Hamlet’s state of mind would be that he is an insane individual, but this is not the case at all. In Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, the main character, Hamlet, decides to feign insanity in order to devise a plot of revenge. As the story progresses, guilt and sadness are bestowed upon Hamlet. This causes his madness to increase, but his insanity remains fabricated. Hamlet’s logical mind is evident through his speech patterns. His mental state seems to decline as the story progresses. However, we know it to be an act since he announces his antic disposition early in the story. Analysis of Hamlet’s thoughts and deeds support the fact that his insanity is completely superficial.

One main piece of evidence that proves Hamlet’s disposition to be artificial is his announcement that he would act strangely in the near future. After finding out that his father was murdered by his uncle Hamlet says to Horatio, “How strange or odd soe’er I bear myself (As I perchance hereafter shall think meet to put an antic disposition on)” (Shakespeare 1.5.170-172). Hamlet explains that from that point on he might seem to act in a strange way, but Horatio must understand that it is all part of a plan that Hamlet has. This is proof that Hamlet intends to act insane and that it is not a true madness.

However, one common argument against this is that Hamlet’s sanity begins to truly decline based on actions later in the story. It may seem confusing that Hamlet would want to feign madness. To the common man it seems strange that a superficial insanity would be an appropriate plan to gain revenge. However, a deeper analysis of Hamlet’s situation reveals that by acting irrationally Hamlet could convince the rest of the royal court that he had gone insane. If the rest of the characters in the story believe Hamlet to be insane, Hamlet would be able to get away with many of the despicable actions he takes in the story: degrading Ophelia, scolding his mother, and killing Polonius. Being insane excuses actions that normally would be punishable. For example, Hamlet murders Polonius. This is an action that would normally foil his plan to kill Claudius, since he would have been punished for the murder. However, Gertrude assumes that Hamlet is simply insane and takes the murder of Polonius lightly. Very shortly after the death of Polonius, Gertrude seems to dismiss that a murder took place when she changes the subject by saying, “Ay me, what act that roars so loud and thunders in the index?” (Shakespeare 3.4.57-58). Because Hamlet can act in a way that is not reprimanded, he avoids any obstacles that would have been conflicts if he had been perceived as sane.

Another piece of evidence that proves Hamlet’s insanity is superficial is revealed through his speech patterns. When Hamlet speaks to others his speech patterns are very twisted and he talks in prose. This jumbled logic that Hamlet displays is what gives the impression that he is insane to other characters in the story. However, as the audience we are able to listen to Hamlet speak to himself. Although, Hamlet is definitely an indecisive and strange character, the way he speaks to himself is in an organized an understandable manner. True insanity would have irrational thoughts as well as outward displays of illogical outbursts. This is not the case for Hamlet. In Hamlet’s most recognizable soliloquies, “To Be or Not To Be”, Hamlet analyzes his grave situation in an organized, rational, and distinct fashion. Due to the grief that Hamlet is feeling about what is going around him, he questions life when he says, “To be, or not to be? That is the question—whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and, by opposing, end them?” (Shakespeare 3.1.55-59). Though this reaction to his conflicts is quite emotional and dramatic, it is still clear and organized. He draws deep correlations between whether life or death suits him better. The message of this speech is a dejected one, but Hamlet’s entire life is sorrowful. He is surrounded by individuals too naïve to notice the truth behind his father’s death. Hamlet’s own mother married the murderer of his father weeks after the mysterious death. His circumstances are unfortunate and he is unable to understand what he has to live for. Although some argue that his contemplated suicide proves genuine insanity, any normal person would have suicide in the back of their mind when faced with such a grave situation as Hamlet’s. However, it is not the topic of Hamlet’s speech that proves his antic disposition, it is the pathology of his speech. Unlike when he is talking to others, when Hamlet speaks to himself he has complete awareness of his surroundings and thinks in an effective manner. The organized way that Hamlet scrutinizes his situation does not resemble the thought process of someone who is truly insane. Unlike Ophelia, who is genuinely insane, Hamlet decides against taking his own life. Instead he plots against the man who brought his initial sorrow.

According to author Robert Youngson’s, The Madness of Prince Hamlet, Hamlet, “…was suffering from a condition of known as Ganser syndrome…the voluntary production of psychotic symptoms” (Youngson 1). Youngson proposes that Hamlet’s sanity can be diagnosed as Ganser syndrome, a syndrome where an individual is marked insane because they voluntarily produce psychotic symptoms. Although this syndrome may apply to some individuals, it does not apply to Hamlet. Hamlet’s insanity cannot be associated with this condition because he had reasons for acting insane that were outlined early in the book. Unlike common cases of Ganser syndrome, Hamlet does not act with confusion. From the beginning of the play he has an original plan that he follows throughout. Though indecisive, Hamlet cannot be described as confused. He is completely aware of his own situation and has a keen eye for his surroundings. Hamlet analyzes every situation that he faces: the discovery of his father’s murder, the ignorance of the queen, the death of Ophelia, and the state of his own life.

Hamlet’s state of mind is a perplexing one, but his sanity is very evident. The way that Hamlet thinks and speaks when not in the presence of others supports this conclusion. Hamlet’s plan for revenge is drawn out and slightly foolish, but his actions do not condemn him as insane. Hamlet is a melancholy and ambiguous individual, but at the same time, is completely and genuinely sane.



© Copyright 2020 MichaelMathison. All rights reserved.

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