Hamlet Knows Exactly Where He Is Going





Hamlet Knows Exactly Where He is Going

Madness fascinated William Shakespeare\'s contemporaries, perhaps in part because it was still not entirely clear how or when madness as a disease was to be distinguished from demonic possession or spiritual ecstasy. Mad characters were a staple of William Shakespeare\'s stage and such figures were particularly associated with revenge plays. Hamlet\'s distraction, then, is notable in part because it is feigned. In Hamlet is the exploration and implicit criticism of a particular state of mind or consciousness. Shakespeare uses a series of encounters to reveal the complex state of the human mind. Critics who find the cause of Hamlet\'s delay in his internal meditations typically view the prince as a man of great moral integrity who is forced to commit an act which goes against his deepest principles. On numerous occasions, the prince tries to make sense of his moral dilemma through personal meditations.


Hamlet the Actor

Seems, madam! nay, is; I know not \'seems.\'
\'Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,
Nor customary suits of solemn black,
Nor windy suspiration of forced breath,
No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,
Nor the dejected behaviour of the visage,
Together with all forms, moods, shows of grief,
That can denote me truly: these, indeed, seem,
For they are actions that a man might play: (I ii 130-38)


How is an audience to believe a character who immediately says what he is to be truly mad? Insanity in present-day terms is often noted by denying one\'s state of mind and self. Yet, Hamlet acknowledges himself constantly and recognizes who and what he is and is doing. Hamlet reveals himself in the most unaffected sense, as an actor upon the stage, and as an actor within the play. The prince speaks in terms of playing, pretending. He even accuses others of not playing their roles well enough, therefore not playing whatever character each character has assumed well enough, "...there is a kind of confession in your looks, which your modesties have not craft enough to colour..." (II ii 282-285). If Hamlet considers his life as a play (as he well might) then there is nothing to say that he is continuously acting a part, even the part of the madman. He is essentially costumed in grief. His actions cannot represent the workings of his mind nor demonstrate what he feels. Later, Hamlet reminds the audience that he is an actor in both senses, and a poor one at that. If Hamlet the pretender were really talented, would there be any question as to his sanity? His "O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!?" (II ii) soliloquy finds the tragic prince suffering for a character who hasn\'t been well played, and he compares himself to the impassioned Player of the visiting troupe. If this were not sufficient and immediate evidence of sanity, Hamlet informs Horatio and the others that " I perchance hereafter shall think meet to put an antic disposition on." (I v 171-72) The Prince of Denmark is revealing his plan, one of pretentious madness, suggested by Horatio himself;


What if it tempt you toward the flood, my lord,
Or to the dreaded summit of the cliff
That beetles o\'er his base into the sea,
And there assume some other horrible form,
Which might deprive your sovereignty of reason,
And draw you into madness? (I iv 68-72)


Horatio could well be the spark of Hamlet\'s scheme for artificial madness. Seeing the ghost privately against Horatio\'s advisement gives him a greater argument for insanity. Even though he has told Horatio and the guards that he will play the madman, Hamlet\'s first manipulation begins here, with those who know the design for deception. Therefore, both the audience and his fellow actors have been produced to the character as just that- a character, an actor, a deceiver.

Hamlet. ...my uncle-father and aunt-mother
are deceived.

Guildenstern. In what, my dear lord?

Hamlet. I am but mad north-noth-west: when the
wind is southerly I know a hawk from a hand-
saw. ( Ii ii 380-385)


The Fine Line Between Genius and Insanity


A procrastinator? "Who does me this, ha?" (II ii 585) Hamlet is the farthest thing from a procrastinator. Waiting is not procrastinating. Hamlet is by contrast a worthy schemer, one who is circumspect and prudent. Hamlet does not want to rush into something whose consequences for being wrong and