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 it to be his father so much that it appeared to him that way.
To test this theory, Hamlet has the players perform a play with events similar to the ones the ghost described to him. Hamlet also rewrites a bit of the play to make it more similar to the ghost\'s account of how his father died (2.2.537-543). Hamlet reasons on two separate occasions that if the ghost is telling the truth than Claudius will give away his guilt through his facial expressions when he sees the play. "I\'ll have these players / Play something like the murder of my father / Before mine uncle. I\'ll observe his looks," (2.2.595-598). "There is a play tonight before the King. / One scene of it comes near the circumstance / . . . of my father\'s death / . . . / If his occulted guilt / Do not itself unkennel in one speech, / It is an accursed ghost we have seen," (3.2.74-81).
Hamlet again displays the ability to reason in act 3 scene 4. Hamlet reveals to his mother that he is aware of Claudius\'s attempt to send him to his death in England (3.4.207-212). This shows that Hamlet is aware of what is occurring around him and he possesses the ability to reason the actions of others and discover the secret plots laid against him.
Hamlet\'s final display of his ability to reason occurs in the final scene. Hamlet is talking about death with Horatio and the coming fight between Laertes and himself. "There is a special / providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, \'tis / not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it / be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all. Since / no man of aught he leaves knows, what is \'t to leave / betimes?" (5.2.217-222). Hamlet states that death will occur when it wants to. If it is meant to be than there is nothing you can do about it. This speech shows Hamlet\'s ability to reason and contemplate death.
Hamlet also gives proof that he understands the difference between right and wrong, an important characteristic of sanity, throughout the play. Hamlet first reveals this knowledge when he plans the "Mousetrap" in acts 2 and 3. Hamlet does not want to kill Claudius unless he is sure that Claudius is guilty (2.2.595-598 & 3.2.74-81). This shows Hamlet\'s regard for justice and honor, which were the true laws during his