Psychiatric Analysis of Hamlet Literature Analysis Essay

February 6, 2021 by Essay Writer

Dr: Tell me about your problem. From what I got from your late father’s staff, your mental disposition is questionable. However, I could honestly not tell by looking at you.

Hamlet: I cannot tell where my sanity lies. When I set out to avenge my father, I decided to feign madness and told Horatio to do the same. However, after some months, I was no longer sure if I was actually feigning. I also cannot tell whether I am mad. However, I will rely on you to tell me the truth about my mental state.

Dr: At what point did you feel that this “madness” was taking control of you?

Hamlet: At first, I really could not tell how far I could go, which in a way is indicative of how mad I might have been, but when I was unable to kill Claudius while he was praying, it made me doubt myself for a moment.

Dr: You mean you thought it was crazy not to kill him?

Hamlet: At first, I only wanted to kill him regardless of whether he would go to heaven or hell. Failing to go through it made me realize that my passion for blood was beyond my understanding.

Dr: How did that make you feel?

Hamlet: I felt I was failing myself, and the next time I got a chance to kill him, I failed again.

Dr: Did you feel any remorse for the death of Polonius?

Hamlet: I must admit that I was quite surprised by my own reaction. Although I had not planned to kill him, his death did not really bother me. This is surprising because before I got on the path to avenge my father, I would have felt very disturbed by the idea of killing anyone even if it were accidental.

Dr: What about the young woman you were courting? What made you treat her as you did?

Hamlet: The truth is that I really loved her. At no point did I wish my actions to cause her pain. However, I was also aware that I could not reasonably expect to prove myself mad if I kept treating her in an ordinary way. My cruelty towards her was meant to be temporary, and every mean word I said to her hurt me probably as much as it hurt her. Her death caused by my behavior was my biggest regret. If I had known she would end up killing herself, then I could probably have thought to be more considerate.

Dr: I was also told that your two friends who accompanied you to England died because of your actions.

Hamlet: That is true, but I think that they deserved death because they had betrayed me to Claudius. In addition, they were on a mission to have me executed once we arrived in England.

Dr: Do you genuinely believe that acting mad actually made you become mad?

Hamlet: That is a difficult question, doctor. Throughout the charade, I was acutely conscious of what I was doing and what a normal person would have done under such circumstances. In addition, I constantly reflected on my actions, something I am not sure a mad person would do. However, I cannot say that despite my awareness, I always did exactly what I would have done as a fake madman. To some extent, I was blinded by my grief for revenge, and I can only assume that I was only sane half the time.

Hamlet’s Madness Is an Open Argument

Taking into account the actual events in the play, as well as the reconstructed ones as described above, this paper seeks to make a case based on Hamlet’s madness or lack of whereof. This question, however, does not require a straightforward answer. A close reading of the text and relevant critique bring out a considerable doubt about the matter since Hamlet’s situation in the play was extremely convoluted.

In several respects, it appears to exceed the scope of conventional human understanding. The argument herein will contend that Hamlet was neither sane nor mad. He has the elements of both extremes. Throughout the play, he seems to shift back and forth each direction (Zinkin 114).

The fact that he told Horatio he would feign madness has been used by critics as evidence that all the actions he did in the play were actually done in self-awareness. It has been taunted as a proof of the fact that he was indeed sane and the madness was an act of feigning. While this claim cannot be overlooked, it is worth considering that even a mad man can actually claim he will pretend to be mad. This is not meant to negate the assumption that he could have been sane.

It brings about what can sufficiently be considered as a reasonable doubt concerning the fact. From his conversation with the doctor, which is created from scenes in the play, Hamlet claims that he was sane when he was making the statement. There is no reason to disbelieve in this given that he had proven himself as an intelligent and reflective individual in retrospect.

However, it is worth considering that he was under pressure and the understating he had before he made the statement about his family and those around him were radically changed by his father’s words. Therefore, it is possible that the anger and lust for revenge and death, which motivated him may have contributed to him acting in an unreasonable irrational and in some instances, nefarious ways.

Hamlet’s claim to sanity can be attested by several actions and situations. For example, when his father’s ghost told him that it was his uncle who murdered the king, he considered it but did not actually believe in this (Clifford and Schilb 24). If he were raving mad, as it has been claimed, he would have used the words of the ghost-like a proof of Claudius death and simply killed him (Shakespeare 23). However, he has to contemplate and put the accusations of his father to the test.

To this end, he formulates a very cunning and intricate plan to expose Claudius guilt. Taking into account his mental dexterity and conscientiousness with which he organizes the play, there can be no doubt that he was sane at that particular point. Despite maintaining his charade, he was well in control of his wits.

His style of madness was actually so unique that even after Polonius reported to Claudius that Hamlet was mad, he was forced to admit that this madness was methodical (Shakespeare 34). The fact that Hamlet wanted to prove that his uncle was the true killer and went out of his way to gather evidence to the fact, that proved that façade of madness was reason and method behind his actions that could not have been motivated by the ravings or hallucination of a lunatic.

Despite this evidence of sanity, there is a considerable amount of contrary information that suggests that he may, at some point, have taken leave of his senses. For example, when he was able to confirm that Claudius had indeed killed his father, he followed him to his chambers and had a chance to confront him. However, when he finds him praying, his contemplative nature does not allow him to go ahead and revenge simply. The main reason is that he feared to send the murderer to heaven.

This was confusing for the young man, and the audience without a doubt will have a hard time reconciling their reasoning with Hamlet’s. In any case, why does he want his revenge to transcend the mortal realm? If he had actually killed him when he had a chance, he would have actually indirectly saved several lives of the people he ended up killing or causing to commit suicide. Hamlet claims in his conversation with the Doctor that he was truly faking it when he raved at Ophelia. In reality, he actually loved her.

However, from a psychological point of view, it is possible that he was purging his negative feelings about women in general and that his diatribe was not entirely superficial (Sullivan 30). In a way, he blames his mother for being complacent with regard to his father’s death because she was then married to his murderer (Bohannan 28). He was likely disillusioned by his bitterness against his mother and his hurtful sentiments for Ophelia.

If he was actually only intending to prove he was mad, he could have done it in other ways, and his extreme insults to her were what spurred her to kill herself when her father died. She realized that the two men she loved most were no longer there for her. She felt that there was no need to live because her father was not alive to offer her important guidance in life. She was desperate. She needed love, but she could not find it anywhere.

Some critics have postulated that it was actually Ophelia who could be considered mad on the premises of her irrational and self-destructive actions (Camden 250). If he had been acting rationally or even sanely, he would have known that his actions could result in dire consequences, in the end, owing to the psychological effects they were bound to have on her. In addition, the manner in which he kills her father seriously brings to question his mental consistency.

How would a young man who had so far compromised his chances of killing his father’s murderer by unending contemplation always wanting to get proof before taking any action just lunge into a curtain without confirming it was his father? This particular sequence of events ultimately culminates in his exile, the aforementioned death of Ophelia as well as the eventually fatal feud with Laertes, which results in their deaths.

At the end of the day, Hamlet also killed the two young men who accompanied him. However, he tells the doctor that he is not actually aware of the reasons that are taking him to his death (Greenblatt 44). Once again, in causing their death, he appears to contradict his considerate and reflective nature and acts without thinking about consequences (Wilson 15). However, if he were as mad as one would be led to believe after considering the above scenarios, then he could not be able to shake off his madness.

However, his last actions were characterized by reason. Although he attacks Laertes, he does what any man would have done motivated by the grief of his loved one. He is also very pragmatic about the eventuality of death. He tells Horatio that a man must be prepared to meet death at any time. The final scene of the play is characterized by bravery and nobility of Hamlet who pragmatically accepts his death and finally gets his long-overdue vengeance by running his stepfather through with a poisoned blade and making him drink poison.

Although he dies in a catastrophic note with the deaths of the whole royal family, Hamlet is finally vindicated and treated like a fallen hero despite the fact that before his death he had been assumed to be insane. Finally, it is not easy to make a distinction between Hamlet as a sane and mad character. In light of the evidence discussed herein, it is only fair that both extremes are acknowledged as having been part of what made him so dynamic and unpredictable.

Works Cited

Bohannan, Laura. “Shakespeare in the Bush.” Natural History 75.7 (1966): 28-33. Print.

Camden, Carroll. “On Ophelia’s madness.” Shakespeare Quarterly 15.2 (1964): 247-255. Print.

Clifford, John, and John Schilb. Making Arguments About Literature: A Compact Guide and Anthology. New York, NY: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2005. Print.

Greenblatt, Stephen. “The death of Hamnet and the making of Hamlet.” New York Review of Books 51.16 (2004): 42-47. Print.

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Vol. 2. Raleigh, NC: Hayes Barton Press, 1950. Print.

Sullivan, Harry Stack, ed. The interpersonal theory of psychiatry. London United Kingdom: Routledge, 2013. Print.

Wilson, J. D. (1959). What happens in Hamlet. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. Print.

Zinkin, Louis. “Malignant mirroring.” Group Analysis 16.2 (1983): 113-126. Print.

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