Shakespeare’s Hamlet’ is a complex piece of literature in its entirety. In fact, the story is so multi-fauceted that it is almost open to interpretation, which many scholars argue that this was actually Shakespeare’s intention. Nonetheless, a variety of points of views come to mind as the story unfolds, accompanied by an even broader variety of themes. For instance, pieces of the plot and the way in which they were articulated demonstrate perspectives such as traditional revenge trajety, Fruedian elements, religious, Marxist’s approach of mourning, and most importantly, a Philosophical or existential approach. Hamlet’s epic tale of loss, self discovery, morality, and faith, alongside the variety of thematic approaches, all spark the question: was Hamlet crazy?
This question is not merely subject to debate, but is impossible to prove or solve because psychological soundness knows no specific criteria to meet in order to be either sane or not; the concept in itself is usually too nuanced for a reader to find irrefutable proof about someone’s sanity, especially a round character like Hamlet. However, Shakespeare intended to depict lessons regarding morality and the inner workings of humanity as a whole, and had he written Shakespeare to be completely mad to the point where his decision making may differ from the majority of the human race, such themes would be lost and so would the majority of the story’s meaning. In essence, each perspective and point of view listed previously bleeds together and helps understand this piece of literature in its own unique way, while also dealing with the running continuity regarding Hamlet’s sanity.
For example, Freudians structural theory details how experiences/adversity a person faces shapes behavioral habits and personality traits. The main and defining conflict Hamlet faces is the fact that he is supposed to avenge his father’s death by killing his uncle. In his fear and uncertainty, Hamlet takes a lot of time to stall and think about whether or not Claudious was truly the perpetraitor and that the ghost was really his father. This is the way he operates all throughout the story, opting to convince himself he needs more time to think when he is truly just afraid to face the music. In his famous to be, or not to be speech (act three, scene one) , Hamlet dramatically articulates his conflict within himself: his unease about whether or not he should be a thinker or a doer, i.e to be or not to be.
According to Freud, Hamlet’s personality begins to manifest in a narcissitic manor because he deludes himself into believing that he is not a coward, but a carefully calculated and clever man who is a thinker before a doer not because he’s afraid, but because he is intellectually superior to his foes. In retrospect, some may argue that this perspective is slightly reaching, but in reality Hamlet’s delusions are irrefutably what drives him most of the time to continue working towards his mission. Additionally, Hamlet’s cold and callous demeanor towards Ophelia resulted only after the death of his father. This attests to Freud’s viewpoint by depicting Hamlets drastic change in his attitude towards everyone, (primarily ophelia), as a result of his grief stricken rage because of his father’s death.
Traditional revenge tragity is another prominent interpretation of the story. In short, it is a dramatic genre based on the principal revenge and its consequences. (editors of britanica,7)This interpretation comes into play during Hamlet’s battle within himself and his own sense of morality when he is told to avenge his father’s death by killing his own uncle, who had allegedly slain his father, the prev ious king. In Hamlet’s desperation to escape this tragic reality, he searches for every reason to avoid killing his uncle, but it is revealed in scene one of act three that the ghost was in fact his deceased father, and claudious in fact killed him. Upon this recollection, Hamlet had no choice but to avenge his father, but still continued to struggle with his execution. However at the end of the story, after many accidental deaths and dramatic monologues happened along the way, he does eventually kill him. This perspective is perhaps the more obvious of the bunch, but also one of the most important as it aligns with the plot almost perfectly. This theoretical genre was particularly popular during the time period this was written, and it is renowned for finding its expression primarily in Hamlet. (editors of britanica, 1).
In the play, Hamlet can be interpreted as a religious figure, symbolizing protestantism in particular, while the ghost of his father represents Roman catholocism. Because the king(now ghost) was murdered before he was able to pray and confess his sins, he was sent to hell because god wasn’t able to forgive him for not expressing remorse or praying about his sins. (revealed in acts 3 in scenes 1-2)This religious interpretation is yet another very important viewpoint, because it provides some perspective to the story and helps the audience to make their own interpretations about the bigger picture, which has always been shakespeare’s intention in his works. Religion is a major contributor to the plot in itself, because had it not been an element in the play, there would have been no climax or conflict at all.
If religion wasn’t incorporated, Hamlet would have no incentive to kill his uncle, because his father wouldn’t have been in hell and he wouldn’t have been able to tell anyone what actually happened to him, thus resulting in zero conflict at all. Without this interpretation the reader would have no basis of understanding the play at all, and greater themes regarding maintenance of faith and morality, humanity, etc. It paved the way for the most important turning point of the story and then provided some extra context by employing religious aspects to help contextualize the time period and belief systems of people during that era,(chambers,1) so that the plot and lessons are not lost to the different shakespearian vernacular and different belief systems and societal norms than people of today uphold.
Marxisms concepts of death and society is derived from his philosophical viewpoints of the world and the way he sees things. According to him, burial remains are an expression of the intangible world and religious belief, (Lull, 2). In act 5, scene 1, Hamlet discovers that Ophelia and has killed herself, and in a grief stricken haze he jumped into her grave and cried for her and he declared his love that he’d led her to believe he no longer had for her. Interpretations such as this one are made by means of formal symbolism and analogy both historically and in literature such as hamlet. This interpretation can also be applied to Hamlet’s loss of his father and how he seemed to have lost some of his sanity wallowing in his grief. Again, concepts of the grave and mourning and symbolism come into play here in hamlets desperation to hold on to his wits during the climax of the story, however he seems to have folded considerably after the series of events that occured in the story and the way that they did. Hamlet carries with him the weight of his grief and the overwhelming sense of loss of his loved ones, which arguably led to his undoing.
In addition, Hamlet’s spiraling and mania raised concern for side characters such as the queen, who was unaware of the underlying events that took place and just chalked it up to her son losing his mind over the loss of his father. This belief was deemed acceptable, especially seeing as Ophelia had met the same fate when her father passed at the end of the story. Psychologically speaking, it can be interpreted that Hamlet really did lose his sanity as a result of the adversity he’d faced both publicly and in private, as well as all that he’d lost, people and himself alike.
Existentially, Hamlet expresses many feelings of confusion towards his place in the world and his sense of self, hence his famous to be or not to be tangent. Whether or not Hamlet went crazy is up to the interpreter, however it is likely that Shakespeare would argue that he was never unreasonable mad, that anyone in those circumstances would be. Because Shakespeare’s lessons regarding humanity would be completely under-represented if Hamlet was painted as some crazy outlier of the majority of humanity. (chambers,1) interpretation helps elevate the plot in the way in which it questions humanity and our capacity to withstand adversity, as well ass present themes of power and greed and their repercussions. Essentially, this viewpoint serves as an examination of humanity as a whole and our resilience or weakness depending on the interpreter.(chambers,5)
In conclusion, Shakespeare’s Hamlet can be interpreted in a multitude of ways, some of which are essential to both the plot and character development of the play. Each interpretation serves to question the integrity of humanity (as well as explore themes of the psyche of human nature, etc) in their own seperate ways. Without these interpretations, the underlying lessons of the play and even some large aspects of the plot wouldn’t be recieved by a reader, which is why it is imperative that they are recognized and analyzed.
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