William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a tragic play focused around the protagonist’s quest to seek revenge against his father’s murderer. After it is disclosed that Hamlet’s uncle killed his father, Hamlet is blown to the core and driven to the line between sanity and mania. Throughout the play, Hamlet portrays an elevated sense of instability, but his mania is, perhaps, too resolute and purposeful for the reader to deduce that he actually lost his sanity. Towards certain characters, Hamlet exhibits erratic and wild language but underneath the surface, his ill-mannered words are a part of his plot to seek revenge on his father’s killer. Hamlet feigns his madness to hide his intentions to kill Claudius and confuse the allies of the King.
Throughout the play, Hamlet displays many attributes indicative of lunacy; however, his motive and drive to seek revenge is uncovered in the beginning when he is visited by the ghost of his father. After his father’s ghost tells him that he was murdered by Claudius, Hamlet decides that he will need to feign his madness and display erratic behavior in order to successfully carry out his plot to kill Claudius. However, this unstable behavior is merely a ruse to trick those in cohorts with Claudius: Polonius, Gertrude, Ophelia, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. These are the only individuals convinced that Hamlet is truly mad, and Hamlet strives to use this against them in his quest to slay Claudius. While Hamlet puts this ploy on, the reader is affirmed that Hamlet is, indeed, sane because he acts normal in front of people he believes is on his side. For example, Hamlet is normal around Francisco, Horatio and Bernardo because he does not feel the need to fool them into thinking he is insane and incapable of murdering his uncle. The fact that Hamlet can control his alleged insanity shows that he is not consumed by mental illness and that his madness is nothing but a ploy for Claudius’s allies.
Furthermore, even though Hamlet was filled with rage towards Claudius, he gave up a chance to kill him early in the play when he was praying. Hamlet suspected that if he murdered Claudius in a church, then Claudius’s soul would be purified of all evils and would go to Heaven. Hamlet did not want this fate for his father’s assassin so he delayed his plan to enact revenge. Another instance where we vividly see that Hamlet does not cross the line into madness is when he asks his mother to leave his uncle and help him avenge his father’s death. Disappointed that his mother married Claudius only two months after his father’s death, Hamlet tells his mother that his madness is not actually a madness but merely a craft to get revenge. He then proceeds to ask her not to reveal this to Claudius so that he can continue to use his madness as a cover for his true purpose.
Hamlet uses the false pretense of insanity to try to trick Claudius and his cohorts into falling into his scheme of revenge. While Hamlet exhibits high sense of instability at times, he is truly a bright individual with a secret agenda and is only forced to act differently in order for his plan to work. However, while this quest for revenge and his presumed insanity drove the plot, it also resulted in great forms of tragedy for himself and those around him. His bloodlust for Claudius not only resulted in his death, but also in the end of many persona including his own mother who drank the poison that was meant for him. His quest for revenge fueled to him accidentally killing Polonius, and his death turned Ophelia to madness and her eventual death as well. Shakespeare effectively develops the overarching thematic question of the line between sanity and insanity in Hamlet, but through Hamlet’s actions the reader learns that Hamlet’s psychotic episodes were part of a ruse all along.
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