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Sanity and Insanity In Hamlet
Transcript of Sanity and Insanity In Hamlet
Sanity and insanity is a theme often referenced in Hamlet. For most of the play, the subject is brought on by the sudden plague of insanity that seems to take over Hamlet when his mother remarries soon after his fathers death. While the reader knows he is only faking, the other characters in the play do not and must debate whether they believe Hamlet is truly insane and what could've caused his abrupt descent into madness. While Hamlet is the main topic in the insanity vs sanity debate, his former lover Ophelia also seemingly loses her mind after the death of her father and adds to the discussion.
“How strange or odd some'er I bear myself
As I perchance hereafter shall think meet
To put an antic disposition on”
(Act I: Scene IV - pg. 28)
In this quote, Hamlet is trying to warn his two friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, that he will soon be acting very strangely. This seems to be Hamlet hinting that his future insanity is not real, but instead an act to help him kill his uncle/ dad Claudius.
“He knew me not at first; he said I
was a fishmonger. He is far gone. And truly, in my
youth, I suffered much extremity for love, very near
(Act II: Scene II - pg. 39)
In this quote Polonius is speaking about Hamlet and his supposed insanity. This quote is significant because it lets the reader know that as of right now the other characters are not aware that Hamlet is faking, especially Polonius, who does not pick up on any of Hamlets sarcasm/ puns toward him.
“I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind is
southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw.”
(Act II: Scene II - pg. 44)
In this quote Hamlet is once again trying to explain to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that he is not actually insane, which they don’t seem to pick up on. The phrase “I know a Hawk from a handsaw” is supposed to convey Hamlet’s hidden sanity.
“Mad as the sea and wind when both contend
Which is the mightier. In his lawless fit,
Behind the arras hearing something stir,
Whips out his rapier, cries 'A rat, a rat,'
And in this brainish apprehension, kills
The unseen good old man.”
(Act IV: Scene I - pg. 79)
In this quote it is shown that Hamlet truly has everyone fooled, even his own mother is convinced. After he mistakenly kills Polonius instead of Claudius and acts like it wasn’t a big deal, everyone is sure he is insane.
Divided from herself and her fair judgment,
Without the which we are pictures or mere beasts”
(Act IV: Scene V - pg. 89)
In this quote Claudius is speaking about Ophelia’s now, very real, insanity. It seems that Hamlets fake insanity which caused the murder of Ophelia’s father, Polonius, has cause real mental damage.
Overall in the work as a whole, sanity and insanity function as ambiguous topics that none of the characters can quite figure out. Insanity is used as an excuse or cover up for Hamlets plot for revenge and the reader does not see a truly insane person until the very end when Ophelia loses her mind. But, for the most part this work really focuses on the ambiguity of sanity and insanity. How can you tell if someone is truly insane or if they are just faking? It comments on what society views as sane and insane but challenges those views with the character of Hamlet. Almost all of the characters are convinced Hamlet is insane but the reader knows that is not true, he is only faking to further his plot. Shakespeare points out that something as complicated as the mind cannot be figured out and that it is impossible to know the true mental state of a person without being in their head.