Essay on Hamlet -- Is Hamlet Sane

782 Words May 23rd, 2006 4 Pages
Hamlet Essay: Is Hamlet Sane
With the coming of Freudian theory in the first half of this century and the subsequent emergence of psychoanalytically-oriented literary criticism in the 1960s, the question of Hamlet's underlying sanity has become a major issue in the interpretation of Hamlet. While related concern with the Prince's inability to take action had already directed scholarly attention toward the uncertainty of Hamlet's mental state, modern psychological views of the play have challenged his sanity at a deeper, sub-conscious level, typically citing self-destructive and, most pointedly, sexual drives to explain his behavior, his words, and the mental processes beneath them. In a play with undertones of incest and heavy doses of
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Moreover, Hamlet plainly does use the guise of madness toward tactical ends. He keeps Claudius, Polonius, and the other males of the play (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern) off balance, unsure of the specific threat he poses but themselves an unable to act quickly because of it. It is under cover of madness that Hamlet presents his customized "mousetrap," his "play-within-a play," to successfully "capture the conscience" of the King. He sees through the King's plot to have him executed in England, his innocent escorts being unaware of the threat that Hamlet poses to the King. Such deliberate acts in which the appearance of madness is used to advantage are not those of a madman. To be sure, Hamlet sees and speaks with a ghost, but the rational character of Horatio does the same. All of this suggests that Hamlet, while depressed, guilt-ridden, and raging inside, is sane.
On the other hand, in his treatment of Ophelia, his former lover, Hamlet displays a cruelty that is extreme, abnormal and, in fact, psychopathological. His declaration, "Get thee to a nunnery, why would'st thou be a breeder of sinners" (III, i., ll.120-121), is so vicious in its utter rejection of Ophelia's tender efforts to understand him, so lewd in its punning suggestion that Ophelia