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Hamlet Hamlet’s behavior affects that of the other characters in the play in that his action drastically alters, not only their perception of Hamlet and his intentions, but also their actions and words in dealing with Hamlet. It is difficult to classify Hamlet as either sane or insane; however, it is certain that his mad behavior, whether feigned or authentic, serves only to heighten the confusion and eventual suspicion of the court, particularly Ophelia, Rosencrantz and Guilderstern, and Polonius and Claudius duo. Hamlet’s mental state is hard to decipher due to the complexity of the issue and the variety of ways his actions can be viewed. Edward Strachey believes that Hamlet is, A character made of many elements, ramifying themselves in many directions, some being healthy and some diseased (Strachey 173). Strachey goes on to say that an attempt to classify Hamlet as either mad or sane is an, Over simplification of what is most complex (Strachey 173). At the beginning of Hamlet, Ophelia tells her father about the vows of love that Hamlet has expressed to her.

Polonius immediately questions Hamlet’s intentions and reminds Ophelia that making a rash decision could cost her; but Ophelia assures her father that, He hath importuned me with love In honorable fashionAnd hath given countenance to his speech, my lord, With almost all the holy vows of heaven (Shakespeare 17). However, after Hamlet visits Ophelia in a crazed state she immediately turns to her Father and reports Hamlet in a much darker light. Lord Hamlet with his doublet all unbraced, No hat upon his head, his stocking fouled, Ungartered and down-gyved to his ankle, Pale as a shirt, his knees knocking each other And with look so piteous in purport As if he had been loosed out of hell To speak of horrors (Shakespeare 28). The complexity of Hamlet’s sanity is most evident in Ophelia’s description of him at this point in the play. Hamlet is championed for his intellect and wit, so at first glance it might seem as if he put on an extravagant show for Ophelia, knowing she would alarm her father and he in turn the King. However, the description of Hamlet looking as if he had come straight out of hell with his face paled and knees shaking, suggests a truly wary man teetering on the edge of madness. Regardless of Hamlet’s true mental state, his behavior forced Ophelia to turn to her father and disregard her prior comments about Hamlet’s honorable intentions; instead condemning him a mad man.

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The query into Hamlet’s madness raises too many other unanswerable questions; however, the effects of his odd behavior are clearly visible. After Ophelia relates her tale to her father, Polonius, he immediately becomes wary of Hamlet and promptly reports all new information to the King. Polonius and King Claudius, in Act II Scene II, plot to set up a chance meeting between Hamlet and Ophelia in the lobby of the palace, in order to monitor Hamlet’s behavior. The madness they perceived in Hamlet, from Ophelia’s description, led them to spy on him. After Hamlet’s meeting with Ophelia, the King becomes unsure of Hamlet’s sanity.

He notes that although Hamlet’s words do have something beneath the surface attached to them, it did not sound like madness. Now what he spake, though it lacked form a little, was not like madness. There’s something in his soul O’er which his melancholy sits on brood, And I do doubt the hatch and the disclose Will be some danger; which for to prevent (Shakespeare 47). This causes Claudius to become even more suspicious of Hamlet and more concerned with what he might do next as he attempts to revenge his father’s murder; saying, Madness in great ones must not unwatched go (Shakespeare 48). Claudius becomes concerned with Hamlet’s actions because if Hamlet is in fact mad, Claudius knows he must be extremely cautious of Hamlet’s irrational behavior.

If Hamlet is, however, only feigning madness this forces Claudius to become even more concerned. In this case Hamlet’s motivations would be guided by revenge, meaning they would have a purpose and direction. If Hamlet is truly mad then his actions would not follow and order or reason and therefore would not be as threatening to the King; but either way, both King Claudius and Polonius, until his demise, are forced to devote much of their attention to dealing with Hamlet. Charlotte Lennox, in one respect, believes that the question over hamlet’s sanity is irrelevant to the story. She does, however, go on to say that the only importance of Hamlet’s madness is that it throws the other characters into alarm over his motivations and whether he is truly mad or not. For Hamlet’s madness alarms the King’s Suspicions, and that produces the treacherous Embassy to England, which failing, the Contrivance of the poisoned Rapier followed, and that does the business (Lennox 129). The treacherous embassy is of course Rosencrantz and Guilderstern, who had heard of Hamlets madness and made their assistance readily available to the King.

The King asks them to go to England and put an end to Hamlet’s mad brain. R and G reply(with G speaking), We will ourselves provide, most holy and religious fear it is to keep those many many bodies safe That live and feed upon your majesty (Shakespeare 58). Hamlet, however, discovers their treachery and has them disposed of; then, King Claudius sets up a fight between Laertes and Hamlet by convincing Laertes that he should avenge Polonius’, his father, murder. The King covers Laertes’ sword with poison and even put poison in Hamlet’s goblet. Hamlet’s mad behavior sets off a train of events where the King and his followers become more and more suspicious of Hamlet and eventually take action against him. Samuel Traylor Coleridge says that Hamlet’s displays an internal struggle by attempting to feign madness while at the same time struggling to maintain sanity.

Coleridge also points out that feigning madness can be considered an act of insanity in and of itself. Hamlet’s wildness is but half-false. O that subtle trick to pretend the acting only when we are very near to what we act (Coleridge 40). If he was feigning the madness, then his plan was misguided and he was working against himself and his quest for revenge. If Hamlet is indeed truly mad then he alerts his foes to this information and they in turn become very circumspect of Hamlet and his plans. Hamlet’s madness serves to call attention to himself and raise suspicions of his enemies.

Bibliography Works cited Coleridge, Samuel Traylor. Notes on the Tragedies of Shakespeare: The Character of Hamlet. Shakespearean Criticism. Ed, Thomas Middleton Raysor. Vol.

1. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1930. 40. Lennox, Charlotte. Shakespeare, the Critical Heritage. Ed, Brian Vickers.

New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1976. 129. Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Norton Critical Edition. Ed, Cyrus Hoy.

New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1992. Strachey, Edward. A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare: Hamlet.

Ed, Horace Howard Furness. Vol. IV. J.B. Lippincott Company, 1877.

173. English Essays.


Hamlet one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays, where the young prince of Denmark
must uncover the truth about his fathers death. Hamlet a play that tells the
story of a young prince who’s father recently died. Hamlets uncle Claudius
marries his mother the queen and takes the throne. As the play is told Hamlet
finds out his father was murdered by the recently crowned king. The theme that
remains constant throughout the play is appearance versus reality. Things within
the play appear to be true and honest but in reality are infested with evil.

Many of the characters within the play hide behind a mask of falseness. Four of
the main characters that hid behind this mask are Polonius, Rosencrantz (Guildenstern),
the king Cluadius. From behind this mask they give the impression of a person
who is sincere and genuine, in reality they are plagued with lies and evil.

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There appearance will make it very difficult for Hamlet to uncover the truth,
the characters hide behind. Polonius the kings royal assistant has a
preoccupation with appearance. He always wants to keep up the appearance of
loving and caring person. Polonius appears like a man who loves and cares about
his son, Laertes. Polonius speaks to his son with advice that sounds sincere but
in reality it is rehearsed, hollow and without feeling. Polonius gives his
advice only to appear to be the loving caring father. The reality is he only
speaks to appear sincere as a politician, to look good rather then actually be
good: “And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry. This above all: to thine
own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then
be false to any man. Farewell; my blessing season this in thee!” Act 1
Polonius gives his son Laertes his blessing to go away, he sends a spy to follow
him and keep an eye on him. This shows his lack of trust for anyone, he gives
the appearance of a confident father who trusts his son to go off on his own. In
reality he lies about his trust for his son by sending a spy to watch him. His
advice he gives his son is rehearsed and only said to give the appearance of a
loving father. Polonius further adds to the theme appearance verses reality by
ordering Ophelia to stop seeing Hamlet. He lies to her telling her that Hamlet
does not love her, he only lusts for her, in truth he does love her: Ay,
springes to catch woodcocks. I do know, When the blood burns , how prodigal the
soul Through the play Polonius hids behind his mask appearing to be honest
loving parent. In reality Polonius lies, manipulates people and eavesdrops on
peoples conversation. Polonius helps contribute to the theme appearance verses
reality by showing how his appearance is not his true nature, behind the mask
there lies someone totally different. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two of
Hamlets childhood friends who when asked by the king, try to find out what is
troubling the young prince. Both help to contribute to the theme by showing
there appearance of being Hamlets friends. The pair go to Hamlet pretending to
be his friends when in truth they are only there because the king asked them to
find the truth. There is some irony within the twins, they are asked by the king
to find out the truth by hiding within a lie, by pretending to be his friend: A
dream is but a shadow Act II. Hamlet knows there purpose for their visit is to
dig into his soul to find the real reason for his actions as of late. As the
play continues the twins are asked again by the king to go to Hamlet and try
again to find the real reason for Hamlets behavior. Hamlet insults them at every
chance knowing they are lying to him about there purpose of the visit: Tis as
easy as lying; govern these ventages with you finger and thumb, give it breath
with your mouth…Act III As the melodrama continues Hamlet goes with the twins
to reclaim money that another state owes Denmark. Hamlet is sent by the king to
retrieve the assets. In actuality Hamlet is sent off to wither because the king,
Claudius knows that Hamlet knows too much and must be killed. The twins show
there appearance of being Hamlets friends but in truth they have a hidden reason
for visiting with Hamlet. Both show that it will be very difficult for Hamlet to
uncover the fidelity hidden within the lies. Claudius the king of Denmark
conduct in council gives him the appearance of an Honest and honorable man. In
Act one scene two Claudius in the presence of council shows his true skill and
ease of manner at speaking. Claudius speaks well of the spent king by showing a
general love for him by all his subjects. Claudius show respect for the old
sovereign by speaking kind words of him. In reality he cares little for the old
king, he speaks kindly only to give the appearance of loving brother. Though yet
of Hamlet our dear brother’s death The memory be green, and that it us befitted
To bear our hearts in grief, and our whole kingdom To be contracted in one brow
of woe Act I As Claudius sends Voltimand and Cornelius off to give the king of
Norway the message of Fortibras, he thanks and gives them complete trust, in the
deliverance of the notation. This shows his trust and caring for his subjects in
front of the council, wining even more consent from the council: We doubt it
nothing: heartily farewell. Act I Claudius increases his appearance of a honest
and honorable man, in front of the council by showing his respect for Polonius.

He gives him the power to let his son Laertes stay or leave for Norway. Claudius
speaks highly of Polonius giving him thanks and saying the he was responsible
for Claudius becoming king: The head is not more native to the heart, The hand
more instrumental to the mouth, Than is the throne of Denmark to thy father.

What woudlst thou have, Laertes (Act I ii, 47-50) This council would see this as
a man who greatly respects his subjects and cares for them. This adds to the
difficulty of uncovering the truth for Hamlet later. Hamlet enters the council
chamber and speaks with Claudius. The king (Claudius) speaks with Hamlet seeming
to be concerned with Hamlet. He gives advice that over grieveing is not healthy,
this shows a concern for Hamlets well being. This conduct of Claudius gives him
the appearance of being kind in front of council that accepts him even more for
his family values: How is it that the clouds still hang on you? Act I Claudius
appears to be even more caring when insulted by Hamlet he still shows love and
general care for Hamlet. A normal king would have become angry and Hamlet would
have gotten into trouble. Claudius shows the council that he is understanding of
Hamlet’s grief over his father: A little more than kin, and less than kind. Act
I . Claudius gives Hamlet advice that over grieveing can be harmful and not
healthy. Claudius tells Hamlet that he is a admirable person for grieveing for
so long over his dads death. Yet again Claudius keeps putting on the appearance
of the honorable man. Tis sweet and commendable in your nature, Hamlet, To give
these mourning duties to your father: But, you must know, you father lost a
father; That father lost, lost his; and the survivor bound In filial obligation
for some term To do obsequious sorrow; but to persever In obstinate condolement
is a course Act I Claudius further makes it difficult to uncover the truth by
announcing that Hamlet is next in line for the throne of Denmark. This shows
that Claudius would let Hamlet become the next king when he is gone. This
reveals a love and care for Hamlet to the council and Gertrude making Claudius
appear to be kind, loving person: You are the most immediate to our throne; And
with no less nobility of love Act I Claudius final conduct that makes him a
difficult truth to uncover, is his care and want that Hamlet remain in Denmark.

Claudius is insulted by Hamlet, he asks Hamlet to stay only that his queen
Gertrude wants Hamlet to stay. Claudius appears to be concerned with Hamlets
well being, Gertrude and council see this ,making Claudius a more deserving
person to be king. As Claudius speaks in council he gives the appearance of
someone who is a deserving person that should be king. Claudius is voted in as
king meaning he is already approved by everyone. Claudius gives respect to his
subjects giving the council the impression that he respects them. The king shows
general concern for Hamlet, his nephew. This will make it very difficult to
prove the truth about Claudius in the future for he has not only, one the love
and respect of council (that voted him in). But also has prevented a attack on
Denmark (from Fortinbras) proving that he is good king that can protect the
state from harm. Claudius makes it very difficult for Hamlet to uncover the
truth about the true nature of Claudius in the future. Through the characters
within the play all help to show the theme, that being appearance verses
reality. Polonius, Rosencrantz (Guildenstern) and the king all appear to be good
and honest. As Hamlet finds out, all contain lies and have hidden intentions
within them. As each character is presented in the play all appear to be good
and honest making it a difficult task for Hamlet to uncover the hidden truth
about the nature of each character. As Hamlet best said it somethings is rotten
in Denmark That being the lies which have replaced or covered the true state of
each character.


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