The Darkness of Insanity
Insanity is an ever growing black hole which envelopes the pitiful mind of the its victim. The mental condition of Hamlet has been well debated throughout the years even though in Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet does admit that his madness is an elaborate scheme. Many see this fact as a way to discredit the idea of Hamlet’s insanity but one should also take into consideration the amount of proven psychopaths who constantly admit to their sanity. Through his actions and emotions prevalent through the play, Hamlet does indeed prove his insanity despite his denial of it. It is quite obvious that Hamlet possesses a troubled mind resulting from a gross state of melancholy, which later leads to him becoming disillusioned. Another fact to strengthen the idea of his insanity is his treatment of his beloved girlfriend, Ophelia and his loving mother, Gertrude. One might find it difficult to ponder the thought of any sane person denouncing their love for their lover without showing the slightest hint of sadness. However, Hamlet does perform this wicked deed. The protagonist’s mind is also filled with enough incestuous thoughts of his very own mother to disturb the audience. The most troubling and powerful piece of evidence to prove his insanity is that he does not feel the slightest twinge of guilt nor the smallest sliver of remorse after he murders three innocent bystanders in cold blood. The human conscience is what separates humans from animals because human’s have the ability to question evil deeds such as murder yet Hamlet’s conscience remains untouched after the murders of three people. The lack of guilt should be proof enough that Hamlet’s mind is convoluted.
Throughout the play Hamlet continuously shows characteristics that are closely related to madness. One of the more prominently shown characteristic is depression, which is also known to psychiatrists as the gateway to insanity. The depression caused by the murder of his father runs rampant during the course of the play and helps to led him down to his ultimate path of ruin. Hamlet’s depression is so powerful and visible that it begins to disturb his mother:
“Good Hamlet, cast thy nighted colour off,
And let thine eye look like a friend on Denmark
Do not for ever with thy vailed lids
Seek for thy noble father in the dust.
Thou know’st ‘tis common – all that lives must die,
Passing through nature to eternity.”
Gertrude is trying to weaken the depression, which is clouding Hamlet’s mind. Hamlet’s melancholy is troubling her because it has been two months since his father’s death. Gertrude explains to Hamlet that death is a natural part of life but Hamlet does not want any of her reasoning. His melancholy at this point is so powerful that it creates in their relationship. It is understandable that the death of a loved one can be traumatizing at first but wearing black and living in a mundane manner for two months is absolutely insane. Gertrude makes it clear in her statement that one should feel a loss but life goes on.
Disillusions are common in the minds of the insane. They are also known to stem from depression caused by traumatic such as losing a loved.Hamlet does have illusions, which strengthens the belief that Hamlet is mad. Most sane people will not stop a conversation with their mother to begin one with a ghost who does not appear to anyone else but them. Gertrude has argued with Claudius about her son’s sanity but when Hamlet begins his conversation with the ghost she too begins to question his sanity:
“Alas, how is’t with you,
That you do bend your eye on vacancy,
And with th’ incorporal air do hold discourse?
Forth at your eyes your spirits wildly peep;
And, as the sleeping soldiers in th’ alarm,
Your bedded hairs like life in excrements
Start and stand an end. O gentle son,
Upon the heat and flame of thy distemper
Sprinkle cool patience! Whereon do you look?”
Gertrude is now having serious doubts about Hamlet’s mental state. Hamlet is having is a conversation and reacting to nothingness. Like most people, Gertrude finds this bizarre and she begins to question Hamlet. She asks him why is acting is if he is talking to something that is scaring him. Gertrude truly believes that Hamlet is mad because he tells him to relax try to fix his ailment. She uses the word distemper, which means illness or ailment. The use of this word solidifies Gertrude belief in Hamlet’s madness. It has been said many times that mothers know their children the best and if that is so one must seriously question Hamlet’s sanity.
Insanity affects many aspects of a person’s mind. This disruption of one’s thought process also affects their emotions and feeling towards others and in Hamlet’s case it affects his feelings towards Ophelia. Ophelia and Hamlet are rumored to be passionate lovers but the during the course of the play Hamlet’s feelings completely change. He starts to bluntly insult Ophelia and denounce his love for no apparent reason:
“If thou dost marry, I’ll give thee this plague for thy
dowry be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow,
thou shalt not escape calumny. Get thee to a
nunnery, go, farewell. Or, if thou wilt needs marry,
marry a fool; for wise men know well enough what
monsters you make of them. To a nunnery, go; and
guickly too. Farewell.
Hamlet blatantly insults Ophelia and threatens to blackmail her with this relationship. Hamlet has absolutely no reason to do this. There are no problems present in their relationship and they seemed relatively happy until Hamlet lashes at her with comments such as these. Insanity can be taking its toll on Hamlet because not many sane people would be so rash with a decision of this magnitude.
Hamlet thoughts and feelings of his mother also drastically change. Hamlet has many incestuous thoughts and feelings about his mother. He starts to question his mother about her sexual life and Hamlet also questions her motives. Hamlet’s mind is filled with sexual thoughts of his mother and it disturbs him greatly.
“Nay, but to live
In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed,
Stew’d in corruption, honeying and making love
Over the nasty sty!”
(Shakespeare 3.4 101-5)
Hamlet is referring to his sexual acts between Gertrude and Claudius. He is using to strong terms like “enseamed” and “corruption” to strengthen his argument that his mother is a nothing more then a lowly whore. His use of words is troubling because not many people have the audacity to criticize their mothers like so. Insanity can have affected his judgement once again or his disturbed mind can have been further affected by these thoughts.
Hamlet the eccentric protagonist of Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet is insane because he possesses a lack of guilt that is usually seen in the most infamous criminals. Many sociologists truly believe that a lack of remorse is a major characteristic of insanity. In the case of the troubled Hamlet this proves true. Hamlet brutally murders an innocent and harmless Polonius and shows either guilt nor remorse. His feelings about Polonius’ death are brought to light in a conversation with Gertrude:
“Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell!
I take thee for thy better. Take thy fortune
Thou find’st to be too busy is some danger –
Leave wringing of your hands. Peace; sit you
And let me wring your heart; for so I shall,
If it be made of penetrable stuff;
If damned custom have not braz’d it so
That it be proof and bulwark against sense.”
Hamlet shows his contempt for Polonius’ life through his numerous insults after he murdered him in cold blood. Hamlet refers to Polonius as a rash and states that he brought his death upon himself. It would be more then understandable for Hamlet to be angry with Polonius for eavesdropping on him but killing the man is not a rational decision that a sane person would make. Hamlet performed the deed and he worsens it by almost making a joke of it in the aforementioned quotation. He also admits that he is losing his thought process by stating, “That it be proof and bulwark against sense.” He is admitting that his actions embodied madness.
Hamlet continues his murderous ways by taking the lives of the harmless Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. For Polonius, Hamlet had a motive but Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were innocent. Hamlet dislikes them for their association with Claudius but due to their bumbling nature they posed no threat to Hamlet. Once again Hamlet treats their deaths as a game or joke in a conversation with Horatio.
“Why, men, they did make love to this employment,
They are not near my conscience; their defeat
Does by their insinuation grow:
‘Tis dangerous when the baser nature comes
Between the pass and fell incensed points
Of might opposites.”
Hamlet denounces his guilt and places the blame on the victims, as he did with Polonius. Hamlet admits his lack of guilt by saying, “They are not near my conscience.” Hamlet is stating that their death does not affect him in the smallest way. Many similarities are present between their murders and Polonius’. The most visible is that Hamlet does not care for any of his victims before or after their deaths. The second and equally disturbing similarity is that he places the blame squarely on his victims. This disturbing because Hamlet possesses the ability to kill but he never admits that it is fault. These two characteristics are found in many cases dealing with twentieth century serial killers.
Through his actions and emotions Hamlet makes it clear that he is insane. One cannot dismiss his actions as mistakes because he has a habit of repetition. His depression is the main cause of his insanity but it was fuelled by his disgusting thoughts of his mother. Hamlet’s insanity began to grow slowly into unexplained outbreaks against loved ones and then disillusionment. The madness grew like a cancerous tumor until it killed people around him and ultimately himself. Hamlet’s destructive nature was his downfall not his procrastination because the only time where he hesitates throughout the play is when he is deciding to kill Claudius. Like any other serial killer Hamlet must have one masterpiece and unfortunately for Claudius it was he. Einstein once said, “The difference between insanity and genius is that genius has its limits.” If Hamlet’s madness was a piece of brilliant acting, would one believe that Hamlet meant to ruin the lives of his loved ones?