An Analysis of Hamlet s antic disposition
Is Hamlet mad? A close analysis of the play reveals that Hamlet is straightforward and sane. His actions and thoughts are a logical response to the situation in which he finds himself. However, he assumes antic-disposition to undercover the truth of his father s death.
In the first act, Hamlet appears to be very straightforward in his actions and thoughts. When questioned by Gertrude about his melancholy appearance Hamlet says, Seems, madam? Nay it is know not seems (I, ii, 76). This is to say, I am what I appear to be. Later he makes a clear statement about his thoughts of mind when he commits himself to revenge. Hamlet says, I ll wipe away all trivial fond records, All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past, That youth and observation copied there, And thy commandment all alone shall live Within the book and volume of my brain (I, iv, 99-103). With this statement, the play makes a transition. Hamlet gives up the role of a student and mourning son, and commits himself to nothing else but the revenge of his father s death. There is no confusion and certainly no sign of madness in Hamlet s character. In Chapel Scene, when Claudius is praying alone for his guilt, Hamlet accidentally sees him. He realizes that this is the perfect opportunity to perform the revenge. Seeing the opportunity, Hamlet says, Now might I do it pat, now a is a-praying; And now I ll do it, and so he goes to heaven, And so am I reveng d. That would be scann d; A villain kills my father, for that, I, his sole son, do this same villain send To heaven. O, this is hire and salary, not revenge. (III, iii, 73-79). This shows, Hamlet has a sound mind and is not mad. He knew that if he killed Claudius, he would go to heaven upon death whereas his father s soul was unprepared for death and so went to purgatory. He has said earlier that he is what he appears to be, and there is no reason to doubt it.
When Hamlet appears again in Act Two, it seems that he has lost the conviction and shows a puzzling duplicitous nature. He has yet to take up the part assigned to him by the ghost. He spends the act walking around, reading, talking with Polonius, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and the players. It is not until the very end of the act that he even mentions vengeance. If he had any of the conviction shown earlier, he would be presently working on his vengeance. So instead of playing the part of vengeful son, or dropping the issue entirely, he hangs out in the middle, pretending to be mad. This is shown when he says to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, I know not lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercise (II, ii, 298-299). Later he tells them that he is just feigning madness when he says, I am but mad north-north-west, when the wind is southerly, and I know a hawk from a handsaw (II, ii, 380-381). Admitting so blatantly that he is only feigning madness would imply that he is comfortable with it. He also seems to be generally comfortable with acting. This is evidenced when he says, there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so (II, ii, 250-251). Hamlet is saying that thought shapes our perception of reality. It is puzzling that Hamlet is comfortable with his antic disposition at this point but not with the role that he said he would play earlier. Ever since the death of King Hamlet, young Hamlet has been in what has appeared to be in a state of melancholy. In a discussion with Polonius, Hamlet questions Polonius by asking him have you a daughter (II, ii, 182). In this discussion Hamlet mocks Polonius when Hamlet would usually show great respect for him because of he age and of his high position in court. This sudden question to Polonius has causes him to believe that Hamlet has a form of love-sickness sees as a form of madness. Hamlet knows Polonius is sure to tell Claudius of his condition. Hamlet also accuses Polonius of being the Jephthah, judge of Israel, (II, ii, 399) meaning that Polonius would put his country in front of his daughter. Hamlet has now convinced Polonius that he is in a state of madness because he knows that Polonius cares for his daughter very much. Hamlet s above actions of pretended madness and thoughts are justified to the situation he finds himself.
The purpose of Hamlet feigning madness is to undercover the truth about the events leading up to and involving the death of his father. Hamlet says to Horatio, How strange or odd soe er I bear myself, As I perchance hereafter shall think meet To put an antic disposition on (I, v, 169-171). This play-acting allows Hamlet to determine if his uncle has played any part in the scheme. By pretending he is insane, he is able to get more information about the death of his father. Play goers are shocked when Hamlet burst into his mother s bedroom. This action is generally interpreted as a sign of his discourteous nature . In the Queen s closet scene, Hamlet also acts crazy in front of his mother imagining that there is a ghost in her room. He tries to make her feel guilty enough to confess her sins. He says to his mother, Why, look you there! Look, how it steals away! My father, in his habit as he liv d! Look, where he goes, even now out at the portal! (III, iv, 132-136). I believe another reason for Hamlet to feign madness in front of Claudius is as for her mother, he wanted to drive Claudius to the breaking point of confession and he was successful. In Chapel Scene, Claudius gives way to the guilt which is beginning to torment him despite all his practical efforts to protect himself. He says, O, my offence is rank, it smells to heaven. It hath the primal eldest curse upon t, A brother s murder (III, iii, 36-38).
From the foregoing analysis it can be concluded that Hamlet is quite a sane person. His depression, the hopeless note in his attitude towards others and towards the value of life, his reference to ghost, his self accusations, his desperate efforts to get away from the thoughts of his duty are just a logical response to the circumstances in which he finds himself. This ambiguity is demonstrated by his alleged madness for he does behave madly to become perfectly calm and rational and instant later. He assumes antic-disposition only to undercover the truth and events relating to the death of his father.