Hamlet’s “antic disposition” is feigned
Hamlet has been known as one of the greatest of Shakespeare’s plays. This is mainly because the protagonist has confused scholarly minds for centuries on end with his complex personality and muddled thoughts, which in turn leads onto his actions, or rather inaction. His incomprehensibility by many leads me only to conclude that he is mad.
His irrational and rational thoughts are forever in conflict due to his state of depression and paranoia; therefore, he chooses to put on an “antic disposition” which serves as a “convenient outlet” to his “sanity slipping away” (Wilson), masking the true nature of his mind, which has become “far gone, far gone”.
In Hamlet’s introduction, we see him portrayed as a weak, melancholic man – as exemplified through his clothes of “nighted” colours.
He is consumed by the grief of the passing of his father, the “dexterity” of which his mother re-marries, and her pleasure in entering the “incestuous sheets” with Claudius, Hamlet’s Uncle.
This melancholic state is shown to be quite serious in his soliloquies, where he states that he wants to “Thaw and resolve [himself] into a dew”. This sorrowful talk of suicide clearly shows Hamlet’s melancholic mind which can be perceived as mad.
In the Elizabethan time, Hamlet’s melancholy would have been seen as an imbalance of humour, therefore, although not as blatant as Ophelia’s madness, Hamlet would have still been perceived to be insane. Perhaps in the modern day, one would state that Hamlet is not completely conscious that he is insane, but rather that there is an underlying layer of insanity in Hamlet’s subconscious which influences the temperamental consciousness which the audience sees on stage.
Freud states that the conscious mind is similar to a fountain which rises from a great subterranean pool, which is the subconscious. Complying with this image, due to the fact that Hamlet is inclined to take the path of “self-slaughter”, which he would have done were it not for his fear of God’s “canon ‘gainst” it, I can only conclude that Hamlet is emotionally and mentally damaged. He consciously clings onto his conscious sanity by turning his hatred towards Gertrude’s “incestuous sheets”; however, he is already rotten subconsciously due to his depression.
Stoll states that Hamlet was a “renaissance man, loving contemplation…. ” implying that Hamlet never intended to take part in murder and insanity, but is merely an “intellectual spirit” (Coleridge). However, the renaissance was a time of change, a revival of learning and culture. How can Stoll justify Hamlet’s thoughts of suicide with such an absurd argument as he was a “renaissance man”? His thoughts of “to be or not to be” are marks of inclination towards the path of suicide; however, suicide is nothing but an escape.
It certainly does not relate to a “renaissance man” whose method of thinking would be that of intellectual learning and change for the better. It is a mere product of his insanity which is in turn produced by his melancholia. Perhaps Hamlet’s treatment of Ophelia is the prevailing factor in which we can clearly see Hamlet’s insanity. Wilson Knight states that he is “murdering his love for Ophelia, on the brink of insanity, taking delight in cruelty. ” Hamlet has been summed up quite well within this quote, however, Knight is mistaken in stating that Hamlet was on the “brink of insanity”.
Hamlet was not on the “brink”. He has passed the “brink” and fallen into his dismal insanity – this is clearly exemplified through his temperamental behaviour. In his letters, Hamlet writes to Ophelia, “never doubt I love”, however, in his scene “alone” with Ophelia, he labels her a whore and states that he “loved you (Ophelia) not”. His behaviour here cannot be justified by assumptions that he realised Polonius and his Uncle were there, for he only realises this sometime after his mood swings: “where is your father?
” The fact that he suspects another presence to be in the room only further conveys his paranoia. In the nunnery scene of Kenneth Branagh’s ‘Hamlet’, Hamlet hears a faints sound which gives him evidence to presume Polonius is present, however, in the original text, there is no such pause or sound. It is said in a fluent motion which when read out loud, making clear that his thoughts are compiled haphazardly upon one another; exemplifying his imbalanced mind. Ophelia was not acting differently to him yet his insanity manifested itself as paranoia.
It is a mere coincidence that this paranoia was founded. His treatment of Ophelia is a clear case where his insanity looms into his conscious. Surely this shows his deterioration and progression towards complete subconscious and conscious insanity. Hamlet’s later exclamation that he “loved Ophelia” in the graveyard scene with apparent sorrow clearly contradicts his earlier statement that he “loved” her “not”. Why he would state such lies to a women he loved – for he had no reason to say he loved her after she was dead – is puzzling.
It is clear that insanity had created his imbalanced mind, and the graveyard scene merely shows that shreds of his mind before his depression and insanity set in are still present. Another such case where Hamlet shows conscious insanity is in his talk with Polonius where he calls Polonius a “fishmonger” and answers his questions irrationally. Although he may mask it as attempting to fool Polonius and others by acting insane, Hamlet is too convincing. Hamlet has given too much away and shown his insanity.
The foolish Polonius states that Hamlet’s replies are “pregnant” with meaning, but Hamlet has merely succeeded in convincing Polonius with mere wit. The only thing Hamlet is “pregnant” with is his insanity which grows and shows itself in full bloom later in the play. Analysis of Hamlet’s psyche leads quite nicely into his possible Oedipal complex. This is the theory which postulates that Hamlet represses his subconscious sexual desires for Gertrude and it is this subconscious sexual frustration which influences his conscious behaviour to become one of obsession and temperamental paranoia.
Ernest Jones states that “Hamlet feels anguish caused by his father being replaced in his mother’s affections” and that the affection he feels for his mother has underlying “erotic qualities”. In regards to the replacement of his father, this is quite understandable, for change is hard. His father, Hamlet’s idol (as clearly conveyed through his talks of him as a “Hyperion”) has been destroyed and the whole structure has fallen. Hamlet wishes to almost become his father due to the subconscious sexual desires that would be fulfilled if he was to achieve this.
Therefore, it is only natural that he would feel hate for an intruder – Claudius – for he is almost taking what his subconscious describes as rightfully his. In the closet scene, where Hamlet says to Gertrude that he will “set up a glass where you can see the inmost part of you”, there is a certain ambiguity in the statement which could have one meaning of reflecting evaluation, and another more sexually explicit meaning. In Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet, this line is vividly conveyed as if he was about to rape Gertrude.
Possibly obsession and insanity followed the anger which spewed out of him coming up to this line, and were it not for the foolish actions of Polonius, it would have gone further. Hans Eysenck has regarded this theory as “idle speculation”. However, it is not merely “speculation” for the evidence supporting such a theory refutes this claim. Due to the presence of the Oedipal complex, Hamlet’s speech clearly shows an obsession with the coupling of Claudius and Gertrude.
Although this may be due to revenge, the focus on the “incestuous sheets” and “adulterous” further supports the Oedipal. Moreover, if Hamlet’s mind was completely focused on revenge, then he would have carried out the vengeful murder directly after the play. He does not because he is confused and internally conflicting against his subconscious sexual desires and his conscious revenge ideas. This is why he does not kill Claudius for quite some time. These conflictions within his psyche is a clear characteristic of an imbalanced mind; implying his insanity.
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