Hamlet Essay

1568 words - 6 pages

Hamlet and his Games

In the play “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare, Prince Hamlet uses many double meaning phrases to speak his mind to the audience and the other characters in the play. "I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw" (II.ii.387-8). This is a classic example of the "wild and whirling words" with which Hamlet hopes to persuade people to believe that he is mad. These words, however, prove that beneath his "antic disposition," Hamlet is very sane indeed. Beneath his strange choice of imagery involving points of the compass, the weather, and hunting birds, he is announcing that he is calculatedly choosing the times when to appear mad. “Hamlet feigns insanity because it allows him to do several things that he otherwise would not be able to do…” (The Hamlet Paradigm, by John S. Mamoun). Hamlet is very far form being mad, he is perfectly capable of recognizing his enemies. Hamlet's madness was faked for a purpose. He warned his friends he intended to fake madness, but Gertrude, Claudius, and even the slightly dull-witted Polonius saw through it. His public face is one of insanity but in his private moments of soliloquy, through his confidences to Horatio, and in his careful plans of action, we see that his madness is assumed. After the Ghost's first appearance to Hamlet, Hamlet decides that when he finds it suitable or advantageous to him, he will put on a mask of madness so to speak. He confides to Horatio that when he finds the occasion appropriate, he will "put an antic disposition on" (I.v.172). This Pg. 2 strategy gives Hamlet a chance to find proof of Claudius' guilt. Although he has sworn to avenge his father's murder, he is not sure of the Ghost's origins: "The spirit that I have seen / May be the devil" (II.ii.610-11). He uses his apparent madness as a delaying tactic to buy time in which to discover whether the Ghost's tale of murder is true and to decide how to handle the situation. At the same time, he wants to appear unthreatening and harmless so that people will divulge information to him, much in the same way that an adult will talk about an important secret in the presence of a young child. To convince everyone of his madness, Hamlet spends many hours walking back and forth alone in the lobby, speaking those "wild and whirling words" which make little sense on the surface but in fact carry a meaningful subtext. When asked if he recognizes Polonius, Hamlet promptly replies, "Excellent well; you are a fishmonger" (II.ii.174). Although the response seems crazy since a fish-seller would look completely unlike the expensively dressed lord Polonius, Hamlet is actually criticizing Polonius for his management of Ophelia, since "fishmonger" is Elizabethan slang for "pimp." He plays mind-games with Polonius, getting him in crazy talk to agree first that a cloud looks like a camel, then a weasel...

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