Riddled with ambiguity by its very nature, the text of William Shakespeare's Hamlet has been a commonly debated subject in literary circles since its first performance. The character Hamlet undergoes intense physical and emotional hardship in his quest for revenge against his despicable uncle. This hardship, some argue, leads to an emotional breakdown and, ultimately, Hamlet's insanity. While this assessment may be suitable in some cases, it falls short in others. Since Hamlet is a play, the ultimate motivation of each of the characters borrows not only from the text, but also from the motivations of the actors playing the parts. In most respects, these motivations are more apt at discerning the emotional condition of a character than their dialogue ever could. Thus, the question is derived: In Kenneth Branagh's film adaptation of Hamlet, does the character Hamlet suffer from insanity? Giving halt to the response, this paper will first endeavor to establish what insanity is and will then provide sufficient examples both from the text, film, and Branagh's own musings on his motivations as proof that Hamlet's character, at least in Branagh's version of the play, is not insane.
To begin, it is important there be an established definition of insanity. Though the original work is set in the turn of the 17th century, and Branagh's in the late 19th, it is important that insanity be described based on current definitions. Antiquated understandings of the matter will provide very little as far as frames of argument. Thus, for this task, the paper will employ law.com's vast legal dictionary for a current definition of insanity. The dictionary tasks itself to such extent. It defines insanity as “mental illness of such a severe nature that a person cannot distinguish fantasy from reality, cannot conduct her/his affairs due to psychosis, or is subject to uncontrollable impulsive behavior.” (Hill and Hill) Though Hamlet is not being tried in any legal constraint, the definition serves the same purpose both in and outside of a courtroom, and will duly suffice.
Examining the text itself is fairly a poor representation of the motivation of the characters in a particular production of the play, but it does serve a considerable purpose in the examination of the plot, and should not be overlooked. Employable in this capacity, SparkNotes LLC's No Fear Hamlet is a very acceptable base because, not only does it provide the original text, but also a modern day “translation”, allowing a more bearable comprehension of the often wordy original. The first point of interest is immediately following Hamlet's first encounter with the ghost of his father in Act I Scene V. It is here where the argument for Hamlet's insanity often draws its strength. When Hamlet begins speaking in circles, saying strange things to his friends Horatio and Marcellus,:
Why, right, you are in the right.
And so, without more circumstance at all,
I hold it fit that we...