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Insanity And Procrastination: An Analysis Of Hamlet’s Inaction And Mental Degeneration

1265 words - 6 pages

Vengeance, redemption, and desire plague Denmark’s royal family in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet after a haunting family secret forces Prince Hamlet to choose between morality and honor. After Hamlet’s father dies, the kingdom hastily adjusts to his uncle Claudius’ reign; however, Hamlet remains devastated and loyal to his father. When his father’s ghost unveils that Claudius poisoned King Hamlet, the prince’s devastation mixes with a fervent desire for revenge that eventually dictates his every thought. Despite being ostensibly committed to avenging his father’s death, Hamlet habitually discovers reasons to delay action. As Hamlet’s procrastination persists, his familial relations ...view middle of the document...

I eat the air; promise-crammed. You cannot feed capons so,” (Shakespeare, 3.2.99-101.) Despite the cryptic nature of Hamlet’s response, it is undeniably courteous, which is starkly contradictory to Hamlet’s intent. This interaction allows the audience to grow cognizant of the distance between Hamlet and his family. In his essay “The Player’s Speech in Hamlet,” Arthur Johnston states that Hamlet’s play “is a deliberate use of the device of a mirror” that forces Claudius to “recognize the representation of his own guilty deed,” (Johnston, 21) which confirms the meticulous nature of Hamlet’s plan. By acting in one manner while speaking in another, Hamlet attempts to balance two contrasting lives, one that, as Irving Richards writes in “The Meaning of Hamlet’s Soliloquy,” is determined “to avenge his father” and one which is consumed by an “inhibiting prosperity to oversubtle philosophizing,” (Richards, 741.) It seems inevitable that these opposing lives will lead to Hamlet’s mental degeneration, for Hamlet must constantly decipher between his real emotions and his facade. As Hamlet sacrifices honesty for vengeance, his familial relations continue to deteriorate rapidly, which ultimately sets the stage for the murderous scene that occurs at the play’s conclusion.
While attempting to balance his fragile sanity and false madness, Hamlet becomes chronically paranoid and distrusts his environment without sufficient evidence; therefore, he develops a loneliness that further fuels his downfall. Hamlet’s bizarre actions prompt Claudius to employ Hamlet’s friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to spy on Hamlet and determine the source of his madness. When meeting with his friends, Hamlet almost immediately announces, “you were sent for, and there is a kind of confession in your looks…I know the good king and queen have sent for you,” (Shakespeare, 2.2.300-304.) Despite the accuracy of Hamlet’s presumption, the audience realizes that Hamlet no longer assumes his surroundings are genuine, which directly correlates to his mental degeneration. Hamlet feels that his entire society is working to discredit him and that he can no longer trust even his friends; therefore, he becomes exceedingly meditative and lonesome. As Hamlet grows entangled in his plot to avenge his father’s murder, his paranoia intensifies until he is incapable of understanding his environment and justifying his actions.
The ferocity of Hamlet’s chronic paranoia quickly fosters an obsession with perfection that further hinders his ability to act, gnaws at his spirit, and significantly taints his sanity. After Claudius’ guilt is verified, Hamlet discovers the king praying by himself. This initially appears as the ideal condition to exact revenge, yet Hamlet cannot allow himself to act. Hamlet unsheathes his sword and prepares to murder Claudius when his obsession with the perfect retaliation suddenly dictates his action. He states, “this is hire and salary not revenge…am I then revenged to...

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