The conflict and confusion surrounding Hamlet leaves most contemporary readers of Shakespeare’s entertained. Is Hamlet a revengeful genius or merely an insane madman? This paper critically analyses Hamlet’s confusing acts in a bid to clear reader’s confusion of William Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet. Shakespeare is one of the most respect but mysterious poets and playwrights to have lived. His works have been outstanding since they are still relevant for present day school and entertainment purposes despite being ancient master pieces. Some of the most common of these masterpieces include Othello and Macbeth, Hamlet and King Lear.
Hamlet is illustrious of all his works, a story that followed the normal occurrences of ancient kingdoms, which were characterized by killing for power. In Hamlet, Shakespeare depicts a young man’s disturbing life following the murder of his (Hamlet) father by his uncle, Claudius, Hamlet’s relationship with his mother and Ophelia, as well as other issues such as Hamlet’s murder of Ophelia’s father and revenge for his father’s murder. Hamlet’s character leaves audiences in a state of confusion. In some scenes, Hamlet seems to be rational, moral and very sensible, as he struggles with several decisions, especially on whether to avenge his father’s death. However, in some scenes, Shakespeare depicts him as an insane scheming madman. Despite the direction an audience decides to perceive Hamlet, Shakespeare leaves this decision entirely to the audience.
In the first scene, Hamlet appears to be of sound mind. However, in the second scene, audiences begin to see a change of character in Hamlet. In a conversation with her father Polonius, Ophelia recalls her previous meeting with Hamlet, where she described him as being in a disturbed mind state and disheveled, talking of “horrors”. In response, Polonius says that Hamlet could be mad for Ophelia’s love. To emphasize Hamlet’s “madness”, Polonius makes reference by saying that Ophelia’s decision not to see or communicate with Hamlet had made Hamlet mad. Audiences as well as readers of Hamlet usually find it difficult to ascertain whether Hamlet’s insanity is due to Ophelia’s love or other factors. However, a more conflicting and complex situation is to understand Hamlet’s internal struggle with himself. Audiences recognize this struggle in the third act of scene one where Hamlet rehearses his “to be” speech. In this speech, Hamlet essentially debates whether to toil the hardships of living and avenging his father’s murder or commit suicide. Hamlet’s confusion is explained by Sigmund Freud’s theory, which suggests that Hamlet suffered from Oedipus complex, when he had initially desired to kill his father in order to obtain his mother’s attention. However, Hamlet is deeply loyal to his father and family, a situation that makes his confusion even worse (Shakespeare, Andre and Jacques 53).
It would be unfair to view Hamlet as completely insane and revengeful. The play reveals several situations in which Hamlet could have avenged his father’s death. First, his father’s ghost emerged and discloses to him that Claudius was responsible for his death. This happens at the beginning of the play in scene one. However, Hamlet delays this revenge to the end of the play, in an attempt to obtain more concrete evidence to execute his revenge. This shows that Hamlet was rational enough not to act without evidence. Despite this, Hamlet did not entirely ignore the revelation of his father’s ghost, as he continually tortured his uncle before finally killing him. Hamlet slowly and painfully gains the revenge of his father’s death by torturing Claudius. An example is shown in the play where which Hamlet staged Gonzago’s (who played the part of a king) death in a similar manner in which Hamlet’s father was killed. Upon seeing this scene, Claudius leaped from his seat and rushed out of the theatre angrily. With this act, hamlet confirms that it was indeed Claudius who murdered his father. Additionally, Hamlet is overjoyed by the pain Claudius undergoes. In another rational decision, Hamlet decides not to kill Claudius when he comes behind him and finds him knelt in prayer. Despite having a perfect opportunity to revenge his father’s killing, Hamlet reasons out that killing Claudius in a prayerful state could ensure that Claudius goes to heaven, while he desired Claudius goes to hell. Because of this, Hamlet decides to wait and kill Claudius when he is in a sinful state. Hamlet’s obvious reasoning here is that he wished more than just death for Claudius (Bowers 36).
An extremely controversial scene is when Hamlet sexually engaged himself with his mother after killing Polonius. His defense of killing Polonius is that he thought Polonius was Claudius. However, his character is in question when he goes ahead to make love to his mother. Hamlet’s madness is conflicting because at first, it seemed to be triggered by the fact that Polonius warned Ophelia against seeing him. Then it appears that his father’s death overwhelmed him to insanity, causing his suicidal thoughts. It would be difficult to decide, which of the two triggered Hamlet’s internal struggles. At the end, he is caught up in many issues, together with his desire for his mother, which facilitates his insanity.
Hamlet may have indicated controversial personalities and insane characteristics but Shakespeare entirely leaves audiences to decide on how they judged Hamlet. It is clear that Hamlet was a genius, following his ways and decisions to slowly torture his uncle before finally killing him and requiring more than a ghostly revelation as evidence. However, this does not exempt his bad behavior in sexually desiring his mother. Although psychological theories such as Sigmund Freud’s Oedipus complex explains this behavior, it does not help audiences view Hamlet in a moral light.