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Hamlet does not have a natural inclination for pretense and dissimulation, rather he develops into a human being that needs pretense to survive. This becomes evident throughout the play, when analysing Hamlets altering ego’s and behaviour. It would be a reasonable argument to say he develops a split personality. Hamlet changes from a normal, well-liked man in Act I, to a man using madness as an excuse for his flagrant cowardice in Act III. The final transition into derangement occurs early in the IV act, when he refers to himself in the third person. Hamlet is a man that uses this feigned madness originally as a justification for his repeated cowardice.
When analysing Hamlet during Act I, it is notable that he is normal, confident and outgoing, while talking with Horatio regarding the ghost. However, after he sees the apparition for himself, Hamlet seems slightly over persistent, ensuring Marcellus and Horatio promise their silence about their knowledge of accurances regarding what they have just witnessed. This shows that Hamlet is a very intelligent and aware man. His keeping his friends silent, provides him with a way to plan his revenge for Claudius without him having even the slightest idea - providing surprise.
These are all things that suggest Hamlet was in control of his mind state, and although different, sane at this stage in the play.
Act II is a crucial part of the development of Hamlet’s madness, as he, for the first time, begins his retaliative plans for Claudius. He lays the foundations for these plans by coming to Ophelia ‘with his doublet all unbraced’ and essentially acting like a stranger. It is vital to note that two months have passed between Act I and Act II, because it is clear that Hamlet has been ‘normal’ throughout this preceding time period. This is why Ophelia is so shocked by Hamlets behaviour, and consults her father Polonius in tears. Polonius incorrectly believes that Hamlet is crazy for Ophelias love, and seeks out the king to inform him of what he has learnt. This shows that Polonius also finds this behaviour to be odd, proving Hamlet has changed or acted out of place - not normally.
If Hamlet had in fact been acting normally, then it would be fair to say that he is a natural ‘madman’ or faker, but he was not. He was enforcing his cunning plan, and it would appear he has created the confusion and controversy he was looking for.
Hamlet continues to dazzle when talking with Polonius during Act II, sc II, confirming Polonius’ prediction in just one quick conversation. This is absorbing, as Polonius, although sporting a pre-disposed theory on Hamlet’s intriguing state of mind, is surprised at what he sees. This is evidence, once again, that Hamlet has not always been like this. There is not even the slightest hint to show he was ever a faker.
One can only assume Hamlet has firstly, control of his mind set, and secondly, that he has used this change of personality as a vital role in his devious scheme for his fathers revenge.
During Act II, sc II, Hamlet shows his intelligent apprehension for seizing opportunities to test the truth of the Ghosts words. He detains an actor, requesting that he perform a play with a few of his own inserted lines. He does this so he can judge whether or not his feigned madness is required any longer. This is a clear sign that Hamlet is in fact only ‘performing’ as a deranged man, hence he is aware and in charge of his psychological status. These occurrences also confirm that Hamlet is an amazingly well educated and aware man.
In Hamlets second soliloquy (Act II, Sc II - L55) he basically questions himself, asking if he is a ‘coward’. He goes on to find himself speaking of Claudius and how he plans to ‘catch his conscience’. This soliloquy is important as it shows Hamlet is beginning to form an obsession with retaliation and revenge for his fathers murder. It is the start of Hamlets inability to transform at his own will from ‘sane’ to ‘insane’. It would appear as though his selfish comments regarding his mind being too weak to cope with the pressure, have ironically been confirmed.
An interesting thing happens during Act III, sc II, that gives the impression Hamlets ‘sane personality’ can be ruthlessly cruel to others in order to gain what he desires.
In this scene, Hamlet appears to be ‘back in love’ with Ophelia, flirting with her after he rejected her advances. Unfortunately for Ophelia this sends her over the edge - all because it aided Hamlet in creating a sense of bamboozling behavior. This aids Hamlet, because he destroys ant theory Claudus or Polonius had for his unknown madness.
This scene occurs at the opening of Hamlets adaptatious play, with Hamlet appearing to be excited and eager to witness Claudius’ reaction. Hamlet, in a jestive yet educated manner, commentates the occurrences on the stage to Ophelia. It seems as though Hamlet is not concentrating but is surprisingly aware of what is going on. This suggests that he is in a balanced state of sanity and insanity at this integral part of his developing personality.
After Claudius reacts to the trap set by Hamlet (Act III, sc II). Horatio and Hamlet hold counsel regarding what they have witnessed. Hamlet is excited and in definate control of his mental decisions. However, Hamlet rapidly transforms into an inquisitive and hostile manner to his good friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
It should be noted that at this point, Hamlet realises he has slipped into his deranged mind set, and adjusts accordingly. Ironically, only moments later, he is accusing his friends once more. These events show that Hamlet has almost lost entire control of his different personalities. It becomes evident that Hamlet uses his madness as an excuse for his cowardice after Claudius’ soliloquy during Act III sc III. Hamlet sees Claudius praying, providing a golden opportunity to commit his revenge, but denies it due to Claudius’ apparent vulnerable state. This indicates that Hamlet is inconsistent with his courage, letting pusillanimity take over the control instead, when action needs to be done. Hamlet creates a poor excuse in madness, which evidently is a reason for his eventual sustained insanity.
A very obvious argument follows up the play, with Hamlet exploding at his mother Gertrude. (Act III sc IV) He confronts his inner conflict in the process, and with a murderous twist kills a spying Polonius. After realizing it was in fact Polonius he has killed, Hamlet shows no sign of repentance, passing it off as something ‘‘the everlasting’’ wanted. Throughout this conversation Hamlet slips in and out of his personalities, finally leaving in his ‘sane’ mind set. Amazingly enough, Hamlet goes on to continue his cunning, if somewhat mysterious plan. He tells Gertrude to play along with his act, proving Polonius was correct in saying Hamlet has method in his madness.
Gertrude succumbs to Hamlets wishes (Act IV sc I) playing along with his act to Claudius. She describes Hamlet as being ‘Mad as the sea and wind…’ to a sympathetic if somewhat disturbed Claudius. This favour completed by Gertrude, shows that she must believe that Hamlet is not a natural faker, because if Gertrude can tell he is not acting in a pretense manner, then surely he is not a natural faker.
Hamlet takes the final step into insanity and derangement when, during Act IV sc II, he refers to himself in a third person. Hamlet says: ‘‘What noise? who calls on Hamlet ?...’’ regarding the arrival of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Killing Polonius was the final step for Hamlet. Madness, fear and adrenaline take over any resistance offered by the normal, or sane part of Hamlet. He has no longer the ability to change between ‘mad’ and ‘normal’ - he is now a madman.
In conclusion, Hamlet is not a natural faker, but a cowardly man, so intelligent that madness was the only way he could evade the pressure he believed he was under. His slow evolvement into madness originally was a sophisticated way of gaining revenge for his fathers death, and as an excuse for his cowardice. His personal characteristics also changed, going from a well liked confident, outgoing scholar, to being disliked and paranoid. He is an insidious actor and uses this to his advantage by creating a sense of puzzlement and confusion in Claudius’ head.
‘Do not pull an ugly face, for if the wind changes, you will stay like that for ever. This old saying is relevant to Hamlet’s growth, as the wind changed whilst he was acting out his feigned madness
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