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A Critical Analysis Of Shakespeare’s Hamlet Essay, Research Paper

A Critical Analysis of Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Dave Beaston

Hamlet. Is he an insane madman or a revengeful, scheming, genius? There

are many conflicting ideas and theories on this subject, and hopefully this

paper may be of some assistance in clearing up the confusion. The paper is

divided into three separate analytic sections beginning with the beginning of

Hamlet’s so called madness, and why it may have occurred. Next, is an analysis

of why Hamlet delays revenging his father’s death. To conclude the paper,

Hamlet’s incestuous acts towards his mother are discussed, in William

Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

In the first act Hamlet seems to be in a perfectly sane state of mind

throughout all five scenes. It is in the second scene where the audience begins

to see a change in his character. Ophelia meets with Polonius and recalls the

meeting she had previously with Hamlet. She tells her father that Hamlet came

to her disheveled and in a shaken state of mind, speaking of “horrors.” (Act 2

Scene 2 line 94). Her father immediately believes that he is “Mad for thy

love?” (Act 2 Scene 2 line 95). Opelia answers a question posed by Polonius by

which she replied that she had told Hamlet that she could not see or communicate

with him any more. Her father makes reference to Hamlet’s madness once again by

proclaiming that what his daughter said, “… hath made him (Hamlet) mad.” (Act

2 Scene 2 line 123).

The argument of whether Hamlet is insane because of his love for Ophelia is

often debated, but a more confusing and complex situation is the struggle within

Hamlet’s mind. His personal struggle is revealed to the audience in scene one

of the third act. In this scene Hamlet recites his famous “To be or not to be-

that is the question:” (Act 3 Scene 1 line 64) speech. Here the the audience

truly realizes that Hamlet is torn two ways in his life. To be or not to be,

essentially is Hamlet debating on whether he should toil the pains of living in

such a harsh world and fight to avenge his father’s murder or take his own life.

Hamlet is confused as to whether he should avenge his father’s death when he

himself, as Sigmund Freud’s “Oedipus Rex Complex” suggests, wished to murder his

father to gain all of his mother’s attention. But, in the back of Hamlet’s mind,

which keeps him in constant turmoil, is his loyalty to his family and moreover

his father.

Hamlet, in act four scene two, meets with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and

he seems to be breaking down into insanity. Hamlet had just killed Polonius,

and his two friends were questioning him as to where he placed the body of the

dead man. The strange thing about this scene is that Hamlet seems to play with

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and does not give them a straight answer. Hamlet

has practically transformed into a different person and doesn’t seem to be

completely sane.

Next is another situation that cannot be totally explained. The situation

being Hamlet’s delays in avenging his father’s death. The first that Hamlet

learns of his father’s death is in act one scene five, where he follows the

ghost. Hamlet is told, by the ghost, that he (the ghost) is the soul of

Hamlet’s father, and that he was murdered by Claudius. This all took place at

the beginning of the play and Hamlet waited until the end of the play to get

revenge for his father’s murder. Then again there are different perspectives as

to whether Hamlet waited until the end to actually gain revenge. For within the

play there are many insinuations that Hamlet tortured Claudius all the way up

until he killed the king. Two instances are particularly evident. First, the

play within a play confirms that Claudius was the murderer of Hamlet’s father.

Hamlet stages the Murder of Gonzago in which the actor who is playing the part

of the king is murdered in the same manner that Claudius killed Hamlet’s father.

At the moment that the actor playing the part of the king is killed Claudius

leaps from his seat and rushes out of the theater infuriated. This violent

action by the king overjoys Hamlet for now he knows that it was Claudius who

murdered his father. More than the fact that he knows that Claudius is the

murderer, Hamlet is slowly and painfully gaining his revenge of his fathers


The other instance where Hamlet could have killed Claudius was in act three

scene three. In this particular scene Hamlet comes upon Claudius while he is

knelt in prayer. Hamlet draws his sword and intends to kill Claudius there in

prayer but then decides to wait. Hamlet comes to the conclusion that he should

wait until Claudius is commuting a sin so he will go to hell, as opposed to

killing him in prayer where he would then go to heaven. This is another example

as to why Hamlet procrastinates revenging his father’s death. The obvious

reason Hamlet waits is to bring more than just the pain of his sword to Claudius

and torture him until the end.

Finally, Hamlet’s sexual attraction towards his mother is to be discussed.

In act three scene four, Hamlet enters his mothers bedroom at her wish and first

kills Polonius, then proceeds to make love to his mother. This action is called

the “Oedipus Rex Complex”, which was invented by Sigmund Freud on the basis of

Oedipus the epic poem by Sophocles. This theory states that all young men wish

to destroy their fathers so that their mother’s attention will be guided on them

solely. Also the fact that Hamlet thought that Polonius was Claudius adds to

the evidence that Hamlet had the “Oedipus Complex”. Hamlet was obsessed with

his mother but before the situation in the bedroom escalated his father, the

ghost, appeared and reminded him of the plight which he was supposed to be


Hamlet’s madness at times is justified and at other times is pure insanity.

At first Hamlet seems to be going mad over the fact that he is not allowed to

see Ophelia. Then it seems that the fact that he is overwhelmed with his

father’s death, and begins to fight with himself over the thought of suicide.

He is then determined to gain revenge for his father and goes about torturing

Claudius in a systematic and genius manner. Finally, Hamlet is caught up in his

love for his mother which brings him back to the point of insanity. In

conclusion Hamlet is torn between two worlds, that of the sane and well and that

of the crazed and insane.


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