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The Method To His Madness Essay, Research Paper

The Method to His Madness

Throughout time, many pieces of literature have been written, along with even more pieces of criticism. Some of the analysis of the plays and stories try to explain why the stories are good or not. The play Hamlet written by William Shakespeare has many essays of criticism about it, where authors try to promote their viewpoint of the story. One such critic Sir Laurence Olivier said,

Hamlet is pound for pound, in my opinion, the greatest play ever written. It towers above everything else in dramatic literature . . . Everytime you read a line it can be a new discovery (Olivier).

I agree that Hamlet is a great play because the way Shakespeare uses the character Hamlet to show the complex workings of the human mind. Through Hamlet’s struggle to revenge his father s death, Shakespeare attempts to explain the influence of one s mind on the decisions that one makes in life. This characteristic makes Hamlet one of the greatest plays.

As the play unfolds, Shakespeare uses the problems that Hamlet must face to show the reader the effect of one’s perspective on the way the mind works. In his book Some Shakespeare Themes & An Approach to Hamlet, L.C. Knight mentions:

What we have in Hamlet is the exploration and implicit criticism of a particular state of mind or consciousness. In Hamlet, Shakespeare uses a series of encounters to reveal the complex state of the human mind, made up of reason, emotion, and attitude towards the self, to allow the reader to make a judgment or form an opinion about fundamental aspects of human life. (192)

Here we see that Knight believes that Shakespeare wrote the play for a purpose to show us the inner workings of the mind. Shakespeare sets the stage for Hamlet’s internal dilemma in Act 1, Scene 5 when the ghost of Hamlet’s father appears and calls upon Hamlet to “revenge his foul and most unnatural murder” (1.5.24). It is from this point forward that Hamlet must struggle with the dilemma of whether or not to kill Claudius, his uncle, and if so when to actually do it.

As the play progresses, Hamlet does not seek his revenge when the opportunity presents itself. It is the reasoning that Hamlet uses to justify his delay that shows the reader the effect of Hamlet’s mental perspective on his situation. In order to fully understand how Hamlet’s perspective plays an important role in this play, the reader must focus on why Hamlet procrastinates in taking revenge on Claudius. Mark W. Scott attempts to offer some possible explanations for Hamlet’s delay in his book, Shakespeare for Students:

Critics who find the cause of Hamlet’s delay in his internal meditations

typically view the prince as a man of great moral

integrity who is forced to commit an act which goes against his

deepest principles. On numerous occasions, the prince tries to make

sense of his moral dilemma through personal meditations, which

Shakespeare presents as soliloquies. Another perspective of Hamlet’s

internal struggle suggests that the prince has become so disenchanted

with life since his father’s death that he has neither the desire nor

the will to exact revenge. (74)

Mr. Scott points out morality and disenchantment, which are solely based on an individual s own conscious, as two causes of Hamlet’s delay. Therefore, he offers support to the idea that Shakespeare is placing important emphasis on the role of individual perspective in this play. The importance of Mr. Scott’s comment on Hamlet’s use of personal meditations to “make sense of his moral dilemma” (74), also helps to support L.C. Knight’s contention that Shakespeare is using these dilemmas to illustrate the inner workings of the human mind. All the work and thinking put forth by Shakespeare add to the complexity and help to make this play great.

In Hamlet, Shakespeare gives the reader an opportunity to evaluate the way a character handles a very complicated situation and the problems that are generated because of it. This opportunity makes the play better. The problems that face Hamlet are overstatements of the very types of problems that all people must face as they live each day. The severity of these everyday problems is almost always a matter of individual perspective. Each person will perceive a given situation based on his own state of mind. The universal dilemma that faces all of mankind is the problem of identity. As Victor L. Cahn writes, “Hamlet’s primary dilemma is that of every human being: given this time and place and these circumstances, how is he to respond? What is his responsibility?” (69). This dilemma defined by Mr. Cahn fits in well with the comments of both L.C. Knight and Mark Scott, because it too requires some serious introspection on the part of Hamlet to resolve. Mr. Cahn s words support the idea that Shakespeare is using Hamlet’s dilemma to illustrate the effect that perspective, or state of mind, can have on a given situation.

Hamlet’s delay in seeking revenge for his father’s death plays an important role in allowing Shakespeare’s to show the reader the human mind manifesting itself. If Hamlet had killed Claudius at first opportunity, there would have been little chance for Shakespeare to develop the internal dilemma. This problem, which all three critics, L.C. Knight, Mark Scott, and Victor Cahn, use to support the view that, in Hamlet, Shakespeare is trying to comment on the complexity of the human mind, and the power that a person’s mental perspective can have on the events of his life. This ability, to write a story to carry his philosophy about mankind, makes Hamlet a great play.


Cahn, Victor L. Shakespeare the Playwright: A Companion to the Complete Tragedies, Histories, and Romances. Greenwood Press : New York, 1991.

Knight, L. C. Some Shakespeare Themes & An Approach to Hamlet. Stanford Press: San Francisco, 1966.

Scott, Mark W., ed. Shakespeare For Students. Gale Research Inc: Detroit, 1992.

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet of the Price of Denmark. Signet Classic: New York, 1998.

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