Great literary works retain their popularity as a result of many different factors. One such factor which can lead to popularity of a work, current or consistent discussion of a work’s merit, can come into play when an author or playwright leaves questions unanswered in his work. In Hamlet, William Shakespeare creates such a situation. As a result of the ambiguity of clues given throughout this play, critics may argue for or against the idea that Prince Hamlet’s “antic disposition” put on as a facade to mislead the royal family pales in comparison to the disposition of Hamlet’s problems, or in other words, that Hamlet in fact truly succumbs to insanity due to the weakness of his character. Evidence for this opinion can be derived from Hamlet’s erratic mood changes, careless slaughter of those not directly involved in the murder of his father, and interactions with the ghost of King Hamlet.
For a man thought to be feigning insanity, Prince Hamlet seems to have very little control of his emotions. In fact, Hamlet admits this to Horatio, when he says, “Sir, in my heart there was a kind of fighting that would not let me sleep”(5.2 lines 4-5). This lack of restraint leads to Hamlet’s unpredictable mood swings throughout the play. Hamlet’s relationship with Ophelia easily spawns such dramatic alterations in the prince’s attitude. For example, when Hamlet first suspects Ophelia acting only as a pawn for her father Polonius’s benefit, he reacts rashly, bitterly denying that he ever loved her. Hamlet said to Ophelia in a very firm and rude manner “You should not have believed me, for virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock, but we shall relish of it. I loved you not”(3.1 lines 117-119). This massive reversal in disposition is later contrasted by another reversal when Hamlet leaps into Ophelia’s open grave at her funeral to dispute Laretes and claim, “I loved Ophelia, forty thousand brothers could not with all their quantity of love make up my sum” (5.1 lines 252-254). These abrupt mood changes also appear in Hamlet’s relationship with his mother. He seemed to believe in his mother’s purity and goodness, but eventually Hamlet seems to hold a great mount of contempt for Gertrude, especially when he mocks her words, and then proclaims: “You are the queen, your husband’s brother’s wife, and would it were not so you are my mother” (3.4 lines 15-16). Such mood swings as these have definitely proven, if anything, that Hamlet due to the weakness of his character causes his own problems.
This Lack of discipline also leads to Hamlet to Shamelessly murder several people not directly related to his plot to avenge his father’s death. Hamlet in says to the queen after killing Polonius” Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell! I took thee for thy better” (3.4 lines 38-39). This showed that Hamlet in all his insanity killed Polonius and he thought that he was to doing him a favor by killing him, saying “I took thee for thy Better”. After words he flaunts this deed in the presence of the King and Laertes. Hamlet also boasts to Horatio of his cunning plan which resulted in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern delivering their own execution notices to the English crown. Is it possible for a sane man to gloat over the death of another man by his own hand? In addition to these deaths, Hamlet can be indirectly linked to the deaths of Ophelia and Gertrude. The turmoil Hamlet faces due to these killings is due to the weakness of his character and because of his weak character he has to face the many problems that it brings.
To father this idea of Hamlet’s insanity of problems, one can observe the prince’s interaction with the ghost of his father. For example, after Hamlet’s first interaction with the ghost, he puts forth, as Horatio calls them, “wild and whirling words. Why right, you are in the right, and so without more circumstance at all I hold it fit that we shake hands and part, You, as your business and desire shall point you, for every man hath business and desire such as it is, and for my own poor part, look you, I will go pray.”(1.5 lines 127-134) Anther possibility exists in relation to Act 3 Scene 4 in which Hamlet sees the ghost of his father, while Gertrude cannot see the specter. It is important to remember that in all other encounters with the ghost, Hamlet was not the only person to behold the spirit. In this scene however Hamlet alone sees the ghost suggesting that the second ghost was only his imagination. This imagination would suggest the weakness of his character and the source of his problems.
In conclusion, Hamlets “antic disposition’ can easily be understood, through examples of Hamlet’s unpredictable attitude changes, slaughter of innocents, and interactions with the ghost of his father, to be only the tip of the iceberg concerning the weakness of his character and the bringing about his constant turmoil and problems.