The play Hamlet is one of the most enduring and psychologically complex of Shakespeare’s oeuvre. The title in full is The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark and it indicates the profound mental turmoil and loss that the protagonist experiences through the play. Over the centuries, various interpretations have been offered for describing Hamlet’s mental conditions, with some calling it a gradual descent into madness while others perceiving it as merely feigned. The latter interpretation has some merit, as Hamlet shrewdly and logically calculates his revenge on his uncle Claudius. This would not have been possible if Hamlet had really become insane.
The plot is centered on Prince Hamlet’s revenge upon his uncle Claudius, for the latter had killed King Hamlet to usurp the throne and Queen Gertrude. There is intrigue surrounding the sudden death of King Hamlet and his subsequent nocturnal appearances in the form of a ghost. The ghost, first witnessed by a few sentinels on duty, tells Prince Hamlet the truth behind the mysterious death. Prince Hamlet is informed of the treacherous conspiracy hatched by his uncle Claudius. Prince Hamlet is deeply shaken by this revelation. Once the ghost of his father vanishes, the Prince feels his loss even more acutely and enters a state of delirium. But the Prince has not lost his mind or volition. Indeed, there is a method to his madness, as he systematically goes about exacting his revenge upon his uncle. First, the Prince gets confirmation of his uncle’s guilt through concrete evidences.
But the Prince is heavily vexed by moral dilemmas surrounding the plan to take revenge. Though the Prince gets several opportunities to kill Claudius, each time he hesitates for various reasons. At one time Prince Hamlet finds Claudius in prayer and abstains on grounds that dying in prayer would send the latter to Heaven. Shakespeare adds further intrigue to the plot as the Prince comes close to murdering his unfaithful mother and Queen Gertrude. In one scene of high drama, due to a mistaken identity, Polonius (Ophelia’s father) falls victim to Prince Hamlet’s wrath. Already in deep despair over Hamlet’s rebuke of her love, Ophelia is pushed into a state of madness with Polonius’ death. She eventually commits suicide.
Ophelia’s brother Laertes is enraged by her sister’s death. Believing Hamlet to be the cause of this tragedy, he vows revenge upon him. Meanwhile King Claudius also hatches a wicked plan to kill Hamlet and sends the latter on a diplomatic mission to England. This attempt is foiled due to an unexpected attack from the pirates. When Hamlet returns to Denmark, Claudius masterminds another plan to dispose of Hamlet. Toward this end, he coerces the grieving and angry Laertes to a sword-fight with Hamlet. Though the tip of the sword is poisoned, it is Laertes who bears a larger brunt of his own sword, though Hamlet is also scratched with it. So Laertes dies first. In the meantime, Gertrude drinks the poisoned wine which Claudius had kept for Hamlet. Upon knowing this, a dying Hamlet forces Claudius to drink the wine as well. So both the King and Queen die. Hamlet lives a little longer and in that time he counsels Horatio on the possible successor to the throne after his impending death. Hamlet is given a honored burial by the noblesse.
William Shakespeare. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. [Collins edition]. Project Gutenberg Etext #1524. First published on November, 1998. Retrieved from <http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/1524/pg1524.html>