Hamlet on Trial Essay
Of the murders committed by Hamlet, the murders of Polonius and Claudius stand out since they are quite different from each other. In terms of guilt however, the murder of Polonius was a mistake since Polonius was killed by Hamlet because he thought it was Claudius behind the curtains when Hamlet was with his mother in Act 3, Scene 4 and he was trying to talk some sense into her. The murder of Claudius however, was a crime for which Hamlet can be considered guilty indeed since it was planned, executed and the intent of the murder was to send the man to hell for his just rewards.
To consider Hamlet to be innocent by reason of insanity is quite a leap since he pretends to be insane when he acknowledges that he will not behave in a normal fashion and go north by northwest to get to his destination. In Act 2, Scene 2, Hamlet himself acknowledges that his “uncle-father and aunt-mother are deceived” due to his appearance and manner and think that he is quite mad. His insanity also becomes questionable when we consider the deep philosophical approach he takes to life, death, love and friendship while he is pretending to be insane. Further, he even gives sound advice to his own mother just before he kills Polonius and it is unlikely that this sound advice could come from a man who is not in control of his senses or faculties.
Similarly, while Hamlet pretends to be insane, he comes across Claudius praying and confessing his sins in Act 3, Scene 3. An insane man would have found this to be a perfect opportunity to take the life of the man who killed his father yet Hamlet does not do so. He waits since he thinks that killing Claudius at this point would simply absolve him of his sins and send his soul straight to heaven. He even rationalizes his actions to himself by saying that such an act would be “hire and salary, not revenge (Act 3, Scene 3)” and this is not what he is looking for when he seeks to get revenge for the death of his father. Despite being ‘insane’ he is aware and cognizant of the impact his actions would have not only in this world but also in the next.
The act of killing Claudius has willfulness, rationality and guilt associated with it even though Hamlet had not planned on killing Claudius there and then. On the other hand, the killing of Polonius was a mistake since Hamlet had killed Polonius believing it was Claudius. The insanity of Hamlet is merely a ruse and an act which he plays really well since he has led various characters in the play as well as many readers to believe that he was insane indeed. However, when we examine his actions and the manner in which he executes his victims, it is easy to say that he is not insane at all and is indeed guilty for the murders which he committed.
Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, [Online] Available at: http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Hamlet