Hamlet: Was He Out of It or Just Plain Genius?

Hamlet tells his friends that he will pretend to be mad. His act is extremely convincing, though. Is it really an act, or does Hamlet slip into madness during the play?

Honestly, if it hadn’t been for you, Mr. L, I would have never taken much thought to this idea. Without prompting this question from the start, it can be quite easy to judge Hamlet as either simply insane or intelligent, merely an individual without complexity. However, diving deeper into Hamlet (the play), uncovering the minuscule details and contrasting contexts, we as readers can see that Shakespeare left a lot of leeway in how we interpret Hamlet (the character). Furthermore after having discussed and analyzed Hamlet, I now see how important the way we visualize the character, Hamlet, determines how we visualize the play as a whole, the meaning and what we get from it.

Personally, I am more in the middle of this argument because I feel that there is no way to justify that Hamlet was solely acting or actually becoming mad, but if I had to take a side I would lean more towards Hamlet purposefully acting the way he does. Firstly, Shakespeare makes a clear distinction between Ophelia’s very apparent madness with Hamlet’s more coherent “strangeness.” As seen in Ophelia’s speech later on after her father’s death, she speaks out of iambic pentameter, in song, and scattered thoughts (IV.iv.20-48). And although Hamlet may seem to express his words dramatically and in an unorthodox manner at times, his speech has a deeper meaning and stays in iambic pentameter (III.i.57-91). There was also discussion over the scene where Gertrude can not see the ghost while Hamlet can (IV.iii.104-140). Many may argue that Hamlet created the ghost out of his imagination, but the fact that so many others, Horatio, Marcellus, and Barnardo, (I.i.37-50) see the ghost seems to emphasize that Shakespeare does want us as readers to infer that there really is a ghost. Also, King Hamlet’s death seems too extensive and specific to just have been made up in Hamlet’s mind (I.v.40-91).

In all, I believe that the underlining reason that Hamlet may act out of sorts throughout the play is not from mentally breaking down or becoming obsessed with his act but more caused by his insecurity and immaturity, leaving him unable to cope with what is happening in his life. From the start, before meeting the ghost, before being informed of his father’s murder, before deciding to be insane, Hamlet already has a hard time trying to deal with his mother marrying his uncle (even though this was much more common than it is today) (I.ii.65-160). He continues to mope around and mourn though he is around 30 years old (V.i.160-170). The way Hamlet treats others adds to his “man-child”-like qualities. Finally, an interesting point to note is that throughout the entire play, Hamlet is quite human and normal when speaking with Horatio. When Hamlet does say things that makes us skeptical about his state of mind, I feel that he is being more overwhelmed and overtaken by his strong flush of complex emotions that he feels and has difficulties comprehending rather than by mere madness.



Is it a …?

No. 1 - Jackson Pollock

Number 1A by Jackson Pollock, 1948

What do you think itself? Don’t worry, I don’t have a clue either…

I do see a number of simple colors: red, blue, yellow, white, and black. This definitely seems to be a splatter painting. Though the yellow background is bright the black paints creates a mysteriously ominous aura to the painting. To be honest, my first reaction was: Woah… (eyes opening wider and eye brows raised more out of confusion and surprise than sudden awe). Why do I suppose this painting is as famous as it is… Well, by just looking at the painting with no prior background it does not seem particularly astounding. It’s just one of those paintings that we, as less acclaimed viewers, think we could do ourselves. I really have no idea whatsoever…

Okay, now I really have nothing else worthy to say and am dying to know the meaning behind this painting! Let’s go find out:)

“Number 1 by Jackson Pollock (1948)” by Nancy Sullivan

No name but a number.
Trickles and valleys of paint
Devise this maze
Into a game of Monopoly
Without any bank. Into
A linoleum on the floor
In a dream. Into
Murals inside of the mind.
No similes here. Nothing
But paint. Such purity
Taxes the poem that speaks
Still of something in a place
Or at a time.
How to realize his question
Let alone his answer?

I’m still confused… but it is quite intriguing to see Sullivan’s reaction to this abstract painting. She definitely has an imagination that allows her to compare the splotches of paint as “trickles and valleys of paint,” a maze, a Monopoly game, and a linoleum. Though it does seem apparent that Sullivan herself does not know the true meaning of this piece of art, Sullivan underscores the meaning behind how we view the painting. Furthermore, she relays how it is not important (to say the least it is probably impossible) to find the artist’s true intent but to enjoy it as our own by finding something meaningful in our lives or ourselves with which to find a connection.

Very clever Mr. L 🙂

Is this just another encouraging “poem analyzing” analogy for us?

Alas, Poor Yorick!

Hamlet and the Gravediggers by Pascal Adolphe Dagnan-Bouveret (1883)

This piece of artwork is meant to illustrate the scene where Hamlet and Horatio encounter a gravedigger who happens to be digging up the body of Hamlet’s old jester friend (yep, that’s his head).

Hamlet, V.i.174-186

Let me see. (takes the skull) Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. He hath borne me on his back a thousand times, and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. —Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one now to mock your own grinning? Quite chapfallen? Now get you to my lady’s chamber and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favor she must come. Make her laugh at that.—Prithee, Horatio, tell me one thing.

What I liked most about this painting was not only how it depicted the attitudes of the character but the eeriness of this particular scene. The background is obscured with fog as though symbolizing the foreshadowing of death and uncertainty. The colors (slightly darker and thicker in shade) also help in setting the mood. The gravedigger is pretty creepy with his long body, point chin, and hollowed in eyes. Furthermore, the illustration of Hamlet is complex in itself. The solemness of his face and lifted hand seem to relay his anguish and imploring of life’s purposes. One aspect that I found particularly interesting, however, was the fact that Hamlet is holding the skull with a handkerchief. The handkerchief places the focus on the skull and reminds the viewers of one of Hamlet’s barriers (trying to cope with conflicts and misfortunes that he had not experienced because of his royal upbringing that shielded any troubles).

The “Bad” Hamlet

Here is a link to an especially “special” version of Hamlet

Two differing aspects in Acts I and II

1.[Act I. ii] Hamlet’s missing asides and responses back

Near the beginning of this scene while Claudius and Gertrude question Hamlet’s continued mourning, Hamlet is missing a number of lines. Though not especially long, these few lines are important in depicting Hamlet’s character. His responses are quite sarcastic and overly dramatic such as:

“Seems,” madam? Nay, it is. I know not “seems.”
‘Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,
Nor customary suits of solemn black,
Nor windy suspiration of forced breath,
No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,
Nor the dejected ‘havior of the visage,
Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief,
That can denote me truly. These indeed “seem,”
For they are actions that a man might play.
But I have that within which passeth show,
These but the trappings and the suits of woe.

Characterizing Hamlet through his own words from the start allows for Shakespeare to mold the environment and setting for which to further develop the plot. Hamlet’s attributes are essential in the scenes to come when they will fuel his impulsive actions.

2.[Act II. ii] Rosencratz and Guildenstern implore Hamlet about what upsets him

In this quarto, Rosencratz and Guildenstern do not converse as much as in the more acceptable versions of Hamlet. Without their lines, Rosencratz and Guildenstern are not as well characterized as easily opening up to Hamlet and also, Hamlet loses some of his additional characterization. There are many lines concerning views of prison, dreams, and ambition that underscore Hamlet’s growing insanity. Furthermore, Hamlet’s awareness of his mother and uncle’s intentions are apparent.


In general, I think it is quite interesting how much and specifically what is shortened in this Hamlet quarto. Cutting parts out really does make a difference in the deep substance (intricate characterization, tone, environment, intensity) of Hamlet.

Yo Ho, Yo Ho, a Viking’s Life for Me!

“The 80 Wisdom Saying of the Vikings” verse 6

Of his understanding
no one should be proud,
but rather in conduct cautious.
When the prudent and taciturn
come to a dwelling,
harm seldom befalls the cautious;
for a firmer friend
no man ever gets
than great sagacity.

In other words: No one should be proud. Harm seldom falls on the cautious. A man’s best friends is discernment.

Modern Life: It can often be difficult to find the right balance between pride and hopelessness since the slightest achievement or failure can have great impacts. The more good things that come into our lives, the easier (and sadly more uncontrollable) it can become to control our arrogance. The more bad things that come into our lives, the easier (and sadly, yet again, more uncontrollable) it can become to control our self-deprecation. Especially during the time of great transition we are in as young adults, when our feelings are jumbled together and insecurity is always looming over us, life is, put simply, hard. However, we should always have hope and strive to gain discernment in order to gain the a spirited mind and soft humility!

Literature: Having finished reading Othello (and taken the Othello test – glad that’s over:)), I find that Othello, the character, really needs to have read this quote. Though not necessarily prideful and arrogant, Othello’s naivety and stubbornness in believing “Honest Iago” ends in his tragic downfall. Othello was not cautious at all and fell susceptible to Iago’s dastardly scheme. If Othello had just been cognizant and more prudent, he may have saved his life and the life of Emilia, Roderigo, and his innocent wife, Desdemona.

The Real Othello?

Am I reading the right Othello or are you reading the right Othello? Or is it you?

There have been a number of different Othello versions preserved in various archives. Here is one example from the British Library. The reason for these differences is not a complicated one. Simply, some viewers of the play during the early 1600’s tried to copy down and/or memorize the script and turn it into their own copies. Unsurprisingly, different people heard different things or improvised some words.

After having looked at a few copies of manuscripts, there are definite differences. First and foremost, the types of language the copiers utilize are contrasting. All of them write in English but the wording and spelling of some words a very different. Also, though probably more insignificant, the beginning decorations are unique and the abbreviations for some names differ. 

One specific detail that is interesting is that the first word from the next page is printed on the lower-right corner of each page. Why? My guess would be the fact that the copiers used older printing presses, in which letter blocks are formed into the sentences for each page. For each page, the copier would need to add ink to the letter blocks and press it onto the sheet of paper. Since the copier could only view the wet paper after it dried, he added the first word of the next page to remind himself. Or maybe he did it just in case the pages would get mixed up and he could easily reorder the pages. What do you think?

Music Outlives

In honor of some of the musicians who have passed away recently…

I chose a song by Natalie Cole, an American singer-songwriter and performer who passed away because of kidney failure on December 31st, 2015, called “This Will Be (Everlasting Love)” which was recorded in 1975. This song was one of her hit songs and appeared on her album titled “Inseparable.”


This will be an everlasting love
This will be the one I’ve waited for
This will be the first time anyone has loved me.

I’m so glad you found me in time
And I’m so glad that you recrefied my mind
This will be an everlasting love for me

Loving you is some kind of wonderful
Because you showed me just how much you care
You’ve given me the thrill of a lifetime
And made me believe you’ve got more thrills to spare, oh!

This will be an everlasting love
Oh, yes it will now!

You brought a lot of a sunshine in to my life
You filled me with happiness I never knew
You gave me more joy then I ever dreamed of
And no one, no one can take the place of you

This will be,
you and me,
yes sir-ee
Hugging and squeezing, and kissing and pleasing,
Together forever throughever whatever.
Yeah yeah yeah you and me

So long as I’m living true love I’ll be giving
To you I’ll be serving cause you’re so deserving
Hey, you’re so deserving, you’re so deserving
yeah yeah yeah Whoooaaah
Love [x18]
From now on [repeat till fade]

I was actually unfamiliar with Natalie Cole until this blog post and going through some of her songs, I was drawn to this one. With it’s catchy beat and melodious harmonies, “This Will Be” caught my attention. Unlike some of her songs that I listened to which were much more mellow and slow, this song provides a different style. I like the instrumentation behind the song, the clapping, trumpets, drums, and piano, that help to keep the song upbeat and exciting while being simple and not excessive. Additionally, I enjoyed the happiness and carefreeness that Cole tries to relay through her song and lyrics. Although for me the higher notes near the end of the song were a little too high for my taste, I have to agree though that Cole is a talented singer. Her singing, expression, and technique create a strong foundation that allows for this song to be created as it is.