Hamlet begins with guards whose mainimportance in the play is to give credibility to the ghost. If Hamlet were tosee his fathers ghost in private, the argument for his madness would greatlyimprove. Yet, not one, but three men together witness the ghost before eventhinking to notify Hamlet. As Horatio says, being the only of the guards to playa significant role in the rest of the play, “Before my God, I might notthis believe / Without the sensible and true avouch / Of mine own eyes. (I.
i. 56-8)” Horatio, who appears frequently throughout the play, acts as anunquestionably sane alibi to Hamlet again when framing the King with hisreaction to the play. That Hamlet speaks to the ghost alone detracts somewhatfrom its credibility, but all the men are witness to the ghost demanding theyspeak alone. Horatio offers an insightful warning: What if it tempts you towardthe flood, my lord, Or to the dreadful summit of the cliff That beetles oerhis base into the sea, And there assume some other horrible form Which mightdeprive your sovereignty of reason, And draw you into madness? Think of it. (I. iv.
69-74) Horatios comment may be where Hamlet gets the idea to use a pleaof insanity to work out his plan. The important fact is that the ghost does notchange form, but rather remains as the King and speaks to Hamlet rationally. There is also good reason for the ghost not to want the guards to know what hetells Hamlet, as the play could not proceed as it does if the guards were tohear what Hamlet did. It is the ghost of Hamlets father who tells him,”but howsomever thou pursues this act, / Taint not thy mind.
(I. v. 84-5)” Later, when Hamlet sees the ghost again in his mothers room,her amazement at his madness is quite convincing. Yet one must take intoconsideration the careful planning of the ghosts credibility earlier in theplay.
After his first meeting with the ghost, Hamlet greets his friendscheerfully and acts as if the news is good rather than the devastation it reallyis. Horatio: What news, my lord? Hamlet: O, wonderful! Horatio: Good my lord,tell it. Hamlet: No, you will reveal it. (I.
v. 118-21) This is the first glimpseof Hamlets ability and inclination to manipulate his behavior to achieveeffect. Clearly Hamlet is not feeling cheerful at this moment, but if he letsthe guards know the severity of the news, they might suspect its nature. Anotherinstance of Hamlets behavior manipulation is his meeting with Ophelia whilehis uncle and Polonius are hiding behind a curtain.
Hamlets affection forOphelia has already been established in I. iii. , and his complete rejection ofher and what has transpired between them is clearly a hoax. Hamlet somehowsuspects the eavesdroppers, just as he guesses that Guildenstern and Rosencrantzare sent by the King and Queen to question him and investigate the cause of hissupposed madness in II. ii. Hamlets actions in the play after meeting theghost lead everyone except Horatio to believe he is crazy, yet that madness iscontinuously checked by an ever-present consciousness of action which never letshim lose control.
For example, Hamlet questions his conduct in his soliloquy atthe end of II. ii, but after careful consideration decides to go with hisinstinct and prove to himself without a doubt the Kings guilt beforeproceeding rashly. Even after the Kings guilt is proven with Horatio aswitness, Hamlet again reflects and uses his better judgement in the soliloquy atthe end of III. ii. before seeing his mother. He recognizes his passionatefeelings, but tells himself to “speak daggers to her, but use none,”as his fathers ghost instructed.
Again, when in the Kings chamber, Hamletcould perform the murder, but decides not to in his better judgement to ensurethat he doesnt go to heaven by dying while praying. As Hamlet tellsGuildenstern in II. ii. , “I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind issoutherly I know a hawk from a handsaw. ” This statement reveals out-rightHamlets intent to fool people with his odd behavior. This is after Poloniusenlightened comment earlier in the same scene, “though this be madness, yetthere is method int.”Shakespeare