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This essay will analyze the theme of madness in William Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet.” It will explore the question of whether Hamlet’s madness is real or feigned and how this ambiguity contributes to the play’s dramatic tension. The piece will examine the character of Hamlet, his actions, and his state of mind, as well as how his perceived madness affects other characters and the play’s outcome. More free essay examples are accessible at PapersOwl about Hamlet.
William Shakespeare is one of the world’s most renowned writers still to date. He is the writer of 37 plays and 154 sonnets. One his most well-known plays is Hamlet, a tragedy filled with drama, revenge, madness, and death. The main character of the play, Hamlet, is the subject of whether he is actually mad or not. His indeed madness can be traced back to the tragic events that have occurred to him such as the death of his father and the marriage of mother and uncle.
Within William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, we see the rise and fall of Hamlet. Shakespeare’s Hamlet is about Hamlet, a prince who just lost his father and is out for revenge for his murder. Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius, poisoned his father. After his brother’s death, Claudius marries Hamlet’s mother, which now makes him King and Hamlet’s stepfather. A ghost appears to him, which is his father, and he seeks to get revenge for his father’s sake. The play ends in tragedy, with Hamlet, his mother, Claudius, and others lying dead on the floor, Fortinbras, the young prince from Norway whose father was killed by Hamlet’s father, claims the thrown of Denmark. The events that occurred during his life led to his madness. The death of his father was a traumatic event for him. An example of Hamlet going mad in the play because of these tragic events is when Hamlet says, “ Oh, that this is too sullied flesh would melt, thaw and resolve itself into a dew! Or that the Everlasting had not fixed, his canon ‘gainst self- slaughter! Oh, God, God, How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world! (Act 1, scene 2, lines 129-134).
How it works
In this quote, Hamlet is expressing how depressed he is over his father’s death, his mother’s marriage to his uncle, and when he says his “sullied flesh would melt” he is basically wishing death upon himself. This is an act of madness and insanity in the fact that he is wishing he were dead because he believes he would be better off dead. This is one of the first indications Hamlet has gone mad in the play.
Another example that Hamlet went mad in the play is when Hamlet is conversing with Ophelia. “ To a nunnery, go, and quickly too. Farewell… Heavenly powers, restore him!.. I have heard of your paintings too, well enough. God hath given you one face, and you make yourself another…” (Act III Scene 1, lines 1171- 136). This quote also presents the insanity of Hamlet to the reader with Ophelia realizing that Hamlet is indeed mad. Ophelia realizes Hamlet is mad when she recognizes that Hamlet knows Polonius us eaves dropping on the conversation but Hamlet keeps going on with his rageful words. By him continuing this madness, he eventually ruins his plot to get revenge for his father’s death. Hamlet’s actions go to show that he is unstable because he knows his plot is being unraveled due to him but he keeps on his rage because he is that mad.
Others believe Hamlet’s madness stemmed from other illnesses. In the article “Hamlet’s Madness by T.M Davie, “Dr. Stern and Dr. Whiles, makes the claim that Hamlet was mad and that he suffered from a mental illness called Ganser Syndrome. Ganser Syndrome is a mental illness where a person acts as if they have a mental illness when they do not have one in order to seek attention and or sympathy. Dr. Stern and Dr. Whiles base this claim on the point that there were many external reasons as to why Hamlet would assume and act in an insane state, which he told Horatio in the text. The text states
“We now have to consider the essential madness the psychosis which Drs. Stern and Whiles describe and illustrate, but which they do not name. They recount as proof of Hamlet’s insanity that he was suffering from melancholia, that he was suicidal, excitable and hysterical, hallucinated and lacking in insight; and finally they have Hamlet’s own corroboration of their diagnosis.” (Davie 450),
7This backs the claim that Hamlet is indeed mad and that he went mad due to the tragic events that occurred in his life, and also the melancholia he faced due to those tragic events. They also make the claim that Hamlet’s behavior depended very much on whether he had onlooker or not, claiming his behavior was worse in the face of others. This behavior all stemmed from his suffering of melancholia which was result of his suicidal thoughts and hallucinated. In the article it states “The soliloquies which reveal his sore distraction and despondency make manifest at the same -time that he was fundamentally sane. Ophelia’s madness is never in doubt; but Hamlet, it seems to me, though on the brink, never passes into lunacy.” (Davie 450) Soliloquies is a conversation with oneself within a text. Talking to oneself when no one else is around is commonly viewed as an indication of one being insane.
“His excitability and hysteria are evident enough, though the passages adduced to demonstrate them are susceptible of an entirely different interpretation: “Hillo ho ho boy” for example, was a well-known Elizabethan form of greeting derived from the falconer’s call, as ˜Come bird come shows it to be. The question of Hamlet’s hallucinations is rather more complicated. If any of our patients were to report that they had seen and received verbal instructions from a ghost we would have no hesitation in ascribing their condition to hallucinations…”
this further explores how Hamlet can seem to be completely sane at times, thou he is far from near sane. This source supports the claim that Hamlet is mad and his behavior is a result of that. The diagnosis of Ganser Syndrome is significant because it is a mental illness that Hamlet supposedly suffered from, which all adds together to support my claim that Hamlet was insane.
Others believe Hamlet’s insanity is caused by events in his life. The article “Feigned Madness- Treatment of Theatre Imagery in Shakespeare’s’ Hamlet” by Adapptu Ancy further explores the insanity of Hamlet. In this article, the author makes the claim that Hamlet is mad for multiple reasons, with those reasons being due to death, obsession, and betrayal. It also goes into how when Hamlet lost his father and seeing a ghost that no one saw was a coping mechanism for Hamlet. Hamlet’s father was murdered, it was an unexpected death. Hamlet didn’t have the chance to say goodbye to his father. He talks to the ghost as a way to cope with his death and have closure with his father. But talking to a ghost is a sign of insanity and madness.
Hamlet uses madness as a way to defend himself from the world. They state “At first Hamlet’s madness is considered as harmless and have been caused by no other than the problems that are present. However when hamlet murders Polonius, Hamlet’s madness is interpreted differently. Hamlet’s madness is compared to a “foul disease”. (Ancy 5) “His madness is no longer dismissed as a common problem of grief over his father’s death, resentment in his mother’s marriage or disappointed love. Claudius like others during the renaissance “would not understand”. Hamlet’s madness and distance him from it with the assumption that “disease” is dangerous “ At first, Hamlet’s madness is looked at as harmless but it progresses throughout the play as being just dangerous on Hamlet’s part. The madness all stems from Hamlet’s father being murdered and his resentment for his mother’s marriage to his uncle. This article helps support the claim because it supports my claim that Hamlet is insane due to traumatic events that have happened to him. His actions throughout the play such as talking to ghosts help me make my argument and gives me another example as to why and how Hamlet is mad.
The article “Mechanics of Madness in Hmalet, Macbeth and King Lear” by Shweta Bali further dives into the topic of Hamlet’s insanity and madness. This text starts out with insanity being defined as “‘mental illness or derangement’ perpetuating ravings, loss of reason, dementia, psychosis, paranoia, hallucinations and schizophrenia”. The author goes to explain how a powerful figure in the world of psychology, Freud, also analyzed Hamlet and came to the conclusion that all his madness stems from the Oedipus Complex. The Oedipus complex is a theory that is defined as “he complex of emotions aroused in a young child, typically around the age of four, by an unconscious sexual desire for the parent of the opposite sex and a wish to exclude the parent of the same sex”. This would support the ideology that Hamlet has unconscious sexual desires for his mother, who just got herself into a new marriage with the man who murdered his beloved father. He becomes insane because of the new marriage after is father’s murder.
The author also makes the claim that Shakespeare displays multiple forms of insanity, which include paranoia, hallucinations, suspicion, secrecy, and confinement. The hallucinations of the ghosts contribute to him being perceived as mad. The author explains that Hamlet embodies the unreliability and unpredictability of humans with mental illnesses. The quote “ He epitomizes the unreliability and unpredictability of human emotions and actions. Distraught as he is at the death of his father, he hasty incestuous marriage of his mother and the general unnerving atmosphere of Denmark further unnerve Hamlet. He displays a definite inability to cope with the loss and the consequent developments in Denmark.” This quote embodies that Hamlet is mentally unstable and he is not sane at all. He can’t cope with all that has happened to him and the crumbling down of his country around him. Everything is come down on him so he can’t help but go mad and insane. This helps the argument because this article talks about the different motives about Hamlet’s madness. It gives insight to the Oedipus Complex, which was not presented in any other articles. This relates back to how Hamlet shows inanity partly because of his mother and uncle’s marriage.
In the article “Intertextual Madness in “Hamlet” The Ghost’s Fragmented Performativity.” By Kallendorf Hilaire, explores textual evidence in supporting the claim that Hamlet is mad. In this article, the author is exploring the concept that Hamlet’s madness is real and because Hamlet’s madness is associated intertextually with the demonic possession of the ghost which embodies the evil within the play. The author explains “…identity and madness are verbally constructed … Like the symptoms of melancholy, they carry a plurality of meanings, an excess of interpretations… Madness produces and is produced by a fragmented of discourse.” Hamlet is a complex enough character, with the madness aspect only adding to the characterization of Hamlet.” (Kallendorf 171)The quote from the article helps to further support my argument by stating the intertextual evidence all comes to together to piece together an insane Hamlet. This article helps make the argument in the fact that the author makes the claim that Hamlet is mad due to the evilness of ghosts in the play. My overall argument is assuring that Hamlet is indeed mad and that the presence of the ghosts contributes to the insanity.
While Hamlet is mad, he is also a victim. In the article “ Hamlet, “A Man to Double Business Bound” by Anna K. Nardo, explains that in this article, the author makes the claim that Hamlet is indeed mad, but is also a victim to Double Binds. Double Binds is defined as “an emotionally distressing dilemma in communication in which an individual (or group) receives two or more conflicting messages, and one message negates the other.” According to the article, recent studies done by psychologists who have made the claim that Hamlet suffers from the double bind syndrome and how because of the double bind ultimately leads to the tragedy of the play. This article also relate the double bind theory back to the Oedipus Complex previously explained in a previous article. This article supports the argument because it further uses psychology to support the argument that Hamlet is indeed mad. The Double Bind theory is an argument yet to be presented in any of the article previously referred to and it brings up a new concept as to why Hamlet is mad. In the article, it states
“Psychologists who have tried to define the double bind have discovered the truth behind Polonius’ verbiage: ‘for, to define true madness, / What is’t but to be nothing else but mad?’ (Act 11 Scene 2.93-94). Their efforts over the past twenty years have produced a term used to describe a pattern of communication often found in familes with a schizophrenic adolescent or young adult. The pattern occurs
Through Hamlet’s actions and behaviors, we see that Hamlet is not pretending to be mad, he is indeed mad. His madness can be traced back to the tragic events that have occurred to him such as the death of his father and the marriage of mother and uncle.
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