Madness in Hamlet
Madness as a theme in Hamlet takes the shape of an ambiguouscharacterization. Shakespeare assesses the issue of madness in theplay with Hamlet playing the insane role flawlessly well. Thisinsanity is brooded by Hamlet’s distrust of other people inaddition to his paranoia and melancholic perception of things. Fromthese characteristics, one perceives Hamlet as a person sufferingfrom Psychotic Depression. The main character in the play has atendency to be caught up in multiple personalities as well as beingdelusional and suicidal, which warrants his categorization as aparanoid, depressed and psychotic character (MacDonell 178). In thisregards, the assessment of the protagonist will substantiate thefeigned madness that exists within the play.
At the beginning of the play, Hamlet recites about his sadness, whichhe uses to alert the audience for his forthcoming fit of distress andinsanity. His distress brought about by the marriage of his mother tohis murderous uncle causes mental instability to him. This processleads Hamlet to contemplate suicide, which is further accentuated bythe melancholic reference of himself. In addition, Hamlet becomesacutely depressed, and his desire to commit suicide increases. Rightfrom the start, Hamlet expresses signs of strong distress, as hevoices his desires by saying “O that this too solid flesh wouldmelt Thaw and resolve itself into a dew! (Scene 1, ii, 1 and 2).
From the above analysis, a reader may be misled to think thatHamlet’s eventual madness is real. However, there is enoughevidence within the play to show that he feigned his insanity inorder to mislead a host of people including the king and members ofhis service. Hamlet intends to behave in an odd and strange manner todeceive his uncle and aunt who indeed is his mother when he says, “AsI perchance hereafter shall think meet, to put an antic dispositionon” (Scene 1, 5, 58). His friend Guildenstem emphasizes thatHamlet’s madness is a crafty one and he cannot be fooled by hisintimations as he intimates that “hisuncle-father and aunt-mother are deceived” and Hamlet wasonly mad “north-north –west” ," (Scene 2, ii, 180)”.
On the other hand, while arranging for a play with Horatio, Hamletrefers to himself as idle just before the court party enters thestage. He also refers to the belief held by majority of the peoplewithin the court that he is mad and tells his mother that “Iessentially am not in madness,But mad in craft” (Scene 3, iv,188) meaning that he was not truly mad but just assuming the role inorder to achieve his objectives. The first people to believe in hisfeigned madness are the king and Polonius, but even they are full ofdoubts with regard to his true state of sanity. Polonius evenattributes Hamlet’s madness to the notion that Ophelia has rejectedhim and his love and goes on to tell the king that “your noble sonis mad” (Scene 2, ii, 92). Even though the king accepts Polonius’judgment, he does not believe in it and calls on his henchmen toinvestigate why Hamlet was acting the way he was and confusing peoplein the process.
Ophelia, on the other hand, perceives Hamlet as mad because of hislove to her. To Hamlet though, Ophelia’s conduct is incoherent andstrange and she cannot be regarded as a judge of sanity as sheunderstood less about lunacy (Shakespeare 94). Hamlet perceives heras incapable of understanding him, let alone getting into his mindand understanding his mind and thoughts. In addition, Hamletsinsanity takes place only in the presence of specific individualswhere he acts normal around Bernando, Francisco, and Horatio, andacts mad in the presence of Polonius, Ophelia, Gertrude, Claudius,Guildenstem and Rosencrantz (MacDonell 88). All through the play,Hamlet at no time doubts his sanity and he believes in his controlover his mental status. Hamlet even regards Ophelia as the truereflection of madness and though his actions may be seen as mimickingOphelia’s madness, they offer a contrasting case of true andmadness with object.
Conversely, in some parts within the play, Hamlet becomes aggressivetowards Ophelia with some of his acts appearing less self-controlled,as Ophelia narrates, “Like sweet bells jangled out of tune, andharsh" (Scene 3, i, 158.). Many people argue that if Hamlet’smadness were feigned, he at least would reserve some courtesy towardsOphelia and Gertrude, and direct his rage only towards his uncle.However, Hamlet has to bring out his cruelty, unforgiving andimpulsive nature to the fore, even in the presence of his mother toadvance his status as a true mad man. He does not think that Opheliais sane in all that she does, yet he chooses to mislead other peopleusing the same state of insanity as a tool of exacting his revenge.As a theme, madness as expressed in Hamlet comes with differentassociate actions, which are used to judge a person’s character.While a person may be justified in acting in a certain manner,especially if they feel that they need to act that way as a result ofearlier actions against them, it is improper for them to judge otherswho naturally act like them (Gardner 113).
The society leans towards the oppressed in their pursuit for justicebut with most cases of injustices taking place in the family, theoppressed become the villains if they try to attain justice in theirown means. More often than not, we are engrossed in issues thatrequire us to change the way in which we interact with other people.As such, people tend to display our negative attitudes and prejudicesto them without reflecting on the repercussions of our actions. Inthis respect, the feigned madness of Hamlet may be taken to refer tothe things people do unconsciously that hurt other people with theirintention being to achieve something else (Gardner 124).
In effect, Hamlet without being truly insane plays the idea ofinsanity, which he adopts too well to exact retribution. Withoutdoubt, it is true to say that Hamlet’s insanity was a fake. He sawit as a means of attaining his objectives and with so doing mislead ahost of people to regard him as mad. However, his initial intentionwas to mislead them and only reflected his true nature to himself andthe people he trusted. In the Shakespearean society, Hamlet’sactions may as well reflect the mainstream activities of the day.With the society leaning more towards the self, Hamlet’s emotions,depression, paranoia and madness is used to show the lack of concernthat people had over others, with some feigning ignorance to partywith the devil himself (Gardner 167). Hamlet’s actions betray hismistrust towards Ophelia and his mother, which is reminiscent of themistrust and negative attitude that the society had on close friendsand family members. By playing the role of a lunatic, Hamlet intendsto say and do anything and face no consequences for it, just as atrue maniac would. This displays the betrayal of people’s valuesthat they put aside to satisfy personal motives without consideringthat they hurt many people in such pursuits (Gardner 188).
Through a psychoanalysis, it can be established that Hamlet’sfeigned madness is because of unachievable illusions, which tend tocomplicate the life of the victim as they intercross with otherpeople who further complicate their mission. The society is awashwith revenge missions, which remove a part of humanity, as peopletend to overexert their efforts in ruining other people’s livesinstead of concentrating on basic virtues in life. This madness asreflected by Hamlet leads people to commit greater evils than thosethey are trying to requite. This is the kind of madness that theyunintentionally pick up but one driven by deleterious energies andthoughts, which should be controlled by virtues such as forgiveness(Gardner 123).
By contemplating to murder his uncle because he murdered his father,Hamlet reflects what the people in the society are hell bent on doingwhen they suffer a wrong. Acts of revenge rob people off their sanityin a manner that they commit things that go beyond their values andideals without considering better options. In Hamlet’s case,feigning madness has a lot of impact in his life as it in some pointthrows him off course from his main objective and he starts affectingthose close to him including his wife. While Ophelia is innocentlyand unambiguously mad, Hamlet’s madness can be seen to improve hisself-awareness, which may not be the case for everyone in the modernsociety, as he too loses some balance later in his play-acting. Thisis evident in the instance when he realizes that he is not betterplaced in his revenge mission than the offender he sought to punish(Shakespeare 99).
Gardner, Sebastian. Irrationalityand the philosophy of pychoanalysis.Digitally printed 1st pbk. version. ed. Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press, 2006. Print.
MacDonell, Patrick. Anessay on the tragedy of Hamlet: embracing a view of Hamlet`scharacter–his feigned or real madness–conduct to Ophelia–thesoliloquy on suicide, &c., &c., interspersed with reflectionson the writings and genius of Shakespeare.Cambridge: Cambridge, 2002. Print.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet.Cambridge: Cambridge U.P., 1968. Print.