How does Shakespeare introduce the theme of madness in the first two acts of Hamlet?
It is debatable whether Hamlet’s apparent madness is natural, due to the series of previous events, or whether he feigns his madness. The first line of the play- ‘who’s there?’ immediately creates a sense of the unknown, and this is supported by the fear of a potential invasion from Norway on Denmark at the time the play is set.
The first sign of Hamlet’s madness is evident when the Ghost departs after speaking of the terrors of hell. It is clear that Hamlet is extremely disturbed by the visit from his father, from the beginning of his first soliloquy Scene 2, Line 129, ‘O, that this too too sullied flesh would melt’; showing that the death of his father along with the marriage between his mother and Claudius have led him to feel that life is not worth living. The soliloquy also includes repetition and Hamlet occasionally corrects himself, displaying that his thoughts are unstructured and confused. The last line of the soliloquy, ‘But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue’ implies to the audience that if he locks up all the anger and heartbreak he has just displayed in the soliloquy, he will grow insane because of his inability to express these emotions.
Even when talking to his good friend, Horatio, Hamlet uses grotesque imagery when speaking of his mother’s wedding, ‘the funeral baked meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables’. Hamlet is referring to the fact that because his mother’s wedding was so soon after his father’s funeral, they could have used the leftover meat from the funeral to feed the guests at the wedding. It is evident the only things on Hamlet’s mind are his feelings of bitterness and disgust towards his mother and Claudius.
Shakespeare reminds the audience of Hamlet’s madness in Scene 4 through the use of questioning from Hamlet, ‘With thoughts beyond the reaches of our souls? Say, why is this? Wherefore? What should we do?’ Hamlet’s...
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