Madness in Hamlet

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Alexander Repp
5/1/12
Cooney—043
Madness in Hamlet
In his play Hamlet, Shakespeare introduces a plethora f symbols and themes to draw the audiences deeper into the world of complex characters that he has created. One theme that drew my attention was Hamlet’s apparent struggle with madness. This motif of apparent madness is masterfully exploited to create a deeper meaning to the play: that appearances are deceptive.

Upon learning of his father the King Hamlet’s death, Hamlet turns to pursuing revenge, as was quite typical for the day. As a disguise for his motives, he decides to feign insanity in a soliloquy [II, ii, 475-531]. If taken at face value, the rest of the play would appear to follow Hamlet’s masterful acting skills. However, if one reads more into the play, it is quickly apparent that all is not what it seems. The first evidence of this is the messenger of Hamlet’s father’s doom: the mysterious ghost. Hamlet knows not to trust the ghost; a rational decision by most measures. However, the news that the ghost bears flusters him, and he decides to find the truth for himself before carrying out his revenge (another seemingly rational decision). However, throughout the play, Hamlet finds it difficult to discover any moral truths. Spying on Claudius (the suspect of his father’s murder) and staging a play about regicide both fail to work, and the difficulty of finding any moral truths quickly takes a toll on Hamlet. For example, in Act III scene IV, Hamlet converses directly with the ghost in front of his mother. This is unsettling to Gertrude, as it would be to anyone. Beholding your son conversing with an apparition immediately after Hamlet murders a man in a fit of rage would earn most people an acquittal from the murder by reason of insanity. This could be explained away by Hamlet’s “acting”, but I would argue that this is extreme stage-play even by Hamlet’s standards, and sheds light on Hamlet’s deteriorating sanity. Furthermore, there are striking...
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