To Define Madness

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Hamlet's madness is one of many disguises used to gain power over others. Because the line between madness and sanity is subject to change (depending on the context of ones actions), Hamlet's choice of disguise is both the most effective and the most volatile form of power in Shakespeare's play.

There are considerable distinctions between the actions of Hamlet in his "mad" state of mind and the few other characters that undoubtedly lost sanity. Hamlet is a smart, scholarly man, and faking a mental disability could certainly be apart of his plot to avenge his father's death, which was a command of his father. Hamlet gives a warning to Horatio and others that he might act strangely at times, which would put whatever mad tendencies he displays into perspective. He unmistakably informs his mother, the queen Gertrude, that she was not to reveal to Claudius that he was "…not in madness, but mad in craft" (3.4.209-210). She is not convinced that her son is alright, however, he is clear in his point. A mad man would certainly not care about other's thoughts and opinions of him. There are many less reasons for him going mad, and as a scholar he would have more sense than to not tell anyone. Hamlet would certainly tell his friend Horatio that he was not feeling himself if given the chance, which he never did. Horatio would have noticed if his friend was acting out of the ordinary without reason, and brought it to someone's attention, had it been serious enough. The first time the king and queen become aware of his "madness" is when Polonius announces it to them and tells them f Hamlet's love for his daughter, Ophelia: "Your noble son is mad. "Mad" call I it, for, to define true madness, what is't but to be nothing else but mad? (2.2.99-101).

Polonius is an untrustworthy character, and does not do anything in the whole length of the play to help Hamlet with any of his problems, chiefly caused by Polonius and the King. He is the first to bring the idea of Hamlet's insanity to the King and Queen; therefore, at first, it could just be a technique to give more reason to send Hamlet away to England. Ophelia reports to her father that Hamlet was somewhat violent with her, both physically and verbally. From her description he displayed drastic unawareness, through his lack of proper clothing and insensible speech, so much that it seems highly improbable that he went mad so quickly. It most likely would have been a more gradual process. Later while Hamlet is speaking to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, there is no textual note of odd dress, or unordinary facial expressions through the rest of the play, like those that Ophelia reported to her father. Hamlet is talking as anyone would when he greeted his childhood friends, a large contrast to the tone and attitude he had moments before they entered the room. His remark "these tedious old fools" (2.2.237), referring to Polonius and Claudius, is a glimpse of Hamlet's sane side, which he was choosing not to show to the king and his advisor. After the play, The Murder of Gonzogo, Hamlet talks to Horatio about Claudius' reaction to the play, and seems to be fine. It would be very strange that the prince would be able to regain his sanity after such intense periods of speaking gibberish. Given this evidence, it is already assumable that it is a show the others are seeing, not true madness. Queen Gertrude is confronted again with the idea of her son's madness. When he faces her in her chambers, the ghost of his dead father visits Hamlet, Gertrude claims not to see the ghost of her late husband, asking "Whereon do you look?"(3:4:141), which may or may not be true. Given that his mother is telling the truth, it is still highly probable that the ghost is physically in the room, rather than in the mind of Hamlet. In the first scene of the play, upon the ghost entering for the first time, it makes itself clear in that it will not speak to Horatio, Bernardo, or Marcellus. The only human it converses...
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