Hamlet's Paranoia

Topics: Hamlet, Characters in Hamlet, William Shakespeare Pages: 6 (2158 words) Published: November 1, 2010
Hamlet, the eponymous hero of Shakespeare’s greatest work, descends swiftly into madness and paranoia after the murder of his father and the realization of his mother’s true, morally reprehensible, nature. As a result of these new responsibilities and extreme circumstances, Hamlet diverges from his usual, logical thinking into paranoia and over analysis, a condition that prevents him from trusting anyone. Hamlet, having been born a prince, is, for the first time, forced to make his own decisions after he learns of the true means of his father’s death. Another contributing factor to his madness is the constant probing of others into Hamlet’s sanity. These factors all contribute to Hamlets delay, and that delay contributes to the tragic downfall of Billy Shakespeare’s most brilliant hero at the hands of a distraught and vengeful Laertes.

Hamlet once saw his mother as the epitome of virtue. This image is dashed against the rocks when he finds her married, incestuously, to his uncle less than two months following his father’s death. Having only seen his mother with his father, Hamlet perceives that he has lost her after she marries Claudius. Hamlet has, “All his life he has believed in her, we may be sure, as such a son would” (Bradley, 98). Hamlet looks down upon his mother’s second marriage as disrespect to the memory of his father. Hamlet cries out “O, most wicked speed to post with such dexterity to incestuous sheets!” (I. 2. 161-62). Now alone save for Horatio, Hamlet’s madness is left to grow unchecked.

In his new solitude, Hamlet realizes that he lacks the ability to build new relationships and as such becomes intensely suspicious of all others. Hamlet also gains an almost tunnel vision like devotion to his father’s memory. This lack of trust manifests itself in what turns out to be Hamlet’s biggest mistake, not telling anyone about his encounter with the Ghost. Dodsworth This demonstration of paranoia carries and effect that “is twofold; Hamlet suggests that the Ghost is of no account, but he may be doing so because he is afraid or because he wants to conceal his complicity with it from his companions” (Dodsworth, 62). Hamlet does feel pain at the loss of his connections with others, but he sees them as a necessity, stating, “but break my heart, for I must hold my tongue.” (I. 2. 164).

Consumed by madness and paranoia, Hamlet becomes desperate for answers pertaining to his father and what he should do next. His father knows this, and as such comes to Hamlet as a ghost to provide guidance. Hamlet instantly believes the ghost and responds to his request of vengeance with an enthusiastic “I will” (I. 5. 4). Hill illustrates Hamlet’s desperation when “He assumes a stronger, and positive Emphasis, and cries out, kneeling, at the Word Father, for the most earnest effect of his application” (95). Even though he believes that the ghost is a holy ghost and not a goblin from hell, his paranoia prevents him from acting on the information departed to him. As a prince of the Danes, Hamlet was waited on hand and foot for the entirety of his life. Being such a pampered prince, he was unprepared for the hardships of having to takes ones life into one’s own hands, as he was required to do after the death of his father. One victim of such unpreparedness was Hamlet’s courage, a virtue he was drastically short on. Garber states “another Victorian critic, E.P. Vining, suggested that the answer to the problem was that Hamlet was really a woman in disguise, and that this accounted for both ‘his’ reluctance to fight and ‘his’ famous delay” (493), and uses this to defend his claim that Hamlet was an unfit specimen of a man. After the death of his father, however, Hamlet refuses the protection and shelter of his uncle-father saying that he is “a little more than kin and less than kind” (I. 2. 67). Hamlet is pushed out of his life as a boy and into the role of a man.

Having been thrust headfirst into manhood, Hamlet must...

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Bradley, A.C. Shakespearean Tragedy. New York: St. Martin’s Press. 1992.
Dodsworth, Martin. Hamlet Closely Observed. Dover, NH : Athlone, Press, 1985.
Erlich, Avi. Hamlet’s Absent Father. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 1985.
Garber, Marjorie. Shakespeare After All. New York: Pantheon Books, 2004.
Hill, Aaron, and William Popple. Critical Responses to Hamlet, Volume 1, 1600-1790. Ed. by David Farley-Hills. New York: AMS Press, 1997.
Orbison, Tucker. “‘This Distracted Globe’: Self in Hamlet.” Perspectives on Hamlet. William G. Holzberger and Peter B. Waldeck, ed. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1975.
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Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. New York: Washington Square Press, 1992.
Waldeck, Peter B. “Anxiety, Tragedy, and Hamlet’s Delay.” Perspectives on Hamlet. William G. Holzberger and Peter B. Waldeck, ed. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1975.
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