The Question of Madness in Shakespeare's Hamlet

Topics: Hamlet, Characters in Hamlet, Prince Hamlet Pages: 10 (4008 words) Published: July 8, 2007
In Shakespeare's play, "Hamlet", one of the main themes is the internal struggle of the title character. In fact, his state of mind has been the subject of many articles, books and essays. They all ponder the question, is Hamlet truly mad or is he playing a part to unveil a horrific truth within his own family? The young prince's situation is complicated. Is it "unseemly", as Claudius and Gertrude suggest, for Hamlet to continue to grieve for his father's unexpected demise? Is it crazy for a son to be angry at the upheaval of his family and overwhelmed by the stress this unique experience has caused? Hamlet is not mad but sunk into a deep depression after losing his father.

Hamlet's depression is conveyed in the earliest scenes of the play. When Hamlet is first addressed by his Mother and Uncle he expresses contempt for the King when he mutters under his breath, "A little more than kin and less than kind." (A1, S2, L67). He is very depressed that his father is dead and his family is pretending not to care. They don't even acknowledge that Hamlet might feel uncomfortable with their union. The King asks him, "How is it that the clouds still hang on you?"(A1, S2, L68), and the Queen reasons to Hamlet, "thou know'st ‘tis common; all that lives must die." (A1, S2, L4). Hamlet's mother and "Uncle Father" insist that he stop mourning his father and get on with his life. They imply that he is acting immaturely and not like a man. The Queen and King do not understand that Hamlet is very deeply affected by the recent events in his life and feels betrayed, not only because of his fathers' untimely death, but because his mother got remarried after only two months to his own father's brother. Hamlet feels alone in his sorrow, "trapped in his suits of woe" (A1, S2, L89).

Hamlet's friends, Horatio and Marcellus, come to him after seeing the ghost of King Hamlet. Hamlet is desperately seeking closure for the loss of his father and anxiously demands that Horatio and Marcellus reveal to him what they have seen. They take Hamlet to the site where his fathers' ghost appears. The ghost will not speak to Hamlet in front of his friends, so he signals for Hamlet to follow him. Horatio and Marcellus hold him back and tell him not to go. They feared that the ghost may have malicious motives and may kill him or lead him off a cliff. Hamlet replies: "Why what should be the fear?

I do not set my life at a pin's fee.
And for my soul, what can I do to that,
Being a thing immortal as itself?" (A1, S4, L72-76)
Hamlet does not value his life at this point and has given up. His depression has taken over and, "He has become a tormented soul struggling to survive in a world that has lost its meaning for him, and he scarcely cares if he survives or not" (Lidz, Page 64) Hamlet orders Horatio and Marcellus to let him go, "Hold off your hands" (A1, S5, L89) He then follows the ghost. The ghost of King Hamlet reveals a horrible reality to his son. He tells him that his own brother, Claudius, had poisoned him. This knowledge only increases Hamlet's depression and feelings of betrayal. He is searching for a way to make things right after his encounter with the ghost. "Hamlet accepts the "duty" of revenge at a moment when, Harrowed by depression, he is laboring under profound moral shock." (King, 110) This sequence of events is crucial in arguing the question of madness in Hamlet. This is the first concrete sign that he is not mad. If Shakespeare's goal was to make Hamlet appear mad then he would have written/directed this play so that the ghost would only be seen in the presence of Hamlet. As it is, the ghost was seen first by some minor characters. These men are more trustworthy because they don't have the ulterior political motives that the main characters have. If Hamlet were really crazy, a great way for Shakespeare to show it would be to have the ghost appear only to him. It would make much more sense as a hallucination of...

Cited: 1. King, Walter N.. Hamlet 's Search for Meaning. Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press, 1982.
2. Levin, Harry. The Question of Hamlet. New York: Oxford University Press, 1959.
3. Lidz, Theodore. Hamlet 's Enemy: Madness and Myth in Hamlet. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1975.
4. Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. New York: A Washington Square Press, 1992.
5. Somerville, H.. Madness in Shakespearian Tragedy. Folcroft, PA: The Folcroft Press, Inc., 1929.
6. Wofford, Susanne L.. William Shakepeares ' Hamlet: Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin 's, 1994. Codden, Karin S. "Such Strange Desygns": Madness, Subjectivity, and Treason in Hamlet and Elizabethan Culture.
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