Hamlet’s Madness Williams 1 Chris Williams Mrs. Percy/Mr. Kinnie ENG-OA1-01 20 October 2000 Is Hamlet Mad? Not Likely Madness is a condition of the mind which eliminates all rational thought leaving an individual with no proper conception of what is happening around him/her. Madness typically occurs in the minds of individuals that have experienced an event or series of events that their mind simply cannot cope with and, thus, to avoid their harsh reality, they fall into a state of madness. In William Shakespeare’s masterpiece Hamlet, there is much debate around the protagonist, Hamlet, and whether or not his madness in the play was real or feigned. It was a disastrous time in the prince, Hamlet’s life as his father had just passed away, his uncle then took the kingship and wed Hamlet’s mother, then the ghost of his deceased father appeared to him with instructions for revenge and, finally, the love of his life was no longer permitted to see the prince by order of the lady’s father.
This would seem to many to be reason enough for an individual to lose touch with reality and fall into madness, but this was not the case with the brilliant strong-minded Hamlet. Though the prince displayed numerous signs of madness during the play, Hamlet never lost touch with reality as he continued acting rational both in his thoughts as well as while speaking with certain individuals. If Hamlet were truthfully insane, he would not have been able to suddenly stop displaying his insanity as he did in the play after his altercation with Laertes in the graveyard. He also had motive for putting on the contrivance as it would disguise his investigation of his father’s strange death and his plans for revenge against his uncle Claudius if he found him to be guilty. After Hamlet witnessed the appearance of his dead father’s ghost and heard what the spirit had to say, Hamlet’s sole mission in life was to uncover the truth behind his Williams 2 father’s death and avenge it accordingly. By putting on this scheme it would serve him better on his quest as opposed to going about his business in a sane and rational manner. Firstly, it allowed Hamlet to confuse those around him about what the cause of his troubled mind was and, also, about what his true intentions are behind any of his actions.
This thought is portrayed through Hamlet deceiving Polonius into believing that his love for Ophelia was the root of his madness. Consequently, Polonius went immediately to the king and queen who remark: “Do you think ’tis this? / It may be; very like” (2.2.151-52). After Hamlet’s encounter with the ghost, he obtains a great distrust and distaste for women. His feigned madness permitted Hamlet to express these emotions freely towards Ophelia: “..Get thee to a nunnery, / farewell. Or if thou wilt needs marry, marry a / fool; for wise men know well enough what monsters / you make of them..” (3.1.138-41).
It was also important for Hamlet to be so vulgar towards Ophelia because it would not have been possible for him to continue being a caring loving boyfriend while attempting to avenge his father’s death. Lastly, by pretending to be mentally disturbed, it provided Hamlet with an excuse for any sinful deeds he would commit on his pursuit of revenge. Hamlet exemplifies this conception as he seeks for Laertes forgiveness for murdering his father Polonius: “If Hamlet from himself be ta’en away, / And when he’s not himself does wrong Laertes, / Then Hamlet does it not, Hamlet denies it. / Who does it then? His madness..” (5.2.230-33). Hamlet’s pursuit of the truth and revenge was much better accompanied by madness rather than sanity which gave Hamlet a clear motive to fabricate insanity in the play. In the midst of Hamlet’s supposed madness, the prince continues to speak rationally with certain individuals as well as maintain sensible and logical thoughts.
This idea is depicted through his conversations with his good friend Horatio who is assisting Hamlet in his search for the truth behind Old Hamlet’s death. For example, before the performance of the play Hamlet explains to Horatio, “There is a play tonight before the Williams 3 king: / One scene of it comes near the circumstance / Which I have told thee of my father’s death. / I prithee, when thou seest that act afoot, / Even with the very comment of thy soul / Observe my uncle. If his occulted guilt / Do not itself unkennel in one speech, / It is a damned ghost that we have seen” (3.2.75-82). Hamlet has devised a plan to determine his uncle’s guilt and is outlining it to Horatio and asking for some assistance with complete sanity. Hamlet’s thought process remains sane and logical through the entire play as he examines his life in his soliloquies. In these soliloquies Hamlet ponders the question of suicide and what the ramifications of it are: To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles And by opposing end them.
To die-to sleep, No more; and by a sleep to say we end The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to: ’tis a consummation Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep; To sleep, perchance to dream-ay, there’s the rub: For in that sleep of death what dreams may come. (3.1.56-66) In other soliloquies Hamlet explores the faults of passion and how emotions can be faked as well as his own character flaws such as his inability to take action. A third portrayal of the prince’s sanity occurs during Hamlet’s conversation with his mother after the spirit of Old Hamlet came but revealed itself only to Hamlet. Hamlet talks to his mother in a clear, truthful and rational manner and even offers to Gertrude: “..It is not madness / That I have utter’d.
Bring me to the test, / And I the matter will re-word, which madness / would gambol from..” (3:4:143-46). In conclusion, if Hamlet was an individual Williams 4 consumed by madness, he would have entertained only irrational thoughts and would not have had the power to choose certain individuals to speak rationally with. The final argument proving Hamlet’s sanity during the course of the play is that after Hamlet’s altercation with Laertes at Ophelia’s funeral, Hamlet suddenly ceases to put on this antic disposition. During Hamlet’s feigned madness, whenever he was speaking to someone that was not aware of his plan he would ridicule them but in the form of ambiguous metaphors and irony to imitate madness. After the conflict with Laertes, however, Hamlet no longer continued this masking of his insults.
For example, while speaking to Osric, one of the king’s courtiers, Hamlet remarks: “Thy state is the more gracious, for ’tis a vice to / know him. He hath much land and fertile. Let a / beast be lord of beasts and his crib shall stand at the / king’s mess. ‘Tis a chuff, but, as I say, spacious in the / possession of dirt” (5:2:85-89). Hamlet makes no attempt here to disguise the fact that he believes that Osric is a member of the court only because he possesses a great deal of fertile land. Immediately prior to Hamlet and Laertes engaging in their duel Hamlet, whilst speaking in a sane coherent fashion, requests: “Give me your pardon, sir. I have done you wrong; / But pardon’t as you are a gentleman” (5:2:222-23).
If Hamlet were truly mad he would not recognize the wrongs he committed against others and possess feelings of anguish over them. Further proof that Hamlet is no longer acting mad is that in the final moments of his life he performs very noble acts that were executed out of the goodness of his heart. One of these acts consisted of drinking the remainder of the poison left in the glass that Claudius and Gertrude had already drank from, to prevent Horatio sipping from this glass and dying as well. Madness is a mental illness that does not come and go as it pleases and, therefore, Hamlet could not have been truly mad as he simply interrupted his antic disposition once again acting completely sane. Hamlet was a great individual, who when confronted with a number of tragedies in his life, as well as with the proposition that his uncle killed his father, he did not lose Williams 5 control of his conscious mind, but instead, knew exactly how to resolve his pending maladies. There is no question that his apparent madness was his own concoction devised to aid in his efforts in revealing the truth behind his father’s death and seeking out to revenge it.
His motives for doing so were to keep his investigation hidden for as long as possible, to drive away all other aspects of his life that might interfere with his task and to absolve himself of all guilt he may acquire while on his quest. There is proof in his actions that his madness was feigned as he continued thinking rationally and speaking logically to characters like Horatio and Gertrude. A madman’s thought are not composed of logical rationale and he does not speak sanely to some, while at the same time, insanely to others. Hamlet then suddenly drops his antic disposition right after his dispute with Laertes in the graveyard as he began speaking and acting completely normal at all times which was illustrated while he mocked the courtier, Osric. The absence of hamlet’s madness was exemplified further as he confessed feelings of remorse towards Laertes for killing Polonius and Hamlet also performs extremely noble acts as his life was waning.
True madness is an illness that inhibits the mind of an individual and assumes total control of thought and action within that person. It is not a condition that flourishes only when called upon or that can be completely disregarded if the host wishes to ignore it. Social Issues.