Madness And Insanity In Shakespeare's Hamlet Is Hamlet Mad?

2504 words - 11 pages

Is Hamlet Mad?

 

Perhaps the world's most famous mental patient, Hamlet's sanity has been

argued over by countless learned scholars for hundreds of years.  As a mere

student of advanced-level English Literature, I doubt I can add anything new to

the debate in 2000 words, but I can look at the evidence supporting or

dispelling each argument and come to my own conclusion.

 

Hamlet is obviously experiencing grief and despair right from the beginning of

the novel, with the death of his father and his uncle's seizure of the throne

and rapid weddign of Hamlet's mother, and we can observe his great grief

bordering on irrational suicidal tendencies as early as Act II ...view middle of the document...

  This speech is quite ironic, because it is Hamlet's "one

defect" (his hesitancy and inability to take action), regardless of his other

qualities (such as honour and integrity), will be the main reason why the play

ends so tragically.

 

Although we are supposed to suspect that "something is rotten in the state of

Denmark", as Horatio puts it, from the start of the play, it is only when Hamlet

talks with the ghost of his father in Act I Sc V that we realise the full extent

of his uncle's treachery.  When he first sees the ghost, Horatio and Marcellus

try to restrain him, Horatio saying:

 

          "What if it tempt you toward the flood, my lord,

           Or to the dreadful summit of the cliff

           That beetles o'er his base into the sea,

           And there assume some other horrible form,

           Which might deprive your sovereignty of reason,

           And draw you into madness?"

 

Horatio is afraid that the ghost will get Hamlet to follow him to a cliff

hanging over the sea, and then change into some other apparition, making Hamlet

lose his mind and his sovereign power of reason. These words are very ironic,

for as a result of seeing the ghost and hearing the dreadful truth about his

father's murder and mother's adultery Hamlet says he will put on an "antic

disposition", telling the others that he will act oddly, but that they musn't

tell anyone why he is doing so.  Hamlet has already told us that he is a man of

thought rather than action (earlier in the play he says that Claudius is as

different to his father "as I to Hercules"), and he is going to act oddly so

that the King doesn't suspect Hamlet is plotting his downfall.  However, Horatio

and Marcellus even now think that Hamlet is acting rather strangely, saying

"These are wild and whirling words, my lord", and "this is wondrous strange".

 

The next passage of interest is in Act II Sc II, when Claudius says to his

Rozencrantz and Guildenstern:

 

          "... Something have you heard

           Of Hamlet's transformation; so call it,

           Since nor th' exterior nor the inward man

           Resembles that it was."

 

Claudius is keen to talk of Hamlet's rumoured madness, because he thinks Hamlet

might know something about his treachery and wants to deflect his guilt and

detract from Hamlet's credibility.  To the audience, who have already heard the

ghost's speech, Claudius seems to be going...

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