Samples Shakespeare Is Hamlet Mad?

Is Hamlet Mad?

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The question of Hamlet’s insanity is of vital importance for how one understands Shakespeare’s play. If one determines that Hamlet genuinely loses his mind, then the play should primarily be considered to be a tragedy of madness; and of insanity that is brought on by the inability to cope with grief and with responsibilities proceeding from it. One the other hand, if one considers Hamlet’s insanity to be an act, and to be something that emerges only as a matter of cunning, the play can be understand as a tragedy of false planning, and the inability of a brilliant actor to bring their plan to fruition.

However, it is also possible to argue that questions of whether or Hamlet is mad must themselves take into account the play’s consistent references to a split between outer behaviours and an inner world. This split precedes the any suggestion that Hamlet plans to feign madness, and such, should be seen to be the overall context for any question that concerns it.

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In his opening soliloquy, Hamlet clearly expresses a melancholy disposition as a result of the grief suffered due to his father’s death, and the accompanying loss of firm belief in his mother’s virtue. This combined loss places Hamlet in a position of extreme uncertainty with regard to his own existence; something that is expressed to his mother with a refutation of the idea of surfaces.

He states to her: “’Seems, madam! Nay, it is; I know not seems. / ‘Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother, /[…]Nor the dejected haviour of the visage / Together with all forms, modes, shows of grief / For they are actions that a man might play: / But I have that within which passeth show; / These but the trappings and the suits of woe”(I.II.79-85). This exclamation suggests that Hamlet is possessed of a deep feeling and a truth that he is unable, or unwilling to externalize. This refusal to perform his feelings creates a split between inner and outer that continues throughout he play, especially in relation to the idea of madness.

When speaking of his plan to appear mad and to “perchance hereafter / To put an antic disposition on,” Hamlet recalls the idea of clothing and appearance, and with it a fundamental split between the outside appearance of a person’s actions and their interior world (I.V.175). Indeed, the suggestion of such a fundamental split is not only contained within the Hamlet’s character but it projected onto the entire world, in his statement at the end of the first at that “The time is out of joint; O cursed spite, / That ever I were born to set it right!” (I.V.188-189.) Indeed, the question of interiority is not simply something that plague Hamlet himself, but is something that he is able to bring into the lives of the other characters around him. Most notably, when he confronts his mother and force her to consider the actual nature of her actions in remarrying in the manner in which she has, she insists that his words have “turn’st mine eyes into my very soul; And there I see such black grained spots / As will not leave their tinct” (III.IV.89-91). As such, it is possible to see Hamlet’s actions throughout the play as turning on this contradictory desire to force others to reveal their inner world while keeping his own secret. It is possible to argue, in fact, that it is this which constitutes the substance of what is most often argued to be the character’s madness.

In conclusion, one of the primary concerns of “Hamlet” is the split between inner and outer. The recognition of such a split precedes the declaration of Hamlet’s madness, and can equally be seen to inform the behaviour that is constituted by it. As such, rather than determining whether or not this madness is genuine, it is necessary to understand how both the performance of this madness, and potentially genuine nature, relate to a fundamental theme of separation throughout the play.

  • Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Edited by Ann Thompson. London: Arden, 2005. Print.

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