Madness and Insanity in Shakespeare's Hamlet

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Hamlet - A Question of Madness

Hamlet's public persona is a facade he has created to carry out his ulterior motives. The outside world's perception of him as being mad is of his own design. Hamlet is deciding what he wants others to think about him. Polonius, a close confidant of the King, is the leading person responsible for the public's knowledge of Hamlet's madness. The idea that Hamlet is mad centers around the fact that he talks to the ghost of his dead father. He communicates with his dead father's ghost twice, in the presence of his friends and again in the presence of his mother. By being in public when talking to the ghost, the rumor of his madness is given substance.

Polonius decides to go to Hamlet's mother, the Queen, in Act II to tell her that her "noble son is mad" (105). Aware of what has been going on with Hamlet, the Queen questions Polonius. In his response, Polonius continues to proclaim "That he's mad, 'tis true. 'Tis true, 'tis pity, / And pity 'tis 'tis true - a foolish figure" (105). Although not believing it in her heart, the Queen later admits that Hamlet may be mad. After their conversation, Hamlet enters and has his own conversation with Polonius. During this conversation, Hamlet falsely labels Plonius as a fishmonger. Hamlet knows that Polonius will tell others of the mistaken identity; specifically, he knows Polonius will report it to the King. Polonius believes Hamlet's insanity is related to sex; therefore, he is concerned with Hamlet's relationship with his daughter, Ophelia.

Hamlet's relationship and actions towards Ophelia are not exempt from his dual personalities. In private, he is deeply devoted to her; but in public, he humiliates and belittles her...

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... are dead at the end of the play. If Hamlet had not chosen to pretend to be mad, the outcome of the events would probably of been different. Hamlet's quest of destroying the King is selfish, in that it affects the innocent as well as the guilty. Hamlet's false madness finally brings about true madness at the end of the play that is inescapable.

Works Cited and Consulted:

http://shakespeare.about.com/library/blhamlet_2_2.htm

Bloom, Harold. Introduction. Modern Critical Interpretations: Hamlet. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986.

Bradley, A.C.. Shakespearean Tragedy: Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth. New York: Penguin Books, 1991.

Mack, Maynard. "The World of Hamlet." Yale Review. vol. 41 (1952) p. 502-23. Rpt. in Readings on The Tragedies. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996.
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