Madness and Insanity in Shakespeare's Hamlet

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In Shakespeare's Hamlet, there are two characters that display qualities of insanity. They are Hamlet and Ophelia. Although they both appear to be mad at times, their downfall (or supposed downfall) is quite different. Ophelia's crazed characteristics show up and intensify quite rapidly, until she is ultimately led to suicide. Her madness seems definite, and it is never questioned. The insanity or sanity of the main character is an arguable question. The issue can be discussed both ways, with significant support to either theory. Certainly, Hamlet has many reasons to lead him to becoming insane, because of the pressure and emotional strain that he is suffering from. This might be enough to cause the character to become deranged, but there is much evidence that shows how Hamlet remains sharp and credible through it all. Although in some instances Hamlet appears to be crazed, there are many indications that his madness is only an illusion that he is purposely trying to portray. Horatio gives Hamlet some good advice when he says, "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? Think of it" (I.iv.69-74). This warning might be where Hamlet gets the idea to use a plea of insanity to work out his murderous plan. In the following scene, Hamlet tells Horatio that he is going to feign insanity. If Horatio notices that Hamlet begins to act strangely, it is only because he is putting on an act, in order to fulfill a future purpose. Later in the play, Polonius questions the authenticity of Hamlet's madness.... ... middle of paper ... ...s on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Excerpted from Stories from Shakespeare. N. p.: E. P. Dutton, 1956. Danson, Lawrence. "Tragic Alphabet." Modern Critical Interpretations: Hamlet. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. Rpt. from Tragic Alphabet: Shakespeare's Drama of Language. N. p.: Yale University Press, 1974. Felperin, Howard. "O'erdoing Termagant." Modern Critical Interpretations: Hamlet. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. Rpt. of "O'erdoing Termagant: An Approach to Shakespearean Mimesis." The Yale Review 63, no.3 (Spring 1974). Hart, Bernard. The Psychology of Insanity. London: Cambridge, 1914. Landis, Carney, and James D. Page. Modern Soceity and Mental Disease. New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1938. Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Norton Critical ed. Ed. Cyrus Hoy. New York: Norton, 1992.
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