Madness and Insanity in Shakespeare's Hamlet - Hamlet, the Melancholy Hero

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Hamlet, the Melancholy Hero

The reader/viewer finds in Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet that the protagonist is a melancholy type; this quality remains with him from beginning to end of the tragedy. And this melancholy hero will be the subject-matter of this essay.

Harry Levin explains in the General Introduction to The Riverside Shakespeare how the dramatist employs imagery in the play to enhance the melancholic dimension of the hero:

The sphere of Shakespeare’s images is so vast and rich in itself that it has been investigated and charted for clues to his personal temperament. But though we can follow up associations of thought through his image-clusters, these are subordinated to his controlling purposes as a playwright. The imagery fulfills a structural and a thematic function, linking together a train of ideas or projecting a scheme of values. It enhances the strain of melancholy in Hamlet by dwelling on sickness and decay. . . (14).

The depressing aspect of the initial imagery of the drama is described by Marchette Chute in “The Story Told in Hamlet”:

The story opens in the cold and dark of a winter night in Denmark, while the guard is being changed on the battlements of the royal castle of Elsinore. For two nights in succession, just as the bell strikes the hour of one, a ghost has appeared on the battlements, a figure dressed in complete armor and with a face like that of the dead king of Denmark, Hamlet’s father (35).

Horatio and Marcellus exit the ghost-ridden ramparts of Elsinore intending to enlist the aid of Hamlet. The prince is dejected by the “o’erhasty marriage” of his mother to his uncle less than two months after the funeral of Hamlet’s father. There is ...

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...999. Rpt. from Introduction to Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Ed. Philip Edwards. N. P.: Cambridge University P., 1985.

Levin, Harry. General Introduction. The Riverside Shakespeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1974.

Mack, Maynard. “The World of Hamlet.” Yale Review. vol. 41 (1952) p. 502-23. Rpt. in Shakespeare: Modern Essays in Criticism. Rev. ed. Ed. Leonard F. Dean. New York: Oxford University P., 1967.

Rosenberg, Marvin. “Laertes: An Impulsive but Earnest Young Aristocrat.” Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. from The Masks of Hamlet. Newark, NJ: Univ. of Delaware P., 1992.

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 1995. No line nos.
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