Sane Hamlet and Mad Ophelia in Shakespeare's Hamlet

1496 Words6 Pages
Sane Hamlet and Mad Ophelia In Hamlet, Shakespeare incorporates a theme of madness with two characters: one truly mad, and one only acting mad to serve a motive. The madness of Hamlet is frequently disputed. This paper argues that the contrapuntal character in the play, namely Ophelia, acts as a balancing argument to the other character's madness or sanity. Shakespeare creates a contrasting relationship between the breakdown of Ophelia and the "north-north-west" brand of insanity used by Hamlet in that while Hamlet's character offers more evidence for a contriving manipulation, Ophelia's breakdown is quick, but more conclusive in its precision. While Shakespeare does not directly pit Ophelia's insanity (or breakdown) against Hamlet's madness, there is instead a clear definitiveness in Ophelia's condition and a clear uncertainty in Hamlet's madness. Obviously, Hamlet's character offers more evidence, while Ophelia's breakdown is quick, but more conclusive in its precision. Shakespeare offers clear evidence pointing to Hamlet's sanity beginning with the first scene of the play. Hamlet begins with guards whose main importance in the play is to give credibility to the ghost. If Hamlet were to see his father's ghost in private, the argument for his madness would greatly improve. However, not one, but three men together witness the ghost before even thinking to notify Hamlet. As Horatio says, being the only of the guards to play a significant role in the rest of the play, "Before my God, I might not this believe / Without the sensible and true avouch / Of mine own eyes" (I.i.56-8). Horatio, who appears frequently throughout the play, acts as an unquestionably sane alibi to Hamlet again when framing the King with his reaction to the play. That Hamlet speaks to the ghost alone detracts somewhat from his credibility, but all the men are witnesses to the ghost demanding that Hamlet speak with him alone. Horatio offers an insightful warning: What if it tempts 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). Horatio's comment may be where Hamlet gets the idea to use a plea of insanity to work out his plan. The important fact is that the ghost does not change form, but rather remains as the King and speaks to Hamlet rationally.

More about Sane Hamlet and Mad Ophelia in Shakespeare's Hamlet

Open Document