Shakespeare’s Exploration of Madness in their Novels

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Shakespeare’s Hamlet explores the motif of madness through the portrayal of Prince Hamlet and Ophelia; Shakespeare portrays the madness as originating from King Hamlet and Polonius, the two overbearing fathers within the story. The two fathers can be seen as the catalysts for their children’s madness, whether the madness be feigned or not. Ophelia and Hamlet have in them residing a love that they must hold at bay due to the requests by their separate fathers; one father sends his child on a mission of vengeance that leaves no time for love and the other father fears for his child’s reputation so requests that they stay away from their beloved. This love deprivation acts as only one example for the causes of the tragic events taking place thus leading to this conclusion: these fathers bring about madness, which in return secretes tragedy from its wake, rendering every tragic act that takes place on the actions and decisions of King Hamlet and Polonius.

The interesting contrast between Ophelia’s and Prince Hamlet’s madness comes from Shakespeare’s ability in presenting the mental illness. Shakespeare uses Prince Hamlet’s ambiguous characterization to drive the plot of Hamlet; while Shakespeare clearly divulges to Ophelia’s being mad, at the hands of King Hamlet and Polonius, he presents Prince Hamlet’s characterization with more subtlety as to whether Hamlet only feigns his entire madness or actually succumbs to to a mental breakdown.

Shakespeare’s exploration of madness begins with Ophelia’s forced repression of love. According to Robert Burton, “Ophelia suffers from hysteria, a malady often ascribed to upper class women who bide their time in their fathers’ homes while awaiting fulfillment of their culturally mandated roles ...

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...long. When his repression reached its boiling point Hamlet lost control which indicates the very madness he feigns as something more real.

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