Use of Guilt and Madness in Macbeth and Hamlet

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Throughout Shakespeare’s greatest works there is the ever present use of guilt and madness to add depth to characters, further drama and plot and sometimes to even lengthen the work itself. From Hamlet’s constant struggle to murder his incestuous uncle to Macbeth’s sudden ability to see ghostly blood-covered daggers, it is clear to see that Shakespeare has a method to his madness. Shakespeare uses guilt as a sort of net for the humanity of his characters. Throughout Macbeth and Hamlet shakes’ characters do some deplorable things and the easiest way to help the audience stay in favor of a major character is to have them feel bad about said acts. This converts into the “madness” that is ever-present alongside its buddy guilt. Shakespeare doesn’t just want the character to feel bad; He wants the audience to know it too. This is what creates the intricate visions, delusionary speaking, and general lunacy shown by many characters within his works. We will begin the analysis on the presence of guilt and madness with Hamlet.

What better character to start an analysis on hamlet with than the man (or teen) himself. Hamlet is the son of a once beloved and currently deceased, king. After his death, King Hamlet’s wife does what most women would do in that situation, marry his brother. This does not sit quite right with Hamlet as shown by his constant moping and inability to forgive his mother. All the while the supposed ghost of King Hamlet is wandering the Danish castle grounds looking for someone to tell Hamlet he is there. So with a nice dose of depression and a weakened mind Hamlet is brought face-to-face with his dead father’s ghost. Part of what makes Hamlet’s “madness” so intriguing is the fact that we don’t really know if he is trul...

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...ash representation of a very real feeling humans know: Guilt. He takes these characters who think they have it all figured out and allows them to mess up. When they are at their weakest, they fight and at their strongest they sin. Shakespeare is trying to send a message to his audience with these tales of woe. He wants people to always remember to take control of their emotions and never let their emotions take control of them.


Crawford, Alexander W. Hamlet, an ideal prince, and other essays in Shakespearean interpretation: Hamlet; Merchant of Venice; Othello; King Lear. Boston R.G. Badger, 1916. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2009. < >.

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