Insanity in Shakespeare's Hamlet - The Madness of Hamlet Essay

Insanity in Shakespeare's Hamlet - The Madness of Hamlet Essay

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The Madness of Hamlet

 
William Shakespeare, in the tragedy Hamlet, designed two characters who exhibit symptoms of madness: Ophelia and the prince. Hamlet states his own madness as intentional, purposeful, for the carrying out of the ghost’s admonition. But does Hamlet’s pretended insanity actually touch on real, actual insanity from time to time, or is it consistent?

Phyllis Abrahms and Alan Brody in “Hamlet and the Elizabethan Revenge Tragedy Formula” consider the madness of the hero to be completely feigned and not real:

Hamlet is a masterpiece not because it conforms to a set of conventions but because it takes those conventions and transmutes them into the pure gold of vital, relevant meaning. Hamlet’s feigned madness, for instance, becomes the touchstone for an illumination of the mysterious nature of sanity itself. (44-45)

Hamlet’s first words in the play say that Claudius is "A little more than kin and less than kind," indicating a dissimilarity in values between the new king and himself – introducing into the story a psychological problem, a refusal to conform, which lays the groundwork, or previews, the upcoming pretended madness. As the future king of Denmark, the hero is expected to maintain a good working relationship with the present king, Claudius. But this is not so. Even before the apparition of the ghost, Hamlet has a very sour relationship with his uncle and stepfather, Claudius.

Hamlet’s first soliloquy deepens the psychological rift between the prince and the world at large, but especially women; it emphasizes the frailty of women – an obvious reference to his mother’s hasty and incestuous marriage to her husband’s brother:

Must I remember? why, she would hang on him,

     As if...


... middle of paper ...


...: 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).

Foakes, R.A.. “The Play’s Courtly Setting.” Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. of “Hamlet and the Court of Elsinore.” Shakespeare Survey: An Annual Survey of Shakespearean Study and Production. No. 9. Ed. Allardyce Nicoll. Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1956.

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: University of Delaware Press, 1992.

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 1995. http://www.chemicool.com/Shakespeare/hamlet/full.html

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