Essay, Research Paper: Hamlet Madness

Shakespeare: Hamlet

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Hamlet is mad, feigns madness or his pretense turns into real madness. Outline
arguments for all three and discuss. 1.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. Yet, 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 its credibility, but all the men are witness to the ghost demanding they
speak 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.
There is also good reason for the ghost not to want the guards to know what he
tells Hamlet, as the play could not proceed as it does if the guards were to
hear what Hamlet did. It is the ghost of Hamlet’s father who tells him,
"but howsomever thou pursues this act, / Taint not thy mind.
(I.v.84-5)" Later, when Hamlet sees the ghost again in his mothers room,
her amazement at his madness is quite convincing. Yet one must take into
consideration the careful planning of the ghost’s credibility earlier in the
play. After his first meeting with the ghost, Hamlet greets his friends
cheerfully and acts as if the news is good rather than the devastation it really
is. Horatio: What news, my lord? Hamlet: O, wonderful! Horatio: Good my lord,
tell it. Hamlet: No, you will reveal it. (I.v.118-21) This is the first glimpse
of Hamlet’s ability and inclination to manipulate his behavior to achieve
effect. Clearly Hamlet is not feeling cheerful at this moment, but if he lets
the guards know the severity of the news, they might suspect its nature. Another
instance of Hamlet’s behavior manipulation is his meeting with Ophelia while
his uncle and Polonius are hiding behind a curtain. Hamlet’s affection for
Ophelia has already been established in I.iii., and his complete rejection of
her and what has transpired between them is clearly a hoax. Hamlet somehow
suspects the eavesdroppers, just as he guesses that Guildenstern and Rosencrantz
are sent by the King and Queen to question him and investigate the cause of his
supposed madness in II.ii. Hamlet’s actions in the play after meeting the
ghost lead everyone except Horatio to believe he is crazy, yet that madness is
continuously checked by an ever-present consciousness of action which never lets
him lose control. For example, Hamlet questions his conduct in his soliloquy at
the end of II.ii, but after careful consideration decides to go with his
instinct and prove to himself without a doubt the King’s guilt before
proceeding rashly. Even after the King’s guilt is proven with Horatio as
witness, Hamlet again reflects and uses his better judgement in the soliloquy at
the end of III.ii. before seeing his mother. He recognizes his passionate
feelings, but tells himself to "speak daggers to her, but use none,"
as his father’s ghost instructed. Again, when in the King’s chamber, Hamlet
could perform the murder, but decides not to in his better judgement to ensure
that he doesn’t go to heaven by dying while praying. As Hamlet tells
Guildenstern in II.ii., "I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind is
southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw." This statement reveals out-right
Hamlet’s intent to fool people with his odd behavior. This is after Polonius’
enlightened comment earlier in the same scene, "though this be madness, yet
there is method in’t."
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