Essay, Research Paper: Hamlet Madness

Shakespeare: Hamlet

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Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a most enigmatic and complex character, his psyche the
subject of more detailed psychoanalysis than any other character in English
literature. It is only once in a great while that the reader of literature comes
across a man who fakes madness, and ultimately immerses himself so deep into
this feigned madness to a point of total metamorphosis into a new being.
Hamlet’s ostensibly concocted madness ultimately catalyzes the development of
his dormant, inward madness and natural inclination for pretense and
dissimulation. Within Hamlet there are two types of madness: the very apparent
outer madness, and a hidden madness that isn’t even realized by Hamlet. The
inner madness is the result of the tragedies within this play; namely, the
incestuous marriage of his widowed mother to his uncle and her brother-in-law
which followed the tragic and sudden murder of his father. It is this depression
and anger that set the stage for the rest of the play. Afterall, had he not
cared to avenge his father’s death, the words of the ghost would have been
totally ignored and there would have been no reason to feign madness. But
because he was hurt, depressed, and incensed, he channeled all his power and
energy to gain revenge, successfully. The forged madness was a product of
Hamlet’s attempt to confuse the people of the castle and divert any suspicion
that may be targeted at him in his mission of vindication of his father’s
death. But what exactly is madness? In Act I, Scene 5, Hamlet urges the ghost:
“Haste me to know’t, that I with wings as swift as the meditation or the
thoughts of love may sweep to my revenge.” (lns. 33-35) Madness is condition
that results from a person’s obsession with his objective. This total
preoccupation with a specific mission blurs the person’s reality. It’s as
though the victim has become inhabited by himself and some other supernatural
power that takes over his senses and narrows his field of vision, limiting it to
his objective, mission, and purpose. All other aspects of his life degenerate
into chess pieces in the greater game. His mission consumes him, devouring his
life and leaving him an uncomplete person. Rages, unwarranted erratic behavior,
and evil-doing are symptomatic such a state of being. Much of Hamlet’s
madness, when feigned, was due to necessity, however, he definitely had a
natural inclination towards pretense and dissimulation. To limit the word
natural to ‘part of one’s nature,’ meaning inherent and innate, is
close-minded. With a broader meaning of the term, it becomes easier to explain
Hamlet. By “natural,” I mean unfaked, sincere, genuine. Therefore, a natural
inclination is not necessarily congenital since it can be developed. Simulating
madness, although it was for a good cause, ruined Hamlet. After acting deranged
for an extensive period, he became mad. When acting mad for long enough, an
inclination develops for dishonesty, dissimulation, and deception. In an ironic
sense, Hamlet contaminated himself. He became plagued with his own illness- the
illness he created. Following that transitional evolution into a truly mad self,
Hamlet begins to act in ways that do not call for his evil, pretentious
behavior. First, Hamlet has Rosencrantz and Guildenstern killed, even though
they were not aprt of his revenge-against-his-father’s-murder plan. He could
have simply let them on their way since he was a free man anyway. Such harsh
treatment was totally unnecessary in fulfilling his original objective. See, the
only reason Hamlet feigned madness was to take revenge. If one applies this
logic, one must ask: Were the deaths of these two men “necessary” in taking
revenge on the killer? Afterall, who is the killer? Clearly, his irrationality
led him to kill two people whose deaths were unnecessary (though they may be
justified, of course). He must have done them, therefore, irrespective of his
revenge on Claudius and his motivations and one can conclude that it was his
mental madness that seized his spirit. Further evidence of this inner madness is
Hamlet’s encounter with his mother in Act III, Scene 4. It is in this scene
that Hamlet attempts to play the moralist and forces his mother to see her
wrongs. It is more than this which signifies Hamlet as mad. It is his obsession
with purging his mother of her sins that shows his madness. He screams: “Nay,
but to live in the rank sweat of an enseamed bed,/stewed in corruption, honeying
and making love/ over the nasty sty-” (III.iv.92-95). He has gone beyond
moralist at this point. He is wildly attacking her in a fashion so symptomatic
of a natural-born madman whose obsession leads to compulsion. Mixed with this
wild attack of his mother, Hamlet also irrationally attacks and kills Polonius
who was standing behind the curtain. His actions are much like a rabid dog
attacking anything which would get in his way. From what Hamlet says after the
slaying, he seems to think that it may have been Claudius (III.iv.27). This is
an irrational excuse, as Hamlet just left Claudius a scene before. Hamlet is
indeed acting madly and without a reason. But the clearest proof of his madness
is his obsession with death. As the horrors mount up, it becomes blindingly
clear that Hamlet descends from pretending madness to really being mad. After
the killing of Polonius, Hamlet is questioned about the death and whereabouts of
the body and his answer reveals a man who is in a morbid state of mind. Hamlet
exclaimedhow once the body dies it goes through a cycle where it is eaten by
worms who devour the flesh for the purpose of getting food for another person.
Therefore, people, he believes, digest corpses. “Not where he eats, but where
he is eaten: a certain convocation of politic worms are e’en at him. Your worm
is your only emperor for diet: we fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat
ourselves for maggots: your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable
service, two dishes, but one table: that’s the end.” (IV.iii.20-26) Finally,
the graveyard scene depicts Hamlet’s epiphanic moment, the moment when he
contemplates the true meaning of life. “No faith, not a jot; but to follow him
thither with modesty enough and likelihood to lead it; as thus,: Alexander died,
Alexander was buried, Alexander returned into dust; the dust is earth; of earth
we make loam: and why of that loam, whereto he was converted, might they not
stop at a beer-barrel?” (V.i.201-206) Upon completion of the play and thorough
analysis of the facts, one comes to the realization that Hamlet was indeed a
most insane, yet unfortunate, man. Destroyed by the pain of his family scandal,
he fell into a manic depression and mental state of insanity which ultimately
stirred anger within him. Within him lurked bubbled the desire to avenge his
father’s death. Fabricating a madness proved to be counter-productive because
Hamlet ended up suffering from a disease he created to help himself.
Shakespeare’s Hamlet is as much about normal, sane men as it is about Hamlet.
It is true that Hamlet developed this natural inclination, however one must
recognize that he caused his own insanity and pity the callow orphan for that.
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