Hamlet and Madness
Hamlet is one of William Shakespeare’s most famous plays. Throughout Hamlet a lot of different things are going on and the main character Hamlet’s overall goal is to take revenge on his uncle, King Claudius. Hamlet finds out that his uncle killed his father and promises to avenge his father’s death. Hamlet becomes resentful of his mother for marrying his uncle only two months after his father’s death. Hamlet is the tragic hero in the play and is one of the most complicated characters. Hamlet acts from one extreme to another and fakes madness so nobody can predict his actions.
Hamlet fakes madness to the point where one can no longer tell if he is faking or actually going mad. He has tragic flaws because he is so indecisive with the actions that he wants to take to achieve revenge. Hamlet spends the entire play trying to find out if his uncle is guilty of murdering his father. He questions everything that is going on and wants to find out everything for himself. Hamlet is an interesting, complex and dramatic character whose madness becomes almost real at times. At the beginning of the play a ghost reveals himself to Hamlet.
The ghost is King Hamlet who was murdered. The ghost explains to Hamlet everything that happened and asks Hamlet to seek revenge on King Claudius. At this point Hamlet decides that he will fake madness and insanity while he plans his revenge on Claudius. Hamlet’s character change is noticeable to everyone and Claudius wants to find out why he has not been acting the same but, Polonius tells King Claudius that it may just be that he is in love with Ophelia. Hamlet then sets up a play re-enacting his father’s death to see if Claudius shows any guilt.
When the murder scene in Hamlet’s play takes place, King Claudius leaves the theatre and, now Hamlet is certain that Claudius is guilty of murdering King Hamlet. Claudius begins to fear Hamlet’s insanity and plans on sending him to England. Hamlet speaks with his mother, Queen Gertrude, about everything that is going on with the King. Hamlet hears something behind the curtains and immediately pulls out his sword and stabs whoever was back there. It turns out that Polonius was hiding behind the curtains.
Due to the murder of Polonius, King Claudius sends Hamlet away to England in fear that Hamlet could have killed him and may kill him next. Ophelia kills herself over her father’s death and this causes Laertes and Claudius to team up against Hamlet. Hamlet avoids being killed in England and returns to Denmark. He returns to a fencing duel against Laertes where Hamlet is supposed to be murdered by either the poison sword or the poisoned cup. During the duel Queen Gertrude ends up drinking from the cup and announcing that she has been poisoned.
As the duel continues both Laertes and Hamlet are stabbed by the poison sword. King Claudius is then revealed as the murderer of Hamlet’s father. Hamlet’s last actions before he dies is killing Claudius, telling Horatio to tell the story of what happened and, making Young Fortinbras the new king. Hamlet feels as if everybody has moved on from his father’s death too quickly and he is still mourning the loss of his father two months later. Hamlet begins to resent his mother because she has remarried so hastily. Hamlet’s first encounter sets the tone and his purpose for the rest of the play.
The ghost explains that he was not killed by a snake that he was murdered and Hamlet responds by saying, “Haste me to know ‘t, that I, with wings as swift/ As meditation or the thought of love/ May sweep to my revenge,” (I. iv. 29-31). When Hamlet finds out that his father was murdered he immediately says that he will take revenge. He speaks about taking revenge swiftly and says that he will do it quicker than the thought of love. However, when he finds out that Claudius murdered his father he decides that he will find out if Claudius is guilty and then take revenge.
In this scene Hamlet realizes that in avenging his father’s death he is going to have to act unpredictable and fake madness. Hamlet even tells Horatio, “How strange or odd soe’er I bear myself/ (As I perchance hereafter shall think meet/ To put an antic disposition on)/ That you, at such times seeing me, never shall/ With arms encumbered thus, or this headshake/ Or by pronouncing of some doubtful phrase,” (I. iv. 172-176). He is explaining that he is going to have to act strange and irrational for a while but, nobody can find out that he spoke with the ghost and why he is acting strange.
He tells Horatio that he has to swear to keep a secret and can not let on to anybody that he is not actually going crazy. By acting strange Hamlet becomes a very complex character and the reader is not even able to distinguish whether he is pretending to act strange or not. Hamlet jumps from one extreme to another once he begins acting mad. Early in the play it was clear that Hamlet was in love with Ophelia. Ophelia even argues with her father over how much Hamlet loved her. However, once he changes his personality and begins to act mad he completely denounces his love to her for no reason.
Hamlet has a conversation with Ophelia and tells her, “This was sometime a paradox,/ but now the time gives it proof. I did love you once,” (III. i. 115-116). Hamlet is telling her that as time passed he thought about it and he does not love her anymore. When Ophelia replies that she believed that they were in love, Hamlet responds by saying, “You should not have believed me, for virtue cannot so/ inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it. I loved you not,” (III. i. 118-119). Hamlet now tells her that she was foolish for believing that he loved her and that he never actually loved her.
At this point Hamlet seems to be acting more and more strange as the play continues. He went from being in love with Ophelia to treating her poorly and denying any love that he once had for her. Another example of Hamlet changing radically is when he murders Polonius. Throughout the entire play Hamlet would plan everything out and approach each of his decisions cautiously, that’s why he arranged the play earlier to see if Claudius was actually guilty. In this instance with Polonius he acted quickly with no hesitation which contradicts the actions that you would expect him to make.
Hamlet was just talking to his mother about what she did to his father by remarrying so fast. Hamlet tells his mother that they need to sit down and have a serious talk. He says, “Come, come, and sit you down. You shall not budge. / You go not till I set you up a glass/ Where you may see the inmost part of you,” (III. iv. 18-20). All he wants to do is sit down and talk with his mother but, as soon as he hears someone behind the curtains he yells “How now, a rat? Dead for a ducat, dead! ” (III. iv. 24).
He immediately just turns and stabs Polonius through a curtain without showing any thought behind it. This is especially strange for Hamlet since he has not seized any opportunity to kill Claudius so far. He has spent time finding out answers and trying to get a full story before he takes actions but, this time he instantly pulled out his sword without delay and killed Polonius. This event supports the fact that Hamlet is inconsistent in both his personality and actions. Hamlet’s madness seams most real when he contemplates suicide.
He makes his famous “To Be or Not to Be” speech and discusses whether or not he should commit suicide. “To be, or not to be? That is the question/ Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer/ The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune/ Or to take arms against a sea of troubles/ And, by opposing, end them? To die, to sleep/ No more—and by a sleep to say we end/ The heartache and the thousand natural shocks,” (III. i. 58-64). Hamlet seems as if he is actually mad in this scene because it appears as if he is giving up.
Hamlet’s entire purpose in the play is to avenge his father’s death and kill Claudius. If Hamlet kills himself before he kills Claudius then he did not accomplish what he set out to do. He faked madness and changed his whole life just to kill King Claudius but, now he is talking about suicide before he even got the chance to avenge his father. Throughout Shakespeare’s Hamlet madness is a central theme that surrounds the character Hamlet. Hamlet begins the play by deciding that he will fake madness to avenge his father’s death.
He wants to fake madness so his actions are unpredictable to everybody else. However, it seems to the reader that the madness becomes real. Hamlet goes from one extreme to another and acts radically several times throughout the play. He turns on Ophelia and tells her that he does not love her; he scolds his mother, and kills Polonius on reflex. Hamlet also contemplates committing suicide before he murders King Claudius. Hamlet is a very complex character who fakes madness to the point that it appears to become real.