The Cause And Effect Of Hamlets Madness English Literature Essay
|✅ Paper Type: Free Essay||✅ Subject: English Literature|
|✅ Wordcount: 1889 words||✅ Published: 1st Jan 2015|
In the tragedy, Hamlet (William Shakespeare 1599-1601), a key focus appears to be on Prince Hamlets madness. Feigned at first by the Prince as a ruse to protect himself when he discovers that his father, King Hamlet, was in fact murdered, appears to overtake him in reality at some point during the play. This document traces his transition form sanity to insanity and how it caused the deaths of 6 others in the play.
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In the beginning Hamlet announces that he is going to feign being mad and as one of Hamlet’s ruses to prove himself mad, he forces himself into Ophelia’s room and behaves like a mad man. This will allow Hamlet to accomplish two things. One he can tell Ophelia how much he loves her and he wants to convince everybody that his insanity is due to his relationship with her and Hamlet also knows that Ophelia will report the incident to her father who will report it to the king.
While pretending to be mad, Hamlet accomplished his goal. Ophelia did tell her father and her father told Hamlet’s mother and Uncle. They were convinced that he was mad at this point. What Hamlet didn’t realize was his impact on Ophelia herself. This was the onset of her depression. She didn’t understand why he was treating her in this manner and at the time was very much in love with him.
The next example of Hamlet pretending to be mad is his unusual conversation with Polonius. As cited by John Brown, John Russell in Multiplicity of Meaning in the Last Moments of Hamlet. Connotations 2.1 (1992): 16-33, ” This part of Hamlet’s character–for ambiguous and complicated speech is a distinctive element of the “mind” with which Shakespeare has endowed his hero–this characteristic operates on various levels. We soon see that in private he continues to use wordplay as a disguise in which to taunt and trick both adversaries and friends, so that he is not fully understood and they are encouraged to disclose hidden thoughts:
Polonius: Do you know me, my lord?
Hamlet: Excellent well. You are a fishmonger.
Polonius: Not I, my lord.
Hamlet: Then I would you was so honest a man.
Polonius: Honest, my lord?
Hamlet: Ay sir. To be honest, as this world goes, is to be one man picked out of ten thousand. (II.ii.173-79)
Hamlet’s most significant example of utilizing his madness ruse is after a troupe of actors enter Elsinore and present Hamlet with the solution he has been waiting for to prove his father had told him the truth about his murder. Saying, “I’ll have these players play something like the murder of my father before mine uncle. I’ll observe his looks.” Hamlet invites them in to perform a play in which he has previously seen, The Murder of Gonzago. He will stage a re-enactment of his father’s murder and determine from Claudius’ reaction whether or not he is guilty. Everyone comes together to watch the play as Hamlet himself provided the narration. When the murder scene is presented, Claudius’ reaction was to jump up and leave the room which Hamlet interprets as proof of guilt.
Hamlet’s conduct and behavior clearly shows someone who was in control of himself and using his pretended madness as a cover for his revenge on Claudius. He displays cunning, nerve and purpose. One definition of insanity includes “losing touch with reality, lacking the ability to determine right from wrong, or having no concept for the consequences of one’s actions.” Hamlet proves he is still sane at this point in the play by his ability to re-write a play to demonstrate the complexity of his father’s murder.
Writers and story tellers often must immerse themselves in their characters so much that they begin to fantasize of becoming them, a vicarious escapism. Shakespeare as a writer was no doubt well aware of this trait when one pretends plays or assumes the role of another. It is entirely feasible that Prince Hamlet’s descent into madness came as a result of his choice to feign madness as a ruse. Although we know that he is intentionally setting this stage to prove he is mad, you can almost start to believe it due to the emotional intensity of his behavior.
Hamlet’s transition from sanity to insanity begins at the point where his mother, Gertrude summons him to her closet to demand and explanation. After several moments of harsh interaction between Hamlet and his mother in the bedchamber, Hamlet hears a noise behind a tapestry. Polonius is hidden there spying on them. Hamlet believes it to be Claudius and stabs wildly through the tapestry, killing Polonius supporting the case for insanity because of his inability to determine right from wrong and having no concept of the possible consequences of his actions.
Claudius, fearing for his life, banishes Hamlet to England on a pretext, closely watched by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet’s school friends, with a letter instructing that the bearer be killed. Hamlet switches the letters and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern end up being beheaded.
The deaths of these two men were indirectly related to Hamlet’s actions. If he had not feigned madness in the beginning, worrying his mother, she would not have asked his friends to come and see about Hamlet’s welfare, thus causing their death.
Meanwhile, while Hamlet was away, Ophelia was told of her father’s death, it was too much for her mind to process. She was already in a state of depression over what Hamlet had done to her earlier. Her severe depression mixed with the shock of Hamlet murdering her father was a toxic cocktail for Ophelia and in her inability to handle this information, she went insane. Hamlet’s actions had cause a reaction in Ophelia that she could not accept and eventually she committed suicide.
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Hamlet’s ship was allegedly attacked by pirates and he is to return to Denmark. Claudius hears of this return and concocts a plot and proposes a fencing match between Laertes and Hamlet thus giving Laertes the opportunity to kill Hamlet. While Hamlet is on his return voyage, Laertes, Polonius’ son is told by Claudius that Hamlet is solely responsible for his father’s death. Laertes swears to avenge his father’s death. His hatred for Hamlet was compounded with the death of his sister Ophelia.
Upon Hamlet’s trek to the castle, he encounters two gravediggers that are discussing Ophelia’s suicide while digging her grave and Hamlet arrives with his long-time friend Horatio. In Shakespeare’s day people made more economical use of graveyard space, so as the gravedigger digs, he shovels up a skull. Hamlet hold it in his hands as though he is playing with it and comments, “That skull had a tongue in it, and could sing once” (5.1.75). Hamlet also comments to the skull. This shows that Hamlet is losing touch with reality.
Hamlets presence at the funeral of Ophelia throws everyone, including Laertes into frenzy. He is told of the dual that will occur between him and Laertes and begins preparing for the fight. He is unaware that Claudius and Laertes have made a poison that is placed upon the sword and in a challis that is set before the king and queen in hopes that during a toast, Hamlet will drink from the challis that contains the poison. This was done to insure Hamlet’s death.
During the dual, Hamlet gets the best of Laertes and his mother picks up the poisoned challis of wine and drinks from it. Hamlet and Laertes continue to battle and Laertes is accidentally pierced with the sword containing the poison. Hamlet has also been cut with this sword and is feeling its affects.
Laertes dies. Another death that is caused by the actions of Hamlet. Had he not killed Laertes’ father, there would have been no duel. Hamlet then sees that his mother is dyeing while laying on the floor. She informs him of the poison drink. Again, we see the fatal impact on Hamlet’s mother that is in direct relation to his actions. Had he not been in the dual with Laertes, she would not have been toasting to his successful battle and therefore, would not have died.
At the point of his mother’s death, Hamlet goes into a rage and runs the king through with his sword. He has killed the king, another death due to his insanity. Hamlet himself eventually dies in the arms of his friend from the effects of the poison. Hamlet has caused directly or indirectly the deaths of six people, including himself.
Hamlet’s madness has been a point of debate for actors who have played this role. Some contend that Hamlet’s madness was written in for comic appeal or to add quirkiness and humor to a seemingly dark and brooding character. In The Rest Is Not Silence: A Reply to John Russell Brown, by Maurice Charney, he states that it is of Brown’s character to interpret the play in a manner that “blurs the linguistic continuum leading from literal puns (homophonic use), to general wordplay, to multiple meanings, which have nothing to do with puns at all.”
I believe that this contention by John Russell Brown misses entirely the importance that Shakespeare placed upon showing how acting often imitates reality; that people often conduct themselves as if on a stage or playing a role, behaving not as they feel or believe, but rather performing as they think they should. .
In taking a close look at what most are calling madness in Hamlet and comparing it to the obvious reality of madness in Ophelia, this give me even more reason to believe that Hamlet’s madness, in the sense of being a reality, was only possibly toward the end of the play. They both have experienced the death of a father and they both have similar reactions to their deaths, however, Hamlet only plays the role of a mad man while Ophelia goes mad.
Having read the play and seen the films Hamlet directed by Franco Zifferilli, among others, I believe that this may have been an unintended or perhaps overlooked interpretation of the play. Other interpretations of Hamlet’s madness see his madness as a sort of depression over learning of his father’s murder at the hand of Uncle Claudius.
As Hamlet’s journeys and plans reach their end however Hamlet shows a marked lack of his earlier resolve and appears more driven by baser instincts such as revenge and hatred. I believe that the reaction of Claudius and the confrontation with his mother served as the final catalyst which pushes Hamlet from pretended madness to actual insanity. His rashness coupled with his incestuous affair with his mother as portrayed in Zifferilli’s version of the play seem to indicate a truly demented character.
I contend that Hamlet’s transition to madness comes about honestly and becomes a feature of his actual persona by association. By practicing to be mad, combined with the real and traumatic events surrounding his father’s death, the betrayal and other points of stress, he loses his grasp on reality and becomes what he played.
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