Several issues in the play “Hamlet” by Williams Shakespeare are considered insightful yet full of controversial themes that tend to reoccur throughout the script. However, one of the most prominent and debated issues is Hamlet’s madness. A common question is whether Prince of Denmark’s madness is real or feigned. It is important to acknowledge that Hamlet’s life experiences such as the death of his father and lover would push a person into a state of insanity or madness. Over the past decades, several scholars have presented different arguments to explain Hamlet and Ophelia’s madness. For instance, some have resorted to using Freud’s overtones whereas others have addressed the issues as perceived in the era of Queen Elizabeth of England. This paper introduces and examines Hamlet’s madness from a psychological and historical point of view.
The first instance of Hamlet’s madness is after the death of his father. The play indicates that Hamlet intentionally fakes madness to mystify and fluster the King as well as the palace occupants. At one point, Hamlet promises to wear an “antic disposition” (170, 172). This is crucial to understanding the concept of Hamlet’s madness. The antic disposition acts as an intelligent plan for Hamlet to avenge his father’s death and instil sense into his mother. Seemingly, Hamlet is an intelligent prince because most individuals have the perceptions that grieving persons are not mad but rather normal.
From a psychological perspective, people tend to grieve differently, and no immediate behaviour accompanying grief is considered abnormal. There is no point where people think that Hamlet plans for vengeance. Moreover, in support of the argument that Hamlet’s madness is feigned, he tells his mother that “I am not in madness essentially, but I am mad in craft” (189). Through this statement, Hamlet admits to his mother that he is sane and he should not be perceived as abnormal or insane. Hamlet acts in an unusual manner with the aim of avenging his father’s death, his uncle being the primary target of his plans. It is intriguing how Hamlet assumed his antic disposition state and fooled King Claudius and the other individuals.
Further, Hamlet does not succumb to madness completely after hisfather’s death but he stays focused on the ultimate plan. Besides, in the play, Hamlet puts up with madness only when in the presence of other people. Some people believe that his insanity has reasons attached to it“even though it lacked certain aspects, it could not be compared to madness” (163).Being theprince and the rightful heir to the throne, Hamlet is prohibited from showing is grief publicly and cannot receive deserved sympathies.
Hamlet’s unusual behaviours are supposedly can be attributed to endless mourning and grief although people link his behaviours to madness. Hamlet’s state of sanity can be explained using the psychological criticism of double bind theory. The concept states that an individual who receives mutually exclusive demands simultaneously will meet the request by behaving in a conflicting and different manner. In the play, after Hamlet’s mother marries the uncle, she begs for his approval although the father later appears in the form of a ghost and asks him to avenge his death. From a personal perspective, Hamlet was exposed to great trouble that forced him fake madness. The fake madness exhibited by Hamlet enables him to express crazy emotions and feelings while maintaining sanity or mental stability.
While attempting to place the concept of madness in a historical context, the era of Queen Elizabeth perceives the same as a socially acquired disorder. It is believed that madnessreflects melancholy, which is naturally attributed to men during the Renaissance periods. Hamlet’s life can be described as a transition from bad to worse and devastating. After the painfully terrible events he has experienced, Hamlet turning crazy would be an understatement. The antic disposition serves as Hamlet’s defence mechanism towards the pain, anger, and pressure he faces in life.
Moreover, Hamlet’s feigned madness is evident when he talks to insanity state is seen when he talks to Rozencrantz and Guildenstern, who are his friends. At this point, Hamlet says “I am mad but north-north-west. However, when the wind is south, I can differentiate a hawk from a handsaw”(369). Clearly, Hamlet can think rationally even though he fails in his mission of killing King Claudius. It can be argued that the death of Polonius and the fact that the king’s life was spared caused Hamlet’s madness to some extent. However, it is every reader or viewer’s belief that Hamlet was more than capable of controlling his mental and physical state in his mission to avenge his father’s death.
To sum up, based on the arguments above, it cannot be doubted that Hamlet’s madness is feigned. However, for a man who constantly encounters problems such as Hamlet’s in life, madness is inevitable.In comparison to Ophelia’s madness highlighted throughout the play, Hamlet’s madness is unreal and is just but a strategy to avenge his father’s death.
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Ryerson Press, 1929.