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Is Hamlet's madness feigned or real?

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Introduction

Is Hamlet's madness feigned or real? The idea of a character feigning madness is not foreign to great literary works. In fact, many authors use it to show the sanity of the character. Take Homer's The Iliad for example. The main character Odysseus shows his sanity by pretending to be mad in order to avoid having to fight. If his plan had been successful, he would have stayed safe at home, away from the dangers of war. The idea of feigning madness is also apparent throughout Shakespeare's Hamlet. Hamlet puts on an act after he is told of his father's murder, perhaps to have something on which he can place the blame after he avenges his father's death, or perhaps it is to capture the attention of certain characters so that he may find out exactly what has gone "rotten in the state of Denmark". Though it sounds like a crazy idea, Hamlet is feigning madness in Shakespeare's tragic play. ...read more.

Middle

Also, in a heated conversation in which his mother is questioning his sanity, Hamlet says "I essentially am not in madness, But mad in craft" (Act III, scene IV, lines 206-207). Hamlet is putting on an act, a deceiving performance in order to confirm who was involved with his father's death. However, Hamlet only performs his act for certain characters. Only in the presence of Gertrude, Claudius, Ophelia, Polonius, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern does he behave as a madman. These are the characters whom Hamlet may have reason to suspect of a part in his father's death. By feigning madness, Hamlet confuses these characters, in hope of learning the truth of the murder of the king. In the third Act, Hamlet is set up to confront Ophelia, and promptly displays an antic disposition. He speaks in circles and contradicts himself plainly telling her "I did love you once" (Act III, scene I, line 124), and then in his next dialogue "I loved you not" (Act III, scene I, line 128). ...read more.

Conclusion

Claudius realizes that this madness that Hamlet is showing could be dangerous to himself, or his kingdom. Though Shakespeare never says what the method is behind Hamlet's madness, it is apparent that he is indeed feigning his insanity. He was visited by his father's ghost, which tells him that he had been murdered by Hamlet's uncle, Claudius, and that he must take revenge. While Hamlet knows that his father was wronged, he must decide whether or not to avenge his death. Acting quickly, Hamlet assumes a role of insanity in an effort to confirm his suspicions about Claudius' involvement. He admits to other various characters that he is putting on an act, and only plays this act for certain characters, a couple of whom sense that there is a reason behind it. He is cruel to these characters that he can't trust, but as Hamlet himself says "I must be cruel, only to be kind: Thus bad begins and worse remains behind" (Act III, scene IV, lines 196-197). ...read more.

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