The idea of a character feigning madness is not unusual in great literary works; many authors use it to show the sanity of a character. This idea is apparent throughout Hamlet. In the masterpiece, there is much debate around the protagonist, Hamlet, and whether or not his madness in the play was real or feigned. Literary scholars have debated this for more than four hundred years. One of the possible reasons for the intense recognition of this play is the way Shakespeare uses Hamlet’s theme of madness to serve a motive, of how one must use deception in order to deceive others to get the truth.
In this play, the tragic hero contemplates his own concepts of moral judgement and in the process is considered mad. Hamlet claims to feign his madness, but is it debated that he actually has some characteristics of a madman. His madness can be defined by his inability to decide between right and wrong and to make appropriate decisions based on the standards of society.
Hamlets circumstances in the play were a major contribution to his ‘madness.’ His father, King Hamlet, has just been murdered; his mother, Gertrude, had married his uncle Claudius only a short time after her late husband dies, stripping Hamlet from his natural right to the throne. The ghost of his dead father appeared to him with instructions to revenge Claudius for his murder and finally, his love Ophelia was no longer permitted to see him by order of her father. Although Hamlet’s mad act seems only to be in presence of Gertrude, Claudius, Ophelia, Polonius, Rozencrantz and Guildenstern. I believe that Hamlet is feigning his madness, after observing some numerous quotes from the play, shows that Hamlet is faking madness in order to camouflage his revenge for his uncle, a mad man could not behave logically and could not have, the ability to act normally to some people but madly to others. But at some points in the play, over whelmed by grief I believe that Hamlet is genuinely in an antic disposition.
The second act includes two soliloquies; it is in these that the depth of Hamlet's depression is revealed .The soliloquy opens with a reference to disease and decay : "Oh that this sullied flesh would melt / Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew," (1.2.129-130) Here Hamlet is speaking of his own flesh and makes his first reference to suicide. He expresses great dissatisfaction with the state of the world. "How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable / Seem to me all uses of the world !" (1.2.133-134). The conundrum of Hamlet's madness starts with Hamlet seeing his father, as a ghost, who asked him to get his revenge from his "beast uncle". The first proof, for Hamlet acting madness, is the reality of Ghost. If Hamlet was the only person to see the Ghost, we could be sure that he is really mad, but in Act I Scene I, the sentry, Barnardo and Fransisco sees the Ghost entering the Elsinore Castle three times, as they see together with Horatio, as Marcellus explains the appearance of the Ghost in these lines: "Horatio says 'tis our fantasy/ And will not let the belief take hold of him/ Touching this dreaded sight, twice seen of us. / Therefore I have entreated him along/ With us to watch the minutes of this night, / That if again this apparition come/ He may approve our eyes, and speak to it. / He may approve our eyes, and speak to it." and Horatio who did not believe the two guardsmen see the Ghost too. Therefore, this shows us that Ghost's existence is doubtless.
From the scene that Hamlet sees Ghost to the end of play, it could be observed by Hamlet's behaviours that he is acting the mad. He only reflects his feelings and ideas from the events to his best friend Horatio and he tries to message Gertrude that he is not mad at all but only behaving it when they talk in Gertrude's private room: "...It is not madness that I have uttered. Bring me to the test/ And I the matter will reword, which madness would gambol from....That's not your trespass but my madness speaks;...Forgive me this my virtue, / For in the fatness of these pursy times/ Virtue itself of vice pardon beg", "The death I gave him. So again, good night./ Imust be cruel only to be kind;/ Thus bad begins and worse remains behind." and ".....That I essentiallly am not in madness/ But mad in craft" (a3.s4.L140-200). If he was mad at all, he would not reflect himself that much clearly because a mad person would not have thought very rationally as we observe this in his words to his mother. It is clear that he speaks normally with his mother at this stage. Therefore, it is seen that Hamlet is determined to fake madness in front of people. On the other hand, when he is alone with her mother, because of his grief for his father and hatred for her mother for marrying Claudius, Hamlet first insults her mother in Act 3 Scene 4. However, when the Ghost reminded him about his revenge, he remembers he is only acting madness and he claims this to his mother.coga gar segagaw orga gak inga foga ga.
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The second character he tries to speak normally is his friend Horatio, as he discusses the events. For example, before his duel with Leartes he talks with Horatio normally as he explains how he found the letter of Claudius with command of his death and how he sent Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to England, to their death. Before Hamlet's play "Mouse Trap" started he explained his plot for organising such a play only to Horatio: "...There is a play before the king: On scene of it comes near the circumstance/ Which I have told thee of my father's death. / I prithee when thou seest that act afoot,/ Even with the very comment of my soul/ Observe my uncle. I his occulted guilt/ Do not unkennel in one speech/ It is a damnéd ghost we have seen, / And my imagination's are as foul..."(a.3.s.3L-60-77). By this speech, it is noticeable that he is trying to find out if the Ghost was really his father's spirit, and this shows he behaves through a track of a plan. Furthermore, at the end of the play in Act V Scene II, he prevents Horatio from sipping the poisoned glass that Gertrude drank during the duel and died, as he was fighting with Leartes.
The last evidence for Hamlet faking madness is his relationship between Leartes and Ophelia. Firstly, reader notices that Ophelia loves Hamlet without question but it is not still sure if Hamlet loves Ophelia truly. It is noticeable that his feeling for women after he meets Ghost is disgust. This might probably a part of his plan to hide his aims against Claudius. As he says, Ophelia "...Get thee to nunnery/Farewell. Or if thou wilt needs marry, marry/ a fool; for wise men know well enough monsters/ you make of them..." (a.3.s.1.L.138-141). These lines imply us that, he is trying to hide his love for Ophelia as he is trying to hide his love for taking his revenge from Claudius. Because, if did not hide his love for Ophelia, and if he did not pretend to be like a son who had a huge downfall. Consequently, he would not be able to avenge his father's death, as he would be a loyal boyfriend of Ophelia. If we look at the dialogues between Leartes and Hamlet, the reader could again observe that Hamlet is acting the lunatic. Before their duel, Hamlet asks for a forgive for killing Leartes' father, Polonius, however it is very doubtful that he thought Claudius was spying his speech with his mother but not Polonius. "...If Hamlet does it not, Hamlet denies it/ Who does it them? His madness.... His madness is poor Hamlet's enemy..." (a.5, s.2, L.208-210). To conclude, it can be acclaimed that Hamlet's acts against Leartes and Ophelia are clearly evidences for Hamlet's fake insanity.
If Hamlet were truthfully insane, he would not have been able to suddenly stop displaying his insanity as he did in the play after his altercation with Laertes in the graveyard. He also had motive for putting on the contrivance as it would disguise his investigation of his father’s strange death and his plans for revenge against his uncle Claudius if he found him to be guilty. After Hamlet witnessed the appearance of his dead father’s ghost and heard what the spirit had to say, Hamlet’s sole mission in life was to uncover the truth behind his Williams 2 father’s death and avenge it accordingly. By putting on this scheme it would serve him better on his quest as opposed to going about his business in a sane and rational manner. Firstly, it allowed Hamlet to confuse those around him about what the cause of his troubled mind was and, also, about what his true intentions are behind any of his actions. This thought is portrayed through Hamlet deceiving Polonius into believing that his love for Ophelia was the root of his madness. Consequently, Polonius went immediately to the king and queen who remark: “Do you think ‘tis this? / It may be; very like” (2.2.151-52). After Hamlet’s encounter with the ghost, he obtains a great distrust and distaste for women. His feigned madness permitted Hamlet to express these emotions freely towards Ophelia: “...Get thee to a nunnery, / farewell. Or if thou wilt needs marry, marry a / fool; for wise men know well enough what monsters / you make of them...” (3.1.138-41). It was also important for Hamlet to be so vulgar towards Ophelia because it would not have been possible for him to continue being a caring loving boyfriend while attempting to avenge his father’s death. Lastly, by pretending to be mentally disturbed, it provided Hamlet with an excuse for any sinful deeds he would commit on his pursuit of revenge. Hamlet exemplifies this conception as he seeks for Laertes forgiveness for murdering his father Polonius: “If Hamlet from himself be ta’en away, / And when he’s not himself does wrong Laertes, / Then Hamlet does it not, Hamlet denies it. / Who does it then? His madness...” (5.2.230-33). Hamlet’s pursuit of the truth and revenge was much better accompanied by madness rather than sanity which gave Hamlet a clear motive to fabricate insanity in the play. In the midst of Hamlet’s supposed madness, the prince continues to speak rationally with certain individuals as well as maintain sensible and logical thoughts. This idea is depicted through his conversations with his good friend Horatio who is assisting Hamlet in his search for the truth behind Old Hamlet’s death. For example, before the performance of the play Hamlet explains to Horatio, “There is a play tonight before the Williams 3 king: / One scene of it comes near the circumstance / Which I have told thee of my father’s death. / I prithee, when thou seest that act afoot, / Even with the very comment of thy soul / Observe my uncle. If his occulted guilt / Do not itself unkennel in one speech, / It is a damned ghost that we have seen” (3.2.75-82). Hamlet has devised a plan to determine his uncle’s guilt and is outlining it to Horatio and asking for some assistance with complete sanity. Hamlet’s thought process remains sane and logical through the entire play as he examines his life in his soliloquies. In these soliloquies Hamlet ponders the question of suicide and what the ramifications of it are: 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 heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to: ‘tis a consummation Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep; To sleep, perchance to dream-ay, there’s the rub: For in that sleep of death what dreams may come. (3.1.56-66) In other soliloquies Hamlet explores the faults of passion and how emotions can be faked as well as his own character flaws such as his inability to take action. A third portrayal of the prince’s sanity occurs during Hamlet’s conversation with his mother after the spirit of Old Hamlet came but revealed itself only to Hamlet. Hamlet talks to his mother in a clear, truthful and rational manner and even offers to Gertrude: “...It is not madness / That I have utter’d. Bring me to the test, / And I the matter will re-word, which madness / would gambol from...” (3:4:143-46). In conclusion, if Hamlet was an individual Williams 4 consumed by madness, he would have entertained only irrational thoughts and would not have had the power to choose certain individuals to speak rationally with. The final argument proving Hamlet’s sanity during the course of the play is that after Hamlet’s altercation with Laertes at Ophelia’s funeral, Hamlet suddenly ceases to put on this antic disposition. During Hamlet’s feigned madness, whenever he was speaking to someone that was not aware of his plan he would ridicule them but in the form of ambiguous metaphors and irony to imitate madness. After the conflict with Laertes, however, Hamlet no longer continued this masking of his insults. For example, while speaking to Osric, one of the king’s courtiers, Hamlet remarks: “Thy state is the more gracious, for ’tis a vice to / know him. He hath much land and fertile. Let a / beast be lord of beasts and his crib shall stand at the / king’s mess. ‘Tis a chuff, but, as I say, spacious in the / possession of dirt” (5:2:85-89). Hamlet makes no attempt here to disguise the fact that he believes that Osric is a member of the court only because he possesses a great deal of fertile land. Immediately prior to Hamlet and Laertes engaging in their duel Hamlet, whilst speaking in a sane coherent fashion, requests: “Give me your pardon, sir. I have done you wrong; / But pardon’t as you are a gentleman” (5:2:222-23). If Hamlet were truly mad he would not recognize the wrongs he committed against others and possess feelings of anguish over them. Further proof that Hamlet is no longer acting mad is that in the final moments of his life he performs very noble acts that were executed out of the goodness of his heart. One of these acts consisted of drinking the remainder of the poison left in the glass that Claudius and Gertrude had already drank from, to prevent Horatio sipping from this glass and dying as well. Madness is a mental illness that does not come and go as it pleases and, therefore, Hamlet could not have been truly mad as he simply interrupted his antic disposition once again acting completely sane. Hamlet was a great individual, who when confronted with a number of tragedies in his life, as well as with the proposition that his uncle killed his father, he did not lose Williams 5 control of his conscious mind, but instead, knew exactly how to resolve his pending maladies. There is no question that his apparent madness was his own concoction devised to aid in his efforts in revealing the truth behind his father’s death and seeking out to revenge it. His motives for doing so were to keep his investigation hidden for as long as possible, to drive away all other aspects of his life that might interfere with his task and to absolve himself of all guilt he may acquire while on his quest. There is proof in his actions that his madness was feigned as he continued thinking rationally and speaking logically to characters like Horatio and Gertrude. A madman’s thought are not composed of logical rationale and he does not speak sanely to some, while at the same time, insanely to others. Hamlet then suddenly drops his antic disposition right after his dispute with Laertes in the graveyard as he began speaking and acting completely normal at all times which was illustrated while he mocked the courtier, Osric. The absence of hamlet’s madness was exemplified further as he confessed feelings of remorse towards Laertes for killing Polonius and Hamlet also performs extremely noble acts as his life was waning. True madness is an illness that inhibits the mind of an individual and assumes total control of thought and action within that person. It is not a condition that flourishes only when called upon or that can be completely disregarded if the host wishes to ignore it.
The idea of feigning madness is also apparent throughout Shakespeare's Hamlet. The tragic character 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 Denmark." Though it sounds like a crazy idea, Hamlet is feigning madness in Shakespear's tragic play.
It is certainly understandable for someone who has just lost their father, and gained a stepfather to suddenly go mad. However, some time passes before Hamlet is "mad." In fact, before he even begins showing signs of madness, he says to his friend Horatio "As I perchance hereafter shall think meet to put an antic disposition on" (Act I, scene V, lines 166-167). It is not until after this statement that Hamlet becomes mad, and in saying this statement, it is implied that he is in fact feigning madness. Later, as Hamlet is speaking to Guildenstern, he makes the analogy that he is "but mad north-north-west: when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw" (Act II, scene II, lines 408-410), again indicating that he is only shamming insanity. 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 168-169). Hamlet is putting on an act, a deceiving performance in order to confirm who was involved with his father's death.
Hamlet only performs his act for certain characters, though. 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. In 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 118), and then in his next dialogue "I loved you not" (Act III, scene I, line 123). However, in different company, like that of Horatio, Bernardo, Francisco, The Players, and the Grave diggers, he is perfectly sensible.
Even though his performance is a good one, Polonius notes that "Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t" (Act II, scene II, lines 211-212), hinting that he is catching on to Hamlet's act. Polonius sees a reason behind the madness, giving credibility to Hamlet's act. The King Claudius is also suspicious of the reason for Hamlet's madness. After witnessing the meeting between Hamlet and Ophelia, he makes the decision to keep an eye on Hamlet, saying "Madness in great ones must not unwatch'd go" (Act III, scene II, line 200). He realizes that this madness that Hamlet is showing could be dangerous to himself, or his kingdom.
Though Shakespear never says what the method is behind Hamlet's madness, it is apparent that he is indeed feigning his sickness. He was visited by his father's ghost which tells him that he had been murdered by Hamlet's own uncle, 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 163-164).