Hamlets Madness Essay, Research Paper
The issue of madness is one of major importance in this play. Is Hamlet truly mad, meaning insane? Or is he merely angry? Does he feign madness and use it as a guise? Or does he place himself so dangerously close to the line between sanity and insanity that he crosses it without even realizing it? Or is he so intelligent, cunning and in control that this is merely the playing out of his completely conceived and well-executed plan of attack? The patient is a thirty year-old male. He is Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, an introspective, grieving young member of the royalty, plagued by the recent death of his father, and the hasty marriage of his mother to his uncle, Claudius. He is capable of depressing anyone around him; the King and Queen attempt to pry Hamlet from his mourning. As relations become more strained between Hamlet and Claudius, his attitude becomes destitute. He begins to withdraw himself from everyone in the castle, and spends most of his time in solitude; he is often seen walking alone, talking to himself. Upon deeper investigation, it is discovered that Hamlet is seeing the ghost of the ex-King of Denmark, Hamlet’s father. The ghost becomes Hamlet’s counselor, guiding him through his everyday maze of depression and confusion. It is through the ghost of his father that he learns that Claudius, the new King of Denmark, is solely responsible for his father’s “foul and most unnatural murder” (I.v.26). He claims that he is told to seek revenge on his father’s murder by murdering Claudius. Hamlet sees the ghost at various times over the course of the play, appearing when he is in need of help. Hamlet’s condition persists, gradually getting worse, as he becomes increasingly more aggressive and violent. His behavior towards Ophelia, the woman he loves, becomes erratic. He has violent outbursts towards his mother. He kills various members of the castle without explanation. Hamlet is clearly out of control, and is in need of a psychological evaluation. The most major of mental illnesses is schizophrenia, a psychotic illness, where the patient is out of touch with reality. In this disease, thoughts may be deranged or delusions without basis may arise. The individual tends to withdraw from their already little social contact. They become unresponsive and lose interest in normal activities. Emotionally, they can be irritable, angry, aggressive, and even violent at times. At other times, they can have an obsession with death, or voices can be heard or visions seen. The reasons for this change often appear unexplainable to relatives and friends. Some try to explain this new behavior as due to stresses, past or present, especially from interpersonal difficulties and mishaps. It is generally a devastating illness, troublesome to the patient and painful to the relatives and sometimes offensive to society. (Chong, 1) William Shakespeare’s literary opus Hamlet is an adventure story of the highest quality, a tale of the psychological trials of a man who is isolated from the society he must live in, and a portrait of a family driven to bloody and gruesome murder by one man’s lust for power (King, 1). In his essay “Hamlet: A Riddle in Greatness”, Louis Kronenberger states that “even on the surface, Hamlet remains among the greatest of unsolved psychological mysteries, and the one that has been provided with the most solutions” (1). The theme of madness in Hamlet has been one of great discussion; there is much conflicting evidence that can be found when trying to prove the validity of the claim to Hamlet’s true madness. The patient, Hamlet, prince of Denmark, has been diagnosed with schizophrenia due to his erratic, sometimes irrational behavior. Ever since the death of his father, King Hamlet, young Hamlet has been what appeared to be in a state of madness. This case study on Hamlet’s condition will cite many instances in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet in which the patient has acted in a schizophrenic, meaning mad, manner. Hamlet’s madness is the result of his fragile, overanalytical personality being confronted with a great deal of anguish. Hamlet’s madness is apparent even before he sees the ghost of his father. At the start of the play, Hamlet is shown to be “in the throes of bereavement” (“Though This is Madness, Yet There is Method in It.”, Online Archive, 1). The queen encourages him to look to the future, and to cease his grieving, for she believes it is false. Hamlet responds angrily to her suggestion: “But I have within which passeth show; these but the trappings and the suits of woe.” Hamlet’s strained relationship with Claudius is now evident; as he comments on his mother’s marriage, “It is not nor it cannot come to good” (I.ii.158), he already senses that it embodies much misfortune. This line sets a portentous prediction for the course of the play, as Hamlet struggles between emotion and sobriety in order to enact revenge on his father’s death. Hamlet’s encounter with the ghost of his father considerably changes his disposition, and his actions become more bizarre. He has the unique ability to communicate to his father by talking to a ghost; his friends must swear themselves to secrecy because of the threat that others may dismiss him as “mad”. Nevertheless, Hamlet’s actions after meeting the ghost do lead everyone except Horatio to believe he is crazy, but never acts upon his feelings and loses control. From the beginning, Hamlet feels much pressure to speak out against the king, but lacks the strength to do so. This inner conflict is shown in his soliloquy in act two, when he states, “O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!” (II.ii.534). He confesses that he is a coward, and is torn between speaking out and actually taking action against Claudius. These new pressures cause much inner torment in Hamlet, and hint at the fact that he is mentally indisposed. Further evidence of Hamlet’s madness can be found in Hamlet’s encounter with his mother in act three, scene four. Hamlet has gone to see his mother in an attempt to force her to purge herself of her sin, her hasty marriage to Claudius. As he attempts to make his mother see her wrongs, he screams at her: “Nay, but to live in the rank sweat of an enseamed bed, stewed in corruption, honeying and making love” (III.iv.92-95). This attack on his mother clearly shows that he has gone beyond merely playing the role of a moralist, for he has crossed the line between sanity and insanity with his wild and whirling words. After this attack on his mother, Hamlet furthers his irrational behavior by killing Polonius, who was standing behind the curtain in his mother’s room. As Polonius slumps out from behind the curtain, the queen exclaims “O me, what hast thou done?”. Hamlet replies, “Nay, I know not. Is it the king?” After the slaying, Hamlet appears to justify the killing in his own mind by stating that Polonius’ death is “almost as bad, good mother, as kill a king and marry with his brother” (III.iv.30-31). Hamlet’s excuse for the murder is irrational, for he left Claudius a scene before, and did not take any affirmative action then. He continues to verbally attack his mother, and does not cease until his next meeting with the ghost. Hamlet is indeed acting madly, and without justification. As he continues the attack on his mother, the ghost appears in a nightgown. Hamlet appears to come back to his senses, his mood changes, and begs for guidance: “Save me, and hover o’er me with your wings, you heavenly guards! What would your gracious figure?” The queen, oblivious to Hamlet’s hallucinations, cries out: “Alas, he’s mad!” (III.iv.107-109). The queen is now convinced of Hamlet’s psychosis, as she has what appears to be solid evidence that Hamlet is hallucinating and talking to himself. After Hamlet kills Polonius, he will not tell anyone where the body is. Instead, he assumes the role of a “madman” once again, speaking in a grotesque and ironic manner. The king asks him, “Now Hamlet, where’s Polonius?” Hamlet replies with a sarcastic remark: “At supper.” He continues, “Not where he eats, but where ‘a is eaten.” (IV.iii.16-19) Hamlet is clearly disrespecting Claudius, and making him look like a fool. Yet again, Hamlet does not act upon his plan to seek revenge of his father’s murder, but merely attacks Claudius verbally, as he did to his mother in a fit of rage. From the beginning of the play, Hamlet has a great fascination with death, another common symptom of schizophrenia (Goldman, 3). Despite being warned by his friends that following the ghost was a bad idea, Hamlet’s obsession with death was so great that he was prepared to risk all to follow. Taking such a risk, Hamlet organized a play that revealed the truth about his father’s death. This play was to serve as a strategy to force Claudius to admit to the killing of Hamlet’s father. Claudius’ reaction to the play served as solid evidence against himself; it was all Hamlet needed to be convinced that he was the true murderer. While he is struggling with the truth of his father’s death, Hamlet is also struggling with thoughts of suicide: “Devoutly to be wished; To die, to sleep…” (III.i.65). This soliloquy shows how Hamlet’s obsession with death turned on him, to the point where he is considering taking his own life. Another instance of madness in Hamlet is found in Ophelia, Hamlet’s true love. Before the tragedy began, Hamlet and Ophelia were already in love, and was shown through Ophelia’s words: “My lord, he hath importuned me with love in honorable fashion…and hath given countenance to his speech, my lord, with almost all the holy vows of heaven” (I.iii.111-115). Ophelia’s madness was caused by the repression of their true love; Claudius wanted Hamlet removed, and Polonius was determined to not let Ophelia be caught in a harsh social class (Desmet, 2). This subplot even furthers the theme of madness in Hamlet, and plays an important role in the other characters’ rationalization of Hamlet’s madness. The appearance of Ophelia’s madness is sudden; Hamlet is unaware of her condition, preoccupied with his own mental deterioration and his lust for revenge. The repression of her love for Hamlet, his rejection of her, her father’s death, and Hamlet’s own mental incapacity all drive Ophelia across the line between sanity and insanity; in this madness, she takes her own life. Hamlet’s behavior towards Ophelia is inconsistent throughout the play. After her death, as he was visiting her grave, he jumped in the grave to fight with Laertes. During the fight, Hamlet states “Forty thousand brothers could not, with all their quantity of love, make up my sum (V.i.250-253). This statement contradicts his words when she returned his gifts, stating that he never loved her. Hamlet’s madness does not reflect Ophelia’s true madness, his actions contrast them (Soon, 4). When Hamlet was sent to England, he carefully exchanged the letter that accompanied Guildenstern and Rosencrantz; the result was these men going to their death, because of Hamlet’s clever exchange. Even though they were not part of his plot of revenge, he had them killed, a demonstration of his madness once again. In the final scene when Hamlet is confronting Laertes, his thoughts and words turn again to the topic of madness: Was’t Hamlet wronged Laertes? Never Hamlet. If Hamlet from himself be ta’en away, Then Hamlet does it not, Hamlet denies it. Who does it then? His madness (V.ii.223-226). By these words, Hamlet is speaking of his true madness, which caused him to kill Polonius. He is apologizing to Laertes, and admits that his loss of control is due to his madness. In this final scene, Hamlet comes to terms with his own madness, and apprehends that it was his suffering and procrastination that kept him from killing Claudius sooner. He loses control over his revenge, and it is at this time that he finally finds the right opportunity to kill Claudius, and satisfy the wishes of the ghost of his father: “Hamlet is of the faction that is wronged; his madness is poor Hamlet’s enemy” (V.ii.227-228). The theme of madness in Shakespeare’s Hamlet has been a widely popular topic in the discussion of the play by both critics and readers alike. It is quite simple to see the reason why, since the play confronts us with evidence to prove the validity of the claim to Hamlet’s true madness, or, rather a view that the actions and words arising from the apparent madness is but a feigned “antic disposition” as proclaimed by Hamlet himself. (Soon, 1) The psychological case study of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, presents the theory that Hamlet did have a break with reality, and should be diagnosed with schizophrenia, a devastating disease that affects a mere 1 percent of the world’s population. The preponderance of evidence that has been displayed clearly points to the conclusion that Hamlet was indeed mad; the disease’s onset is in the young adult years, it is disabling, resulting in a period of productive time lost, and it has social effects on the patient, as well as his family. In Hamlet’s case, all criteria have been met, and therefore can be declared schizophrenic, or “mad.” Bibliography Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. New York: Penquin Putnam Inc., 1998. Bradley, A.C. Shakespearean Tragedy. New York: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1964. Charney, Maurice. Style in Hamlet. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969. Chong, Wong Yip, Dr. General Introduction to Mental Illness. 9 March 1999. *http://home2.pacific.net.sg/~arh/article_mental_illness.html*. Cordell, West. A Critical Analysis of Hamlet’s Madness. 9 March 1999. *http://www.tecinfo.com.~jocelyn/hamlet/west.html*. Desmet, Christy. 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