Hamlet-Method In Madness Essay, Research Paper
Method in the Madness: Hamlet’s Sanity Supported Through HisRelation to Ophelia and Edgar’s Relation to Lear In both Hamlet and King Lear, Shakespeare incorporates a theme ofmadness with two characters: one truly mad, and one only actingmad to serve a motive. The madness of Hamlet is frequentlydisputed. This paper argues that the contrapuntal character ineach play, namely Ophelia in Hamlet and Edgar in King Lear, actsas a balancing argument to the other character’s madness orsanity. King Lear’s more decisive distinction between Lear’sfrailty of mind and Edgar’s contrived madness works to betterdefine the relationship between Ophelia’s breakdown and Hamlet’s”north-north-west” brand of insanity. Both plays offer a characteron each side of sanity, but in Hamlet the distinction is not asclear as it is in King Lear. Using the more explicit relationshipin King Lear, one finds a better understanding of the relationshipin Hamlet. While Shakespeare does not directly pit Ophelia’s insanity (orbreakdown) against Hamlet’s madness, there is instead a cleardefinitiveness in Ophelia’s condition and a clear uncertainty inHamlet’s madness. Obviously, Hamlet’s character offers moreevidence, while Ophelia’s breakdown is quick, but more conclusivein its precision. Shakespeare offers clear evidence pointing toHamlet’s sanity beginning with the first scene of the play.Hamlet begins with guards whose main importance in the play is togive credibility to the ghost. If Hamlet were to see his father’sghost in private, the argument for his madness would greatlyimprove. Yet, not one, but three men together witness the ghostbefore even thinking to notify Hamlet. As Horatio says, being theonly of the guards to play a significant role in the rest of theplay, “Before my God, I might not this believe / Without thesensible and true avouch / Of mine own eyes. (I.i.56-8)” Horatio,who appears frequently throughout the play, acts as anunquestionably sane alibi to Hamlet again when framing the Kingwith his reaction to the play. That Hamlet speaks to the ghostalone detracts somewhat from its credibility, but all the men arewitness to the ghost demanding they speak alone.Horatio offers an insightful warning:What if it tempts you toward the flood, my lord, Or to thedreadful summit of the cliff That beetles o’er his base into thesea, And there assume some other horrible form Which might depriveyour sovereignty of reason, And draw you into madness? Think ofit. (I.iv.69-74) Horatio’s comment may be where Hamlet gets the idea to use a pleaof insanity to work out his plan. The important fact is that theghost does not change form, but rather remains as the King andspeaks to Hamlet rationally. There is also good reason for theghost not to want the guards to know what he tells Hamlet, as theplay could not proceed as it does if the guards were to hear whatHamlet did. It is the ghost of Hamlet’s father who tells him, “buthowsomever thou pursues this act, / Taint not thy mind. (I.v.84-5)” Later, when Hamlet sees the ghost again in his mothers room,her amazement at his madness is quite convincing. Yet one musttake into consideration the careful planning of the ghost’scredibility earlier in the play. After his first meeting with the ghost, Hamlet greets his friendscheerfully and acts as if the news is good rather than thedevastation it really is. Horatio: What news, my lord?Hamlet: O, wonderful!Horatio: Good my lord, tell it.Hamlet: No, you will reveal it. (I.v.118-21) This is the first glimpse of Hamlet’s ability and inclination tomanipulate his behavior to achieve effect. Clearly Hamlet is notfeeling cheerful at this moment, but if he lets the guards knowthe severity of the news, they might suspect its nature. Anotherinstance of Hamlet’s behavior manipulation is his meeting withOphelia while his uncle and Polonius are hiding behind a curtain.Hamlet’s affection for Ophelia has already been established inI.iii., and his complete rejection of her and what has transpiredbetween them is clearly a hoax. Hamlet somehow suspects theeavesdroppers, just as he guesses that Guildenstern andRosencrantz are sent by the King and Queen to question him andinvestigate the cause of his supposed madness in II.ii. Hamlet’s actions in the play after meeting the ghost lead everyoneexcept Horatio to believe he is crazy, yet that madness iscontinuously checked by an ever-present consciousness of actionwhich never lets him lose control. For example, Hamlet questionshis conduct in his soliloquy at the end of II.ii, but aftercareful consideration decides to go with his instinct and prove tohimself without a doubt the King’s guilt before proceeding rashly.Even after the King’s guilt is proven with Horatio as witness,Hamlet again reflects and uses his better judgement in thesoliloquy at the end of III.ii. before seeing his mother. Herecognizes his passionate feelings, but tells himself to “speak
daggers to her, but use none,” as his father’s ghost instructed.Again, when in the King’s chamber, Hamlet could perform themurder, but decides not to in his better judgement to ensure thathe doesn’t go to heaven by dying while praying. As Hamlet tellsGuildenstern in II.ii., “I am but mad north-north-west: when thewind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw.” This statementreveals out-right Hamlet’s intent to fool people with his oddbehavior. This is after Polonius’ enlightened comment earlier inthe same scene, “though this be madness, yet there is methodin’t.” Compare the copious evidence against Hamlet’s madness with thecomplete lack of evidence for Ophelia’s sanity after her father’smurder. Her unquestionable insanity puts Hamlet’s veryquestionable madness in a more favorable light. In IV.v. she isquite obviously mad, and unlike Hamlet there seems to be no methodto her madness. All Ophelia can do after learning of her father’sdeath is sing. Indeed, Hamlet’s utter rejection of her combinedwith this is too much for her, and she doesn’t sing a mourningsong at the beginning of IV.v, but rather a happy love song.Later, when she meets with Leartes, she says to him:There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray you, love,remember. And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts.Leartes: A document in madness, thoughts and remembrance fitted. Thought and afflictions, passion, hell itself, She turns to favorand to prettiness. (IV.v.179-89) While the Queen tells Leartes that an “envious sliver” broke andflung Ophelia into the river wearing a headdress of wild-flowers(compare the mad Lear’s crown of weeds), the clowns in V.i.confirm the reader’s suspicion that she did not die soaccidentally: Is she to be buried in Christian burial when she willfully seeksher own salvation? (V.i.1-2) Here lies the water; good. Here stands the man; good. If the mango to this water and drown himself, it is, will he, nill he, hegoes, mark you that. But if the water come to him and drown him,he drowns not himself; argal, he that is not guilty of his owndeath shortens not his own life. (15-20) Ophelia’s breakdown into madness and inability to deal with herfather’s death and Hamlet’s rejection is dealt with neatly andpunctually. There is little evidence against her madness, comparedto Hamlet’s intelligent plotting and use of witnesses to hisactions. Thus, by defining true madness in Ophelia, Shakespearesubtracts from the plausibility of Hamlet’s supposed insanity.Comparing the juxtaposition of insanity and questioned sanity inKing Lear reveals another use of this device by Shakespeare. InKing Lear the lines are drawn more distinctly between sanity andinsanity, allowing a sharper contrast between the play’s twoversions of madness. Edgar’s soliloquy in II.iii. communicates hisintent to act and dress as a mad beggar:… Whiles I may scapeI will preserve myself, and am bethought To take the basest andmost poorest shape That ever penury, in contempt of man, Broughtnear to beast. My face I’ll grime with filth, Blanket my loins,elf all my hairs in knots, And with presented nakedness outfaceThe winds and persecutions of the sky. (II.iii.5-12) There is no question of Edgar’s intent here, and when they seethis `Bedlam beggar’ in action, the audience is aware that it isEdgar and that he is not really insane. As in Hamlet, thecontrived madness is more spectacular than the true madness. Edgarchanges his voice, tears his clothes, and babbles on like agenuine lunatic seeming in contrivance more genuine than Lear, thegenuine maniac. Just as Ophelia’s breakdown is believable because of her father’sdeath and her rejection from Hamlet, Lear’s old age accounts forhis frailty of mind and rash, foolish decisions. The reader isgiven no motive for Lear to tear his clothes off like a ravingmaniac or wear a crown of weeds and babble like a fool other thanhis old age and incapability to deal with his inability to actrationally. He realizes after being told for most of the play thathe is being a fool that perhaps his advisors are right. Only atthis point, it has long been clear to the reader that his madnessis due to senility. In these two plays, Shakespeare uses the dimmer light of realityto expose the brighter light of contrivance. Hamlet and Edgar aredynamic, animated, and absurd in their madness, making Lear’s andOphelia’s true madness seem realistic rather than absurd. Hamletand Edgar both explicitly state the contrivance of their madness,while Lear and Ophelia do not. Further, Hamlet and Edgar both havemotive behind leading others to believe they are insane. Althoughboth are under severe pressure and emotional strain due to theirrespective situations in each play, they both show a remarkableamount of intelligent, conscious, and rational decision-making inefforts to resolve their situations. In this way, they are sharplycontrasted with the mad Lear and Ophelia, whose insanity is notquestioned by themselves or other characters in either play.Neither after displaying madness make any rational decisions thatwould lead the reader to believe in their sanity. Thus, theargument that Hamlet is truly mad refutes his ability to actrationally and discounts the dramatic device of Ophelia (as Learis to Edgar) as a contrapuntal example of true insanity.