Maddness Essay, Research Paper
Madness seems to be a common theme in William Shakespeare’s plays, Macbeth and Hamlet. The questions I ask myself are; 1. What brings about madness in these plays, and 2. How can one tell madness when he/she sees it in a Shakespearean play? The signs of madness are visible in both of these plays by William Shakespeare,
After Hamlet has discovered the truth about his father, he goes through a very traumatic period, which is interpreted as madness by readers and characters. With the death of his father and the hasty, incestuous remarriage of his mother to his uncle, Hamlet is thrown into a suicidal frame of mind in which “the uses of this world” seem to him “weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable.” No man in his right state contemplates suicide and would take his life due to human frailty. Ophelia tells us that before the events of the play Hamlet was a model courtier, soldier and scholar, “The glass of fashion and the mould of form,/ The observed of all observers.” A modern boy scout to say the least, but as the play unwinds, his actions and thoughts catch him and slowly turn him insane. Not to say that he was a crazed madman out of touch with reality as was Ophelia, but a man driven crazy by thought. Hamlet’s behavior throughout the play, especially towards Ophelia is inconsistent. He jumps into Ophelia’s grave, and fights with Laertes in her grave. He professes “I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers/Could not, with all their quantity of love,/ Make up my sum” [HV, I,250-253], during the fight with Laertes in Ophelia’s grave, but he tells her that he never loved her, when she returns his letters and gifts, while she was still alive. Hamlet subtly hints his awareness of his dissolving sanity as he tells Laertes that he killed Polonius in a fit of madness [HV, II, 236-250] Once Ophelia meets Hamlet and speaks with him her love abandons him. Hamlet realizes that his mother and stepfather are aware of this love and might use this to end his threat. Hamlet must end their thoughts of using Ophelia to rid him of his condition. To do this he must destroy all the current feelings Ophelia has for him and he does so very well, perhaps too well. Either his love for Ophelia was never as strong as he said, which I doubt, or he has really gone insane by assuming every situation is going to happen and he sacrifices her love for revenge. An honest man would not have done so. Hamlet has violent outbursts towards his mother. His outburst seems to be out of jealousy, as a victim to the Oedipus complex. He alone sees his father’s ghost in his mother’s chambers. Every other time the ghost appeared someone else has seen it. During this scene he finally shows his madness, because his mother does not see the ghost. “On him, on him! Look you how pale he glares!/ his form and cause conjoined, preaching to stones / Would make them Page 2 capable.” [HIII, IV, 126-128]. Throughout the play, there are also supporting factors to argue Hamlet’s sanity, as these details compromise his madness, to balance out his mental state. Hamlet tells Horatio that he is going to feign madness, and that if Horatio notices any strange behavior from Hamlet, it is because he is putting on an act. [HI, V,166-180]. He knows that he is not the same as he used to be and fears he is going insane, so by telling his closest friend that he is just act, he covers his tracks. “It is not, nor it cannot come to good./But break my heart, for I must hold my tongue.” All he can do in this frustrated state is to lash out with bitter satire at the evils he sees and then relapse into suicidal melancholy. Hamlet has mood swings as his mood changes abruptly throughout the play. Hamlet appears to act mad when he hears of his father’s murder. At the time he speaks wild and whirling words: “Why, right; you are I’ the right; And so, without more circumstance at all, I hold it fit that we shake hands and part ” [HI, V, 127-134]. After Hamlet kills Polonius he will not tell anyone where the body is. Instead he assumes his ironic matter, “Not where he eats, but where he is eaten. / A certain convocation of political worms a e’en at him.” [HIV, III, 20-21] In the two months after his meeting with the ghost, he puzzles the court with his assumed madness but does nothing concrete to effect or further his revenge. His inability to either accept the goodness of all life or act to destroy its evils now after Polonius’s death, in act IV scene II. In conclusion, Hamlet was a genius. In his mind were thoughts and plans in which he always knew each persons next step before they did it. Due to his procrastination and thoughts of revenge he became so overwhelmed with every situation and plot that he entangled himself in his own schemes and had to sacrifice his sanity. Only then did he truly become insane and couldn’t control the web that he was weaving. Even if the madness was true or false, as Hamlet portrayed the role of a madman he took it upon himself to be lost in his control of actions.
In Macbeth the witches are the main reason for madness. Here’s one simple reason the witches could foretell the future, if they’d never spoken to Macbeth he still would have become king but it would have come to him in a less violent way. Macbeth creates his own misery when he kills people. This causes him and his wife to become insecure, because of the reasons for his actions, which in turn causes him to commit more murders. The witches give great enticement, but in the end, it’s Macbeth’s decision to fall for the temptation. The three Witches are only responsible for introducing the ideas to Macbeth, and putting the ideas in his head, but they are not responsible for his actions throughout the play. However I wonder if we should blame Lady Macbeth, Macbeth’s ambition, and his own responsibilities for his madness, not the witches. Lady Macbeth is shown early as an ambitious woman who can manipulate Macbeth easily. This is shown in the line “That I may pour my spirits in thine ear”(MI,V,26). She is selfless, and wants what is best for her husband. Before the speech that Lady Macbeth gives in act one scene five, Macbeth does not want to go through with the killing of the king. She manipulates Macbeth’s self-esteem by playing on his manliness and his bravery. Macbeth has the final say in whether or not to go through with the killing, but he loves Lady Macbeth and wants to make her happy. Lady Macbeth is the dominating individual in the relationship. It seems that she can convince him to do anything as long as she pushes the right buttons. Macbeth’s ambition is present before the witch’s prophesies. He would never have thought seriously about killing Duncan without the witches. But the combination of his ambitious and the witch’s prophecies leads him to kill the king. Lady Macbeth even says, “Thou wouldst be great/ Art not without ambition.”(MI,V,80-81). Macbeth also says, “his besetting sin: I have no spur/ To prick the sides of my intent, but only/ Vaulting ambition.” Macbeth’s ambition is shown while he waits to have a succession of kings after him. Macbeth has a lot of ambition in him and because of this, both the witches and Lady Macbeth are able to make him evil. It is this ambition that gets him into so much trouble not the witches. Once Macbeth kills for the first time, he has to cover up his wrong doings, or risk loosing everything he has worked so hard for. In the end, it all comes to Macbeth himself and we see it drive Lady Macbeth in to Madness. We get our first look at Lady Macbeth’s madness when she goes through her “Out damn spot” sleepwalking sequence. We also see her madness in the middle of the act when she commits suicide. Now Macbeth’s madness is a little more subtle, but it is visible none the less. We see his madness in his murders, especially in the murder of Macduffs family. No sane person would be able to kill an innocent woman and child like Macbeth did. We see one murder drive all the madness in this play, and we see this murder driven by many factors all listed above.
Madness seems to be a common bond in these two Shakespearean plays. Hamlets madness is driven by his quest for revenge, and Macbeths madness is driven by his love for his wife and his lust for power, helped by the wonderful witches. The end result in both of these plays is also the same, every mad person ends up dead in the end, along with a couple innocent by-standers.