Hamlet’s madness, authentic? This question has been debated by scholars and professors throughout the ages.
This lecture will explore the depths of Prince Hamlet’s character in Shakespeare’s original play, as well as Michael Almereyda’s modern interpretation of this tragedy.
Through the use of cinematic tools and critical literacy, the Bard and Almereyda both equally portray the theme of madness, in their respective media. Shakespeare and Almereyda carefully constructed their representations of the Prince based on the surrounding cultural and religious attitudes, values and beliefs of the eras they lived in.
Shakespeare portrays Hamlet’s madness as spurious with purpose towards the deception of the king; in contrast to Almereyda’s version in which the Prince’s thirst for revenge genuinely drives him to the brink of insanity.
Shakespeare creates his representation of Hamlet through the use of a mix of Elizabethan cultural and religious attitudes, values and beliefs. This allowed the Bard to deliver a strong understanding and appeal to his Elizabethan audience.
On the other hand, Almereyda takes a different approach in which he portrays Hamlet’s madness as genuine. Almereyda cunningly massages modern day attitudes, values and beliefs into the precise construction of Hamlet in order to maximise his appeal to a modern audience.
Let’s start with Shakespeare’s representation of the prince.
Shakespeare portrays Hamlet as a tragic hero, a man of radical contradictions. In the play, the Prince meets his father’s death with a strong sense of mourning, one which quickly turns to a lust for revenge when he finds out that his father was murdered by his uncle. Gertrude at this point notices Hamlet’s grief and offers up words of sincerity, which are on screen.
Gertrude to Hamlet:
"Thou know'st tis common, all that lives must die/Passing through nature to eternity" (Act 1, Scene 2)
This, from the perspective of others around him, is when the Prince apparently begins plummet into insanity. On return from his exile later in the play, his insanity remains comparatively hidden as Hamlet now confronts the paradoxical truth in that, in order to avenge his father, he must commit the very same act for which he seeks revenge.
This representation of the Prince is created through both direct and indirect characterisation and critical literacy. Hamlet says more than once that his madness is unauthentic and is only acting in order to fool the king.
Evidence of his acting is presented on screen;
Hamlet to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern:
"I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw."
(Act 2, Scene 2)
Hamlet to Gertrude:
"I essentially am not in madness,
But mad in craft."
(Act 3, Scene 4)
Polonius to Hamlet:
"Though this be madness, yet there is method in't.”
(Act 2, Scene 2)
Shakespeare makes it evident that Hamlet’s madness was merely feigned so...