Madness in Hamlet by William Shakespeare
At first glance, William Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet appears to be an obvious story of a man who goes mad over the murder of his father, the king. Madness is a common theme throughout Hamlet, but often times Hamlet himself is the only character seen as mad. An explanation for this is that a first time reader does not carry the perception that any other characters are mad, simply Hamlet. When in actuality Hamlet is surrounded by people who are indeed mad. Ophelia is one main character whose madness is quite obvious. From her Valentine Song in act IV to her suicide in act V, her madness becomes more apparent as the play unfolds. Throughout Hamlet small glimpses of madness from other characters are seen, however the extent of these characters madness is not equal to that of Hamlet or Ophelia. The World Book Dictionary defines madness as " the fact or condition of being crazy; insane condition; loss of one's mind" (2: 1251). Jerome Mazzaro says that "Madness becomes, consequently, a closing off of one's self from others and from one's past..." (101). Whether or not Hamlet and Ophelia fit this definition exactly is unclear; however, this definition does describe each of them somewhat. The degree of their madness differs, but both Hamlet and Ophelia are indeed mad.
A constant argument that arises when talking about Hamlet is that of is his madness real or is it simply an act. The answer to this question can be gathered by
looking at his actions and his words. I believe that in the beginning of the play, Hamlet is
not truly mad, however, he becomes mad through the actions that unfold throughout the play. Hamlet tells Horatio that he is going to "Put an antic disposition on-" (2.1.181). Meaning that Hamlet will act mad in order to rise suspicion. Hamlet is aware that his madness will indeed arise some concern with Claudius and his conspirators. This explains the way he treats Ophelia, as well as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Hamlet's actions begin to cause the people around him to try to search for a reason for his madness. Gertrude says that " I doubt it is no other than the main, his father's death and our o'erhasty marriage" (2.2.56-57). Hamlet's madness obviously troubles the queen, but hers is not the only opinion on his newfound madness. Polonius tells Claudius and Gertrude of his demands on Ophelia that she stop seeing him and says that Hamlet's
Fell into a sadness, then into a fast,
Thence to a watch, thence into a weakness,
Thence to a lightness, and by this declension
Into the madness wherein now he raves,
And all we mourn for. (2.2.144-148)
Polonius believes that Hamlet is mad because Ophelia has rejected him. Hamlet's madness begins to take its toll on the people around him. Mathew Proser reveals that "Hamlet's antic disposition detaches him sufficiently from the center of his own pain to turn his fear into a cutting edge by which he can...