Hamlet: Observations of Madness
One of the most analyzed plays in existence is the tragedy Hamlet, with its recurring question: "Is Hamlet’s 'antic disposition' feigned or real?" In truth, this question can only be answered by observing the thoughts of the main characters in relation to the cause of Hamlet real or feigned madness. In the tragedy Hamlet, each of the main characters explains Hamlets madness in their own unique way. To discover the cause behind the madness of Hamlet, each character used their own ambitions, emotions and interpretations of past events. Characters tried to explain Hamlet's "antic disposition" by means of association to thwarted ambition, heartbreaking anguish, and denied love. In the workings of their thoughts, the characters inadvertently reveal something about their own desires, emotions and experiences to the reader.
The thoughts of Guildenstern and Rosencrantz present the reader with one possible factor for the cause of Hamlets supposed madness. The two men believe that the cause for Hamlets madness is his lack of “advancement” or thwarted ambition. In a conversation with Hamlet in Act II scene II, Guildenstern and Rosencrantz come upon this idea:
Hamlet: Denmark's a prison.
Rosencrantz: Then is the world one.
Hamlet: A goodly one; in which there are many confines,
wards and dungeons, Denmark being one o' the worst.
Rosencrantz: We think not so, my lord.
Hamlet: Why, then, 'tis none to you; for there is nothing
either good or bad, but thinking makes it
so: to me it is a prison.
When the heir apparent calls his heritage a prison, something must be seriously wrong, and it is not difficult for them to guess what that something is. As prince of Denmark, Hamlet was next in line to become king. Unfortunately, his mother’s marriage to his uncle removed the short-term possibility for Hamlet to become king. Continuing on,
Rosencrantz: Why then, your ambition makes it one;
'tis too narrow for your mind.
Hamlet: O God, I could be bounded in a nut shell and count
myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I
have bad dreams.
Guildenstern: Which dreams indeed are ambition, for the very
substance of the ambitious is merely the shadow of a dream.
Hamlet: A dream itself is but a shadow.
Rosencrantz: Truly, and I hold ambition of so airy and light a
quality that it is but a shadow's shadow.
(Act II scene II)
From the start of the discussion, Rosencrantz believes that it is Hamlet’s denied ambitions that creates Hamlet’s negative view of everything around him, including his soon to be kingdom, Denmark. Guildenstern soon jumps onto this bandwagon, and joins Rosencrantz in explaining to Hamlet that it is denied ambition that is the cause of all his troubles. For their efforts, Hamlet latter uses the same “cause” to dismiss...