In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, one of the most evident and important themes is the theme of madness. The theme is apparent throughout the play, mainly through the actions and thoughts of Hamlet, Ophelia, and Laertes. Madness is defined as the quality or condition of mental illness or derangement (being insane). Madness is at the center of the conflicts and problems of the play and is conveyed through Shakespeare’s elaborate use of manipulation and parallels between Hamlet, Ophelia, and Laertes to contribute to Hamlet’s tragic character.
All examples of madness begin and end with death. Hamlet’s madness, or feign of madness begins with the death of Old Hamlet and seeing his ghost, and Ophelia’s madness begins with the death of her father Polonius. Laertes is another example of a character within the play who demonstrates the theme of madness. Laertes’ madness is also triggered by death. His madness becomes sudden and extreme with the thought of revenge at the death of his father, Polonius, and sister, Ophelia. Laertes goes mad with revenge because of all the lies and exaggerations that Claudius feeds him.In the end, their many forms of madness get the best of them, and results in their own deaths whether by another, or by their own hand.
One example of Hamlet’s madness is how he mocks Polonius. He would not do so normally because Polonius is older than he is so he would normally treat him with a certain amount of respect which he does not do following the sighting of the ghost of Old Hamlet. The Ghost tells Hamlet of his murder, and to test the truth of what he is told, Hamlet puts on “an antic disposition”. Hamlet manages to convince Polonius that he is inconsiderate of others, knowing that with seeing this odd change in behavior, Polonius will go to the king to tell him of it. When Polonius tells the King of Hamlet’s behavior, the King states “There’s something in his soul/ o’er which his melancholy sits on brood, / and I do doubt the hatch and the disclose / will be some danger;” (3.1. 158-161). Claudius believes that whatever the reason for Hamlet’s madness, the end result or outcome will be dangerous. Polonius, however, believes that the reason Hamlet is acting so strangely is because he is madly in love with Ophelia. Because of Claudius’ fear of what Hamlet could do he decides that “Madness in great ones must not unwatched go” (3.1. 182-183) and sends Hamlet to England. Hamlet admits to others that he is mad, which would seem like something that someone who was actually mad would be unlikely to do because they wouldn’t want to bring attention to it. Hamlet wants to bring attention to the idea that he is mad because he wants it to be spread around so that it becomes a known fact. Hamlet says “How strange or odd some'er I bear myself / as I perchance hereafter shall think meet / to put an antic disposition on.” (1.5. 170-172) to show the reader that his madness isn’t real.
There is however evidence that Hamlet is actually mad....