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Hamlet (Prince of Denmark) is one of Shakespeare's more popular tragedies.

(Shakespeare, 1600) The narrative is famous for its soliloquies, the use of
fantasy, immorality, deception and desperate attempts at redemption. Madness is
the main element driving the plot. This madness is either real, or it is
feigned—"antic disposition." (Hamlet 1.5 line 181). When reality is driven by
fantasy, one often raises doubts about a man's mental state. Chronic depression
(without the closure of mourning) following the death of a loved one is also an
important consideration. Hamlet was not mad; he merely feigned it to accomplish
his end of vengeance. There is, however, evidence of deep psychological
disturbance, more rage, than madness. Anybody whose life's story involves his
mother marrying her brother-in-law two months after her husband's death will not
react with stoicism. The premise of Hamlet is launched by the appearance of a
ghost to several people. This ghost, however, speaks only to Hamlet. On another
occasion, the ghost appears only to Hamlet and is not visible to Gertrude,
Hamlet's mother. Psychologists would have a field day attempting to analyze the
deep schizoid interpretations associated with this fantasy. Despite the above,
Shakespeare's fantasy imagery is essential to the plot. It does not make
pronouncements on Hamlet's sanity

To understand how Hamlet's "madness" plays an important role in the story,


it is necessary to visit a broad outline of the plot. The ghost of Hamlet's
father visits Hamlet's friends, and later, Hamlet, to inform him that his death
two months prior was a "foul and most unnatural murder." (Hamlet 1.5 line 26) It
was his brother Claudius, having an adulterous affair with his wife Gertrude, who
had killed the king by pouring poison in his ear. This new information rouses
Hamlet from his depression. He vows revenge. He informs his close friends that he
will feign madness in his vengeful quest. In the end, Hamlet does earn his
revenge. Hamlet kills Claudius. Unfortunately, however, all this comes at a cost
of Hamlet's own life, that of his mother Gertrude, his prospective brother-in-law
Laertes, and his prospective father-in-law Polonius. In the process, his lover
Ophelia becomes genuinely insane. The only redeeming feature in this tragedy is
that Hamlet assures that Denmark is left in capable hands.

The scenes involving madness have been contrived. Each of the scenes where
Hamlet feigns madness is easily "seen through" by the audience or readers of
Shakespeare's plays. There is no uniformity to the manifestation of madness.
Hamlet manipulates each character in the play so that they attribute his madness
to different reasons: Polonius thinks it is due to his rejection by Ophelia, and
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern feel Hamlet suffers from ambition. Claudius doubts
his nephew's madness, but at the same time, Hamlet's melancholy nature is clearly
expressed in the beginning by his continued mourning for his father. During the
time when this play was purported to have been written (circa 1600), excessive
melancholy was often associated with forms of madness. Shakespeare's Hamlet's
depression is understandable and cannot be attributable to madness.

Perhaps it is the genius of Shakespeare that he deliberately contrasts


Hamlet's behavior with that of Ophelia who is genuinely insane. While Shakespeare
does not directly pit Ophelia's insanity against Hamlet's madness, there is
instead a clear definitiveness in Ophelia's condition and a clear uncertainty in
Hamlet's madness. Obviously, Hamlet's character offers more evidence of madness,
while Ophelia's breakdown is quick, but more conclusive in its precision.
Shakespeare offers clear evidence pointing to Hamlet's sanity beginning with the
first scene of the play.

Instances from the play are key in demonstrating that Hamlet is posturing.
The most direct is when 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. (Hamlet 1.5 lines 166-180). Until the end, only Horatio is
sure of Hamlet's act. There is no consistency to the madness. It changes
depending on whom Hamlet interacts with. Hamlet's madness only manifests itself
when he is in the presence of certain characters. When Hamlet is around Polonius,
Claudius, Gertrude, Ophelia, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, he behaves
irrationally. Hamlet's behavior is different around Horatio, Bernardo, Francisco,
and the actors whom Hamlet convinces to reenact the murder of his father so that
he can judge Claudius' reaction. Hamlet's behavior, however, does not fool
Claudius who confesses that Hamlet's "actions although strange, do not appear to
stem from madness." (Hamlet 3.1 lines 165-167). Polonius also admits that
Hamlet's actions and words have a "method" to them; there appears to be a reason
behind them; they are logical in nature. (Hamlet 2.6 lines 206-207). On one
occasion, he tells his mother that he is not mad, "but mad in craft." (Hamlet 3.4
lines 188-199).

After his first meeting with the ghost, Hamlet greets his friends cheerfully
and acts as if the news is good rather than the devastation it really is.
"Horatio: What news, my lord? Hamlet: O, wonderful! Horatio: Good my lord, tell
it. Hamlet: No, you will reveal it." (Hamlet 1.5 lines 118-21). This is the first
glimpse of Hamlet's ability and inclination to manipulate his behavior to achieve
effect. Clearly, Hamlet is not feeling cheerful at this moment, but if he lets
the guards know the severity of the news, they might suspect its nature. Another
instance of Hamlet's behavior-manipulation is when meeting with Ophelia while
Claudius and Polonius are hiding behind a curtain. Hamlet's affection for Ophelia
has already been established earlier. (Hamlet 1.3) Therefore his complete
rejection of her and the hostility Hamlet shows her, as well as all that has
transpired between them is clearly a hoax. Hamlet's actions in the play after
meeting the ghost lead everyone except Horatio to believe he is crazy, yet that
madness is continuously checked by a consciousness of action, which never lets him
lose control.

Later Hamlet tells us what he thinks of his own madness in a conversation with
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. He recognizes right away that they are spying on
him and declares, "I am mad but north-north-west, when the wind is southerly, I
know a hawk form a handsaw." (Hamlet 2.2 lines 402-403). This means that he could
distinguish between things that did not resemble each other. Hamlet subtly tells
his so-called friends (because they had been recruited by Claudius to spy on him)
that though he was mad it was only to a certain extent, and that he has a firm
grip on reality.

We see that Hamlet's madness can be construed if one looks deeply into his
behavior. However, Shakespeare denies us any information that might cause the
audience to suspect anything else but fakery. Hamlet's madness is defined from
many different perspectives. However, his madness never really established as
true insanity. The anger from his father's murder is understandable. Maybe he is
mad with love for Ophelia. These are different things that one should consider
when reading the play.