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This is an essay that will attempt to discuss the Shakespeare play Hamlet, and the themes of madness interlaced throughout. I will conclude whether madness truly is at the heart of the play by observing some of the main characters. Ophelia and Hamlet will be examined for their differing states of madness, and Horatio will be discussed for his seemingly unshakable mental strength.
The Tragical History of Hamlet is a series of poor decisions leading to a sad ending for Hamlet and nearly everyone he cares for. Madness seems to be at the heart of the play, but closer examination shows a torrent of emotions coursing through scene after scene. It is unclear whether Hamlet has truly gone mad. Hamlet's madness comes from not only his grief over the death of his father but from the betrayal he feels from his mother for marrying his uncle. In the beginning he decides to act like he's gone crazy to distract the King and others from his true plans of revenge. In this scene, Hamlet speaks to his mother about grieving and how his black clothes are only just a hint of the sorrow he feels: "Seems," madam? Nay, it is. I know not "seems." 'Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother, Nor customary suits of solemn black, Nor windy suspiration of forced breath, No, nor the fruitful river in the eye, Nor the dejected 'havior of the visage, Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief, That can denote me truly. These indeed "seem," For they are actions that a man might play. But I have that within which passeth show, These but the trappings and the suits of woe (Shakespeare, Orgel and Braunmuller pg. 1350).
During the scene where Hamlet is in the bedroom with his mother and Hamlet sees the ghost, she comments on Hamlet's mental state. Hamlet proceeds to tell her he is completely sane: My pulse as yours doth temperately keep time And makes as healthful music. It is not madness that I have uttered. Bring me to the test, And I the matter will reword, which madness would gambol from. Mother, for love of grace, lay not that flattering unction to your soul that not your trespass but my madness speaks. It will but skin and film the ulcerous place
Whilst rank corruption, mining all within, Infects unseen. Confess yourself to heaven.
Repent what's past. Avoid what is to come. And do not spread the compost on the weeds
To make them ranker. Forgive me this my virtue, For in the fatness of these pursy times virtue itself of vice must pardon beg, Yea, curb and woo for leave to do him good (Shakespeare, Orgel and Braunmuller pg. 1350).
Hamlet understands his duty of revenge very well and says so almost at once: "Haste me to know't, that I, with wings as swift as meditation or the thoughts of love, may sweep to my revenge". What he does not know and must seek to learn is the truth of the Ghost's claims. And always as he learns the truth or when he chooses to believe he has learned the truth, he endures the agony of thinking and feeling the extravagance of revenge itself. It is not ordinary at all (Shakespeare, Orgel and Braunmuller pg. 1339).
Sometimes horribly, sometimes comically, sometimes satirically, he tests the Ghost by testing the truthfulness of those around him- Ophelia, Rosencrantz and Guilderstern, Polonious and Gertrude and Laertes. In each case, Hamlet finds or suspects the enmity of his mighty opposite, King Claudius. Distrusting most others, Hamlet repeatedly affirms his trust in Horatio. In the middle of the play, Hamlet makes Horatio a trusted witness to elaborate deception called "The Mousetrap," the celebrated play-within-the-play wherein Hamlet hopes to "catch the conscience of the king" (Shakespeare, Orgel and Braunmuller pg. 1339).
â€¦I, the son of a dear father murdered, Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell, Must like a whore unpack my heart with words and fall a-cursing like a very drab, a stallion! Actor, whore, hero. The shifting analogies among them may disconcert us, but they reveal the possibilities of deception and revelation, truth found through falsehood or pretense, truth found to be falsehood and apparent falsehood found to be true that make Hamlet's and the play's understanding of revenge and its ambiguities so powerful and imponderable (Shakespeare, Orgel and Braunmuller pg. 1340).
Shakespeare's art makes us believe we have unmediated access to the character's thoughts and feelings, but Hamlet the character has no thoughts and feelings because the character is a dramatic creation, not a thinking, feeling human being.
"O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!" In that soliloquy, the triple parallel of actor, hero, and whore was created within Hamlet's imagined consciousness and unconsciousness so that Shakespeare could develop revenge's ambiguous nature. If we turn our attention from these matters and back to the overt actions of the play, we find that the parallelism also organizes a great deal of the action and hence organizes our responses to it.
Just as political demands trap Hamlet, so political and patriarchal constraints control Ophelia's choices and set her on the path to frustration, madness, and suicide (Shakespeare, Orgel and Braunmuller pg. 1342).
Many people have argued that the play portrays Hamlet's quest for self-knowledge. That claim lessens the play by plucking out the heart of its mysteries. Even if we do not presume to say what knowledge Hamlet achieves, to suppose that that knowledge is the play's goal or its artistic purpose diminishes its power. Doing so, we tame into knowledge something better enjoyed as wild and unconfinable (Shakespeare, Orgel and Braunmuller pg. 1343).
Horatio could be considered entirely sane. Throughout the play he is very even tempered and deals with Hamlet's supposed insanity with grace.
When Hamlet sees the ghost for the first time, Horatio is weary saying,
What if it tempt you toward the flood, my lord, Or to the dreadful summit of the cliff That beetles o'er his base into the sea, And there assume some other horrible form, Which might deprive your sovereignty of reason And draw you into madness? Think of it. The very place puts toys of desperation, Without more motive, into every brain That looks so many fathoms to the sea And hears it roar beneath (Shakespeare, Orgel and Braunmuller pg. 1355).
Hamlet admires Horatio for the qualities that Hamlet himself does not possess. He praises Horatio for his virtue and self-control: "Horatio, thou art e'en as just a man/As e'er my conversation cop'd withal" (III.ii.56-7). Horatio's strength of character is unwavering, and Hamlet longs for the peace of mind that such stoicism must bring to Horatio: Dost thou hear? Since my dear soul was mistress of her choice, And could of men distinguish her election, Hath seal'd thee for herself, for thou hast been As one, in suffering all, that suffers nothing, A man that fortune's buffets and rewards Hast ta'en with equal thanks: and blest are those Whose blood and judgement are so well commedled That they are not a pipe for fortune's finger To sound what stop she please. Give me that man That is not passion's slave, and I will wear him In my heart's core, ay, in my heart of heart, As i do thee. (III.ii.65-70)
(From Comparative Drama)
The description of Ophelia's mad state establishes the terms of madness in Hamlet. Horatio and the queen are told that "she speaks things in doubt/ That carry but half sense. Her speech is nothing,/ Yet the unshaped use of it doth moe/ The hearers to collection." The gentleman goes on to say that the hearers like so many subsequent audiences, "Both the words up fit to their own thoughts" (IV. V. 6-10). Thus, one can see that madness interrupts memory's contact with both the sensitive soul and one's will. Speech normally should move one's thoughts to the correct stored formsâ€¦ Later in the scene, the King and Laertes will make this bond of memory and madness even more explicit. Witnessing Ophelia's mad behavior, the King pronounces, "Poor Ophelia/ Divided from herself (memory) and her fair judgment".
(pg. 102, Comparative Drama): Audiences have long recognized a link between the infidelities that her mad songs dwell upon and the accusations of infidelity that Hamlet makes in Act II Scene i. He addresses her as "nymph" (an expression possibly connoting wanton as well as chaste behavior), and later he asks her if she is honest (chaste). The interview in this scene builds to his eventual dismissal of her as part of a total humanity othat he sees as "arrant knaves" and hence as incapable of being faithful. Twice during the interview, he orders her to a nunnery (a convent, thout, too, as probably a house of prostitution). In her madness, she sings of a love who has rejected his lady because she has not remained pure: "Qouth she, 'Before you tumbled me,/ You promis'd me to wed'." He replies, "'So would I a done, by yonder sun,/ And though hadst not come to my bed'" (IV.v.62-66).
Notes from play:
(Shakespeare, Orgel and Braunmuller pg.