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Madness and Melancholy is probably one of the most explored themes in Hamlet, a play which still stands as one of the most scrutinised and studied theatrical works in existence. The cynosure of this topic is the unanswered question of whether Hamlet really is mad. In this essay I will discuss the various arguments which suggest Hamlet actually has fallen into a state of madness and those which assert that in fact, Hamlet is only putting an 'antic disposition' on. However these are not the only areas of interest when it comes to Madness and Melancholy, I will also probe the less examined questions and sub-sections.
The play charts the journey and the implications of the awful deed that Claudius has engaged in. 'Something is rotten in the state of Denmark," Marcellus remarks very early on. It is very clear from the inception of the play, where one immediately gets the feeling that there are mixed feelings in Denmark. There is darkness and a sense of fear in the first scene whereas in the second, it is light, the mood is happy and all seems to be happiness and celebration. Claudius' speech suggests that not all is as it seems however, with antithesis and oxymoron in abundance, the reader becomes aware that not all is as transparent as it should be. Hamlet obviously isn't the only character in the play with something to hide. Claudius, too, is acting a little suspiciously, and he is attempting to try and force the tainted past under the carpet. "Dirge in marriage" and "Delight and dole" (1.2.13-14) are just a couple of the many instances where he uses antithesis.
The play dramatically describes how Hamlet's deals with, and attempts to avenge, the death of his father and how it affects his relationships and the state of Denmark as a whole. Many believe that Hamlet, in fact, falls into a state of madness when he hears the real facts of his father's murder, and gradually this madness turns into melancholia as he realises that killing a King is not as easy a task as he thought.
It could be argued that Hamlet is merely stressed, not depressed or in a state of madness. Hamlet may well be perfectly sane and rational in mind but simply upset about events and passionate about revenge. The question we must ask is whether Hamlet has been crazed by the notion that his uncle would do such a thing. "Though this be madness, yet there is method in 't" (2.2) says Polonius. By definition, these words derogate the likelihood of Hamlet being mad." So perhaps, Hamlet really does have a plan to "act mad" or crazy in front of everyone in order to hide his true intentions to avenge his father's death.
The idea of the body politic is very important when one talks of Denmark as a whole. The body politic is the concept of the hierarchy, where the king is at the top and the serfs at the bottom. If the bottom layer is eroded, things will just about be fine, but if the top, or the King gets removed then the whole 'body' shakes. Shakespeare's connection between the mind and the state of Denmark as a whole is very important. Madness is seen as a distortion of nature, being disturbed, or unstable in the head. Denmark is seen to be rotten in some way, unstable, or distorted due to the actions of Claudius. He has rocked the stable hierarchy; he has committed not only regicide but fratricide. State is a pun used by Shakespeare repeatedly, meaning not only the landmass of Denmark but also its condition.
Madness also suggests vulnerability and unsettledness, Hamlet is unsettled, he has had this responsibility heaped on to him by his late father, and although he believes it, he is on edge, frustrated, waiting to revenge Old Hamlet's unnatural death.
-The matter of the fact is that Hamlet does have a plan to "act mad" or crazy in front of everyone in order to hide his true intentions to avenge his father's death.
-Hamlet proclaimed that he was not mad, but only pretended to be mad. Could it be, that he was mad all along? Or maybe he wasn't mad at first, but as things became more and more complicated, he started to really lose his mind? Or maybe, he was not at all mad? Any opinion will be welcomed!
-his "madness" allows him the freedom to wander unopposed.
-Stressed, certainly, but sane.
-Hamlet was not mad. Consider this: what is the definition of insanity? Clearly, insanity seems to run along the lines of something like this: "Losing touch with reality, lacking the ability to determine right from wrong, or having no concept for the consequences of one's actions." Hamlet has a clear understanding of the situation, understands that he is in the wrong no matter what he does, and realizes - all too fully - the consequences of his actions. He is, therefore, not mad. Madness is NOT making decisions that we ourselves would not make. Remember, "Though this is madness, there's method in 't." By definition, Polonius's very words discount the possibility of madness. If there is method, then there is no madness.
-Whenever he interacts with the characters he is wild, crazy, and plays a fool. However in other instances when he is alone, or with Horatio he is civilized and sane.
-Hamlet thus presents Rosencrantz and Guildenstern with a kind of reverse catch-22, because if he is only pretending to be mad, why would he say that he is only pretending?