Hey there! So my english teacher assigned us a final that is worth 60% of our grade. I just want to make sure I'm doing the best I possibly can on my essay. Unfortunately, no prompt was given for this essay, we were to come up with our own ideas and thesis completely on our own. With this essay of mine, I really want to make sure I captured the essence of Hamlet's madness and expressed my ideas in a very comprehendable and detailed manner. Thanks for taking a look!
Hamlet and His Madness
Insanity is a virus. It plagues those it touches with unruly thoughts, actions, and comprehensions of a world known and unknown. It defecates on the very soul of mankind, dragging a once soft-hearted being into an abyss of anxiety, loss, and distress. This parasite, as madness is, lights fire to tree after tree, haunting those who already can't afford strife and noxious depression.
In Shakespeare's work, his main character, Hamlet, becomes infected with the folly syndrome. Unannounced, it enters his soul through many gaps, through actions by friends, foes, and even family. The difficult part to understand, however, is whether Hamlet's lunacy is completely real, or an act put on to win revenge. However, no matter what the reality of his crazed mind is, the troubling question is what brought it on.
Death of his father may have caused a lapse in Hamlet's logic, or maybe it seemingly forced the act of madness upon him so he could avenge the murder of his loved one. Furthermore, Hamlet seems to be constantly taken aback by the corrupt nature of not only those governing the land, but his friends and family as well. Does a murderous king deserve the throne? On top of that, all his run-ins with the paranormal and his thoughts of suicide have Hamlet restless when on the subject of life and death. Emotion and passion towards the subject clouds his mind. Finally, Hamlet is disturbed by the way his mother has gone about living. He believes that she has had an affair with his Uncle and actually aided in the slaughter of his beloved father.
Unfortunately for Hamlet he has trouble separating fiction and reality. His nature coincides with that of a player; as he lets his mind dwell upon something troubling or unsure, it becomes completely real to him, like many people say about Heath Ledger and the Joker. Then, he has difficulties drawing a line between his emotions and his life, and the emotions overpower his nature. Hamlet's nightmarish situation of lost loved ones, murder, and temptations may be the determining factor of his life gone awry.
From the beginning of the play, Hamlet felt displeasure towards his step-father, Claudius, and didn't even try to hide it: "A little more than kin and less than kind" (1.2.65), stated Hamlet sarcastically. He had no idea of the murderous past of which he came from, but he did know that it was quite unruly for him to marry his brother's wife within months of his death. This immediately set a bad tone on the relationship between young Hamlet and the King. Then, when Hamlet received a visit from the ghost of Hamlet Sr, or at least what he thought was the ghost of his father, Hamlet discovered that Claudius had killed his brother in order to gain control of Denmark. As Hamlet harasses Claudius about the subject, Claudius's suspicions arise towards Hamlet. D.J. Snider remarked that for the king, "Here the struggle begins. To find out what is the matter with Hamlet, to discover whether he knows the secret of his father's murder" (79). This is where the lunacy of Hamlet begins, or at least where Snider thinks it begins. Snider then goes on to say that Hamlet resorts to avoiding "detection" and that he "throws over them the night of lunacy" (80). I believe, on the contrary that Hamlet's "night of lunacy" isn't a mere projection put on by Hamlet, but an actual sign of his true colors. While much trickery is later involved in trying to overthrow his uncle, this insanity is not a ploy to deceive the king, or even Polonius, but Hamlet's reality.
Moreover, one factor that pushes Hamlet to the edge of his sanity is the corruption in the royal house of Denmark and even within his friends. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are constantly flip-flopping between being friends with Hamlet and servants of the king. What angers Hamlet is the fact that they do this so blatantly. He even calls them out on doing so:
HAMLET. Besides, to be demanded of a sponge! What replication should be made by the son of a king?
ROSENCRANTZ. Take you me for a sponge, my lord?
HAMLET. Ay, sir, that soaks up the King's countenance, his rewards, his authorities (4.2.10-15).
This lack of trust for them actually parallels Hamlet's lack of trust in society. He constantly fears he is being watched, he hears rumors and knows of falsehoods done by royalty, and over all, he is shoved into a life full of lies and corruption. If that alone isn't enough to drive him into madness then worry not, there is more.
Sadly, Hamlet's own mother may be part of the reason for Hamlet's strange actions. Her lack of identity and foundation negatively influences Hamlet such that he is also found lacking of the same. While it may not be completely necessary, since he is older, there still needs to be a little tie between a sturdy, knowledgeable, intelligent mother and his own life. When the queen acts as stubbornly as she does, and sees no wrong in the virtually adulterous acts which she has committed, it leads Hamlet to realize what he grew up with, a heartless witch. In the "Explanation of Hamlet's Madness" as published in the American Journal of Psychology, Ernest Jones examines Hamlet's reactions and emotions concerning his mother. He explains that while the actual event of his mother's second marriage isn't necessarily the direct cause of Hamlet's madness, "it must be because the news has awakened into activity some slumbering memory, which is so painful that it may not become conscious" (Jones 93). Basically, Hamlet feels as if he has been fighting for his Mother's love all his life, then, when he sees how quickly and without thought she gives it away, he is, in one sense, heartbroken. Of course, all this is on a subconscious level as if to merely prompt hatred and crazed emotions without Hamlet realizing what they come from.
From a different end of the spectrum, there is also a reason for the lunacy that comes from conscious thought. After seeing the ghost, Hamlet's mind is bombarded with thoughts of the world unseen that leave him full of emotion and desperate to know the truth. This is maybe the biggest influence on Hamlet in his life. He changes persona so much from the beginning to end, from living to dead. During the first part of the play, he is a helpless romantic, writing love letters and attempting to seduce young Ophelia. Later however, after experiencing the tribulations that his brain can't handle while sane, he turns into a bloody minded person with death on his tongue and revenge in his veins: "Oh from this time forth,/ My thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth!"(4.4.64-65). In fact, it is quite ironic because the thing that Hamlet is so worried about ends up becoming his fate, death.
In one of his most famous soliloquies, the well known "To be or not to be" (3.1.57) speech, Hamlet explores the proposal of suicide and the assumptions he has concerning life after death. It seems that he becomes so caught up with the idea of suicide, the afterlife, and ghosts that he fails to come back to reality, ultimately ending in his demise. Is this change in thought a symbol for religion amongst people of the earth? Perhaps Hamlet becomes a puppet for Shakespeare, conveying that, while religion plays an important part in life, too much thought and/or devotion to it may end in one's demise, as it did to Hamlet. His concern with the ghost, the afterlife, and avenging his father turned Hamlet into a lunatic. Even if Hamlet were putting on a show of madness, a veil to cover his motives, it would be considered insane to play the part all the way up until death.
Where Shakespeare remains undecided, Hamlet unlawfully, yet innocently, acts. When plunging into the caverns of Hamlet's mind, one must remember that it is only as complex as that of the writer. I believe it is Shakespeare's resentment towards corruption and confusion with religion that creates a character moving to madness. The mind, soul, and body of Hamlet enter into trance in this play. It is almost as if Shakespeare exposes him to such difficulties in life as if he is an experiment, waiting to be analyzed. The result? The virus, the explicit, brain blending material known only by a handful of people: the broken hearted and vengeful spirited. While it may be difficult to point out the exact factors in Hamlet's life that lead to his lunacy, one thing is for certain; he went mad, and the madness did to him what it does to everything it touches; it sucks out the last icy breath of the innocent, and dines with the devil.
Jones, Ernest. "The 0Edipus Complex as an Explanation of Hamlet's Mystery. A Study in Motive." The American Journal Of Psychology 21.1 (1910): 72-113. JSTOR. Web. 09 Oct. 2011.
Shakespeare, William. ed. Miola, Robert S. Hamlet (Norton Critical Editions). New York: Norton, 2011.
Stephenson, Henry Thew. "Hamlet's Mouse-Trap" The Sewanee Review Vol. 13, No. 1 (Jan., 1905): 30-34. JSTOR. Web. 09 Oct. 2011.