Madness can be seen as ‘mental incapacity caused by unmentionable injury. ‘ These wounds are not often easily perceived but may revealed in times of stress or anxiety similar to Hamlet’s situation where his father has been blatantly murdered, yet it is not obvious to others. In Shakespeare’s time, people would have looked upon Hamlet as mad, but they believed madness to be symptomatic of demonic possession, and the only way of driving out the evil was through burning to death.
Although people feared madness, Hamlet was and still is one of the most popular of Shakespeare’s plays, as his madness cannot be defined. Some believe madness to be the lack of rational thought or the result of a feeling of intense anger. Hamlet simulates madness and uses it as a disguise and in doing so he places himself so dangerously close to the line between sanity and insanity that he crosses it without even realising it. At the beginning of the play, Hamlet is seen wearing dark robes and acting in a general melancholic way.
The queen instructs him to, “… ast thy knighted colour off,” Hamlet, also describes himself as wearing ‘an inky cloak’ and ‘customary suits of solemn black’. It is clear from the description of his clothes that he is severely depressed at the death of his father. This is linked to the characteristic melancholic manner that the Elizabethan audience would have looked upon and identified as being mad. When Horatio first mentions the sighting of the ghost, he says, “My lord I think I saw him yesternight. ” This, at first comes as a shock to Hamlet as he then starts asking Horatio frantic questions about the sighting, “Saw?
Who? ” He is in disbelief that such a thing could happen and it is here that we see the first indications of Hamlet’s extremist nature. The ghost appears for the second time and again we see yet more frantic behaviour as he is desperate to go with the ghost, “Unhand me gentlemen….. I say away go! Go on. I’ll follow thee” He threatens Horatio and the other guards as they attempt to stop him from following the ghost. This does not indicate madness, but again shows that he is irrational, just that he is careless of the consequences.
However, the scene with the ghost also reveals perhaps the beginning of Hamlet’s ‘illness’. Although Horatio and Marcellus see the ghost, it is only Hamlet that can hear him. Also, as well as not thinking before following the ghost, he is irrational when the ghost tells him of the murder page 90 as the ghost tells Hamlet that he will want to seek revenge over his murder. Any rational person would have possibly thought more about any decision involving taking a person’s life. The ghost is a significant factor in attempting to decide whether Hamlet is truly mad.
When the ghost appears, other people here it and see it, but it is only Hamlet who can hear the ghost and then when the ghost appears in his mother’s chamber, she neither hears or sees it whilst Hamlet can both hear it and see it. This can be considered to be proof that Hamlet is mad. When Hamlet meets the ghost it is quite soon after the death of his father and before this he is acting strangely; dressing in dark clothes and being melancholic, and so when he hears the ghost, it is an indication that Hamlet has actually crossed the line between sanity and insanity due to the death of his father.
This would also compensate for the fact that he ‘pretends’ to be mad which in itself is odd enough. Further through the play, there are increasingly worrying signs that Hamlet is actually going mad as the ghost appears only to him when no one around can see it. This could be considered a result of the weeks since the death of his father. So, in this sense, Hamlet is mad, but only caused by the severe depression that the death of his father caused. On the contrary to this idea, Hamlet may not actually be mad, and that it is all an, ‘act’ as he said that it would be.
However, I feel that this is not really a probable scenario as there are many instances in the play where, although Hamlet may appear to be sane when looked at more closely, really reveal that he is not at all aware of the people around him. When Hamlet is sent to England he knows that he was sent there for the English king to kill him. Claudius arranged this, and he knows this. He says, “I have words to speak in thine ear that would make thee numb. ” By writing this in his letter, he tells Horatio that he has survived the king’s ‘assassination’ attempt and that he will be returning home shortly.
However, when he returns it is senseless of him to think that although Claudius murder attempt did not work that he would not try again, yet Hamlet seems unaware of it. As well as Hamlet not fearing that Claudius will not attempt to kill him again, he still believes that Laertes is his friend, even though his father’s death and his sister’s death were caused by Hamlet. He says, “Was’t Hamlet wronged Laertes? Never Hamlet. ” By using a rhetorical question that he does not expect him to answer, Hamlet assumes that Laertes is not mad with him even though he caused the death of his sister.
He almost has a child like trust for Laertes and this can be seen as another symptom of the madness that Hamlet seems to possess. However, although Hamlet does show ignorance towards people that, if he were sane, he would have realised perhaps what they planned to do, ho does after realise that he has ‘killed’ Rosencrantz and Guildernstern. This is the turning point where Hamlet realises just what he has done. Hamlet, after this shows more sense in his words and so it could be argued that he was never actually mad and that it was merely all an act, but this cannot account for sightings of the ghost and his confused speech.
Although it may seem strange, Hamlet is does appear to be jealous of his mother’s marriage to his uncle. I believe that it is not only due to the fact that Claudius murdered his father to become king and marry his mother, but also because of the sexual relationship between them, “O most wicked speed, to post / With such dexterity This, like the murder of his father leads to the powerful emotions that Hamlet displays in his soliloquies. When the players come to the palace to perform for Hamlet and he has the ingenious idea of acting out his father’s murder in a similar scenario.
This is due to Hamlet’s inability to undertake the task, as he is extremely indecisive so that although he wants to avenge his father’s death, he cannot bring himself to do it. Whilst Claudius watches the play, Hamlet is agitated and displays erratic behaviour, “Lady, shall I lie in your lap? ” What Hamlet says is quite inappropriate and makes Ophelia quite uncomfortable with the situation. After watching the scene of the murder, Claudius demands ‘some light’ and exits. Hamlet, after seeing his reaction, acts very excited at the fact that he has almost ‘caught’ him out and reveals to Claudius that he knows exactly what happened.
Hamlet could see both sane and insane at this point as he did arrange and write the play carefully depicting what happened and also with some of the queen’s own words in, but to be seen as mentally unstable is more likely as he displays ‘antic’ behaviour at the exit of Claudius and also before this as well. The play was only really written to take the revenge that the ghost spoke of and so if hearing the ghost was a product of his depression then the play can also be considered this.
Whether it is false insanity or not, Hamlet is clearly angry with Claudius for murdering his father and also with his mother as she married his uncle. He clearly disapproves of the marriage and so he says, “O God, a beast that wants discourse of reason / Would have mourned longer – married with my uncle. ” Although he is unhappy about the marriage as he cannot understand why his mother, who loved his late father so much that she could so quickly marry his brother. He also is frustrated as he cannot speak out openly against the king and queen otherwise he would be accused of treason.
Hamlet can also be considered mad as he uses mixed metaphors. Whether he means to or not is unclear as on one hand, at the beginning of the play he states that he will act mad so that he can ‘cover up’ his strange behaviour, “If like a crab, you could go backward. ” Saying this to Polonius further convinces him that he is mad although its only purpose may be to deceive him The main theme in about Hamlet is his indecision. He wants to avenge the death of his father but he cannot bring himself to do any thing about it.
His indecisiveness also shows at the beginning of the play where Hamlet cannot bring himself to end his life, “O that this too too solid flesh would melt. ” Here, his indecisiveness also reveals that he is extremely depressed and that he cannot even bear to end his own life. As well as there being evidence for Hamlet being mad, there is also evidence that contradicts this. Although Hamlet wants revenge for his dead father if he were in fact truly mad, then immediately after the meeting with the ghost he would have began plotting the death of the king.
However, we do see Hamlet constantly thinking about the murder. When he sees Claudius praying in the hall, his first instinct is to kill him there, but after thought, he decides that it would be best not to as the king would go to heaven as he died whilst praying, “Now might I do it pat, now’ a tis a-praying. And now I’ll do’t. And so ‘a foes to heaven. ” This control and thought could contradict the idea that Hamlet is mad, as I have previously described him as indecisive and irrational. This proves further that Hamlet is not truly mad, but is simply putting on an act.
One of the main reasons that is holding Hamlet back from killing the king, along with his indecisiveness, is the fact that the king is appointed by God and so by killing the king, he is betraying God, which would have been a terrible crime in Shakespeare’s and Hamlet’s day. Again this display of control and planning opposes previous observations as if he were mad, it would not matter to him how the king died, as long as he was dead so this also reveals more evidence that Hamlet is not insane. In conclusion, I believe that Hamlet is mad.
I agree with the definition of madness that it is the ‘mental incapacity caused by an unmentionable injury’. Throughout the play, no one mentions old Hamlet’s suspicious death and it is only Hamlet who knows. As he has no other proof, apart from what the ghost ‘apparently’ told him, he cannot announce it. His silence is also due to him not speaking his feelings aloud as it would be considered treason. The murder then becomes the unmentionable injury and Hamlet shows this with his moody behaviour and ‘inky’ clothes.
It is due to the murder of his father that triggers it all off as from then, we see his mental health decline. I have previously mentioned evidence that may contradict this view such as the periods of apparent sanity that he displays, however, this may be his way of convincing himself that he does not have an illness. His madness was borne from anger over the murder of his father, the succession of his uncle and the marriage of his mother. This raw emotion silently bubbled within Hamlet leading to the steady deterioration of his mind.