Hamlets madness whether genuine or not adds to the fascination of his character for the audience.
Hamlet’s madness is a very contentious issue throughout the play ‘Hamlet’. We ask ourselves many times throughout is his madness mere pretence or is Hamlet genuinely mad? At some stages throughout we think that his madness is a tactic put on in order to confuse and trouble his usurper uncle Claudius however on other occasions he seems genuinely mad. This puzzling trait within the character of Hamlet definitely adds to the fascination of his character for the audience.
Following Hamlet’s encounter with his father’s ghost in the opening act of the play he becomes aware that it was his uncle Claudius who killed his beloved gather so he could take his Danish crown and also his wife. Hamlet’s father then presents him with a role that he is temperamentally unsuited to play – Role of Revenger. It is Hamlet’s filial duty to seek revenge on Claudius for his father’s murder. Hamlet however has one fatal weakness and this is that he is too noble, too idealistic, too introspective and too moral for his own good which brings about his downfall. “Revenge my foul and most unnatural murder”.
Throughout the play when Hamlet is pretending to be mad we know that this is a tactic used by him to learn the truth of his father’s murder and also so that he can express his feelings of rage at his mother’s betrayal of his father, “look you how cheerfully my mother looks and my father died within two hours.”. In the first few acts of the play it does come across as if Hamlet is genuinely mad and both Claudius and his mother become worried about him. “I like him not nor stands it safe with us to let his madness range”. Hamlet’s mother Gertrude however believes that she knows the reasoning behind his madness as she informs Claudius. “I doubt it is no other but the main, his father’s death and our o’er hasty marriage. At times I do believe that Hamlet is mad as he is clearly under considerable mental and emotional strain. This stems from the visit from the ghost of his father and the duty that he must undertake. Hamlet genuinely is under a lot of pressure following being presented with this task and vacillates constantly throughout. I almost understand that Hamlet may be in madness mainly stemming from the no win situation that he finds himself in really adds to the fascination of his character, as we are left wondering throughout, what will he do? If he seeks revenge he will be fulfilling his father’s wish however he will be killing another human being, but if he doesn’t kill Claudius he will not be fulfilling his father’s wish and seeking revenge for his “foul” murder. Hamlet is so lost and doesn’t know what to do that he does into a state of self-deprecation. “The time is out of joint O cursed spite that ever I was born to set it right”.
Throughout the play Hamlet is very unpredictable due to his madness which fascinated me and I’m sure other readers felt the same. We feel sorry for Hamlet many times throughout the play for the fact that he has been presented with the duty to seek revenge however at some stages we have no sympathy for him whatsoever. We see a different side to the character of Hamlet when he kills Polonius. This is very unlike his character and arises questions and confusion with readers. As a reader however I condoned Hamlet for this as I believe it was a moment of genuine madness. The more we think about this horrific act from Hamlet, the more we believe that he is mad, as this is very unlike the character of Hamlet. We come to the conclusion that Hamlet must be mad if he killed an almost innocent man and cannot kill the man that is responsible for killing his father. “Hamlet in madness hath Polonius slain”. Another act that fascinates readers and raises questions about his true character is when he visits Ophelia. Ophelia describes Hamlet as looking “as if he had been loosed out of hell”. Hamlet supposedly loves Ophelia however he does not show this very clearly throughout. On this day when Hamlet visits Ophelia in my opinion he is in madness. “He took me by the wrist and held me hard”. The fact that Hamlet did not speak to Ophelia makes us question his love or her and leads us to believe he was not in sound mind. This action also leads Polonius to believe that Hamlet was mad because of his lover for Ophelia. Another reason to support this is the fact that he jumped into Ophelia’s grave in the graveyard. This again fascinates readers as his love for Ophelia throughout the play was questionable, however now that she is dead he claims his true love for her. “The love of forty thousand brothers could not make up my sum”. These impulse actions by Hamlet fascinate readers and lead them to believe he is in madness.
Hamlet’s madness interests readers also as it causes him to act differently towards other. During the play Hamlet engages in a violent outburst towards his mother which is unlike Hamlet. Although Hamlet is disgusted at the fact of his mother “honeying and making love over the nasty sty” with Claudius violence is not in his nature, as he cannot manage to seek revenge.
Although there are many reasons to show that Hamlet’s madness was genuine there are many reasons to show that it was and “antic disposition” put on by Hamlet. Hamlet admits to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that he is not always mad, “I am mad north north west when the wind blows southerly. I know a hawk from a handsaw”. Hamlet also confides the true nature of his “madness” to his mother, “I essentially am not in madness but mad in craft”.
Other characters also are not fooled by Hamlet’s madness. Polonius speaks of a “method” in Hamlet’s madness. “Though there is madness yet there is method in it “. Guildenstern also refers to Hamlet’s “crafty madness” which enables him to avoid difficult questions. This evidence leads us to believe that Hamlet’s madness was a clever tactic used by him in his battle against his usurper uncle Claudius.
There are many reasons to support the fact that Hamlet’s madness was genuine, and also many reasons to show that his madness was put on. This really adds to the fascination of his character as even at the end of the play we are still unsure of the truth.
By Sarah Lambe, 5th Year