Hamlet Madness Shakespeares Hamlet is a most enigmatic and complex character, his psyche the subject of more detailed psychoanalysis than any other character in English literature. It is only once in a great while that the reader of literature comes across a man who fakes madness, and ultimately immerses himself so deep into this feigned madness to a point of total metamorphosis into a new being. Hamlets ostensibly concocted madness ultimately catalyzes the development of his dormant, inward madness and natural inclination for pretense and dissimulation. Within Hamlet there are two types of madness: the very apparent outer madness, and a hidden madness that isnt even realized by Hamlet. The inner madness is the result of the tragedies within this play; namely, the incestuous marriage of his widowed mother to his uncle and her brother-in-law which followed the tragic and sudden murder of his father.
It is this depression and anger that set the stage for the rest of the play. Afterall, had he not cared to avenge his fathers death, the words of the ghost would have been totally ignored and there would have been no reason to feign madness. But because he was hurt, depressed, and incensed, he channeled all his power and energy to gain revenge, successfully. The forged madness was a product of Hamlets attempt to confuse the people of the castle and divert any suspicion that may be targeted at him in his mission of vindication of his fathers death. But what exactly is madness? In Act I, Scene 5, Hamlet urges the ghost: “Haste me to knowt, that I with wings as swift as the meditation or the thoughts of love may sweep to my revenge.” (lns.
33-35) Madness is condition that results from a persons obsession with his objective. This total preoccupation with a specific mission blurs the persons reality. Its as though the victim has become inhabited by himself and some other supernatural power that takes over his senses and narrows his field of vision, limiting it to his objective, mission, and purpose. All other aspects of his life degenerate into chess pieces in the greater game. His mission consumes him, devouring his life and leaving him an uncomplete person.
Rages, unwarranted erratic behavior, and evil-doing are symptomatic such a state of being. Much of Hamlets madness, when feigned, was due to necessity, however, he definitely had a natural inclination towards pretense and dissimulation. To limit the word natural to part of ones nature, meaning inherent and innate, is close-minded. With a broader meaning of the term, it becomes easier to explain Hamlet. By “natural,” I mean unfaked, sincere, genuine.
Therefore, a natural inclination is not necessarily congenital since it can be developed. Simulating madness, although it was for a good cause, ruined Hamlet. After acting deranged for an extensive period, he became mad. When acting mad for long enough, an inclination develops for dishonesty, dissimulation, and deception. In an ironic sense, Hamlet contaminated himself. He became plagued with his own illness- the illness he created.
Following that transitional evolution into a truly mad self, Hamlet begins to act in ways that do not call for his evil, pretentious behavior. First, Hamlet has Rosencrantz and Guildenstern killed, even though they were not aprt of his revenge-against-his-fathers-murder plan. He could have simply let them on their way since he was a free man anyway. Such harsh treatment was totally unnecessary in fulfilling his original objective. See, the only reason Hamlet feigned madness was to take revenge.
If one applies this logic, one must ask: Were the deaths of these two men “necessary” in taking revenge on the killer? Afterall, who is the killer? Clearly, his irrationality led him to kill two people whose deaths were unnecessary (though they may be justified, of course). He must have done them, therefore, irrespective of his revenge on Claudius and his motivations and one can conclude that it was his mental madness that seized his spirit. Further evidence of this inner madness is Hamlets encounter with his mother in Act III, Scene 4. It is in this scene that Hamlet attempts to play the moralist and forces his mother to see her wrongs. It is more than this which signifies Hamlet as mad. It is his obsession with purging his mother of her sins that shows his madness. He screams: “Nay, but to live in the rank sweat of an enseamed bed,/stewed in corruption, honeying and making love/ over the nasty sty-” (III.iv.92-95).
He has gone beyond moralist at this point. He is wildly attacking her in a fashion so symptomatic of a natural-born madman whose obsession leads to compulsion. Mixed with this wild attack of his mother, Hamlet also irrationally attacks and kills Polonius who was standing behind the curtain. His actions are much like a rabid dog attacking anything which would get in his way. From what Hamlet says after the slaying, he seems to think that it may have been Claudius (III.iv.27).
This is an irrational excuse, as Hamlet just left Claudius a scene before. Hamlet is indeed acting madly and without a reason. But the clearest proof of his madness is his obsession with death. As the horrors mount up, it becomes blindingly clear that Hamlet descends from pretending madness to really being mad. After the killing of Polonius, Hamlet is questioned about the death and whereabouts of the body and his answer reveals a man who is in a morbid state of mind.
Hamlet exclaimedhow once the body dies it goes through a cycle where it is eaten by worms who devour the flesh for the purpose of getting food for another person. Therefore, people, he believes, digest corpses. “Not where he eats, but where he is eaten: a certain convocation of politic worms are een at him. Your worm is your only emperor for diet: we fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots: your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service, two dishes, but one table: thats the end.” (IV.iii.20-26) Finally, the graveyard scene depicts Hamlets epiphanic moment, the moment when he contemplates the true meaning of life. “No faith, not a jot; but to follow him thither with modesty enough and likelihood to lead it; as thus,: Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returned into dust; the dust is earth; of earth we make loam: and why of that loam, whereto he was converted, might they not stop at a beer-barrel?” (V.i.201-206) Upon completion of the play and thorough analysis of the facts, one comes to the realization that Hamlet was indeed a most insane, yet unfortunate, man. Destroyed by the pain of his family scandal, he fell into a manic depression and mental state of insanity which ultimately stirred anger within him. Within him lurked bubbled the desire to avenge his fathers death. Fabricating a madness proved to be counter-productive because Hamlet ended up suffering from a disease he created to help himself.
Shakespeares Hamlet is as much about normal, sane men as it is about Hamlet. It is true that Hamlet developed this natural inclination, however one must recognize that he caused his own insanity and pity the callow orphan for that.