Hamlets Madness

Hamlets Madness Hamlet’s Madness The issue of madness is one of major importance in this play. Is Hamlet truly mad, meaning insane? Or is he merely angry? Does he feign madness and use it as a guise? Or does he place himself so dangerously close to the line between sanity and insanity that he crosses it without even realizing it? Or is he so intelligent, cunning and in control that this is merely the playing out of his completely conceived and well-executed plan of attack? The patient is a thirty year-old male. He is Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, an introspective, grieving young member of the royalty, plagued by the recent death of his father, and the hasty marriage of his mother to his uncle, Claudius. He is capable of depressing anyone around him; the King and Queen attempt to pry Hamlet from his mourning. As relations become more strained between Hamlet and Claudius, his attitude becomes destitute. He begins to withdraw himself from everyone in the castle, and spends most of his time in solitude; he is often seen walking alone, talking to himself.

Upon deeper investigation, it is discovered that Hamlet is seeing the ghost of the ex-King of Denmark, Hamlet’s father. The ghost becomes Hamlet’s counselor, guiding him through his everyday maze of depression and confusion. It is through the ghost of his father that he learns that Claudius, the new King of Denmark, is solely responsible for his father’s “foul and most unnatural murder” (I.v.26). He claims that he is told to seek revenge on his father’s murder by murdering Claudius. Hamlet sees the ghost at various times over the course of the play, appearing when he is in need of help.

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Hamlet’s condition persists, gradually getting worse, as he becomes increasingly more aggressive and violent. His behavior towards Ophelia, the woman he loves, becomes erratic. He has violent outbursts towards his mother. He kills various members of the castle without explanation. Hamlet is clearly out of control, and is in need of a psychological evaluation. The most major of mental illnesses is schizophrenia, a psychotic illness, where the patient is out of touch with reality.

In this disease, thoughts may be deranged or delusions without basis may arise. The individual tends to withdraw from their already little social contact. They become unresponsive and lose interest in normal activities. Emotionally, they can be irritable, angry, aggressive, and even violent at times. At other times, they can have an obsession with death, or voices can be heard or visions seen. The reasons for this change often appear unexplainable to relatives and friends.

Some try to explain this new behavior as due to stresses, past or present, especially from interpersonal difficulties and mishaps. It is generally a devastating illness, troublesome to the patient and painful to the relatives and sometimes offensive to society. (Chong, 1) William Shakespeare’s literary opus Hamlet is an adventure story of the highest quality, a tale of the psychological trials of a man who is isolated from the society he must live in, and a portrait of a family driven to bloody and gruesome murder by one man’s lust for power (King, 1). In his essay “Hamlet: A Riddle in Greatness”, Louis Kronenberger states that “even on the surface, Hamlet remains among the greatest of unsolved psychological mysteries, and the one that has been provided with the most solutions” (1). The theme of madness in Hamlet has been one of great discussion; there is much conflicting evidence that can be found when trying to prove the validity of the claim to Hamlet’s true madness. The patient, Hamlet, prince of Denmark, has been diagnosed with schizophrenia due to his erratic, sometimes irrational behavior.

Ever since the death of his father, King Hamlet, young Hamlet has been what appeared to be in a state of madness. This case study on Hamlet’s condition will cite many instances in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet in which the patient has acted in a schizophrenic, meaning mad, manner. Hamlet’s madness is the result of his fragile, overanalytical personality being confronted with a great deal of anguish. Hamlet’s madness is apparent even before he sees the ghost of his father. At the start of the play, Hamlet is shown to be “in the throes of bereavement” (“Though This is Madness, Yet There is Method in It.”, Online Archive, 1). The queen encourages him to look to the future, and to cease his grieving, for she believes it is false. Hamlet responds angrily to her suggestion: “But I have within which passeth show; these but the trappings and the suits of woe.” Hamlet’s strained relationship with Claudius is now evident; as he comments on his mother’s marriage, “It is not nor it cannot come to good” (I.ii.158), he already senses that it embodies much misfortune.

This line sets a portentous prediction for the course of the play, as Hamlet struggles between emotion and sobriety in order to enact revenge on his father’s death. Hamlet’s encounter with the ghost of his father considerably changes his disposition, and his actions become more bizarre. He has the unique ability to communicate to his father by talking to a ghost; his friends must swear themselves to secrecy because of the threat that others may dismiss him as “mad”. Nevertheless, Hamlet’s actions after meeting the ghost do lead everyone except Horatio to believe he is crazy, but never acts upon his feelings and loses control. From the beginning, Hamlet feels much pressure to speak out against the king, but lacks the strength to do so. This inner conflict is shown in his soliloquy in act two, when he states, “O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!” (II.ii.534).

He confesses that he is a coward, and is torn between speaking out and actually taking action against Claudius. These new pressures cause much inner torment in Hamlet, and hint at the fact that he is mentally indisposed. Further evidence of Hamlet’s madness can be found in Hamlet’s encounter with his mother in act three, scene four. Hamlet has gone to see his mother in an attempt to force her to purge herself of her sin, her hasty marriage to Claudius. As he attempts to make his mother see her wrongs, he screams at her: “Nay, but to live in the rank sweat of an enseamed bed, stewed in corruption, honeying and making love” (III.iv.92-95). This attack on his mother clearly shows that he has gone beyond merely playing the role of a moralist, for he has crossed the line between sanity and insanity with his wild and whirling words.

After this attack on his mother, Hamlet furthers his irrational behavior by killing Polonius, who was standing behind the curtain in his mother’s room. As Polonius slumps out from behind the curtain, the queen exclaims “O me, what hast thou done?”. Hamlet replies, “Nay, I know not. Is it the king?” After the slaying, Hamlet appears to justify the killing in his own mind by stating that Polonius’ death is “almost as bad, good mother, as kill a king and marry with his brother” (III.iv.30-31). Hamlet’s excuse for the murder is irrational, for he left Claudius a scene before, and did not take any affirmative action then.

He continues to verbally attack his mother, and does not cease until his next meeting with the ghost. Hamlet is indeed acting madly, and without justification. As he continues the attack on his mother, the ghost appears in a nightgown. Hamlet appears to come back to his senses, his mood changes, and begs for guidance: “Save me, and hover …