In both Hamlet and King Lear, Shakespeare incorporates a theme of madness withtwo characters: one truly mad, and one only acting mad to serve a motive.
Themadness of Hamlet is frequently disputed. This paper argues that thecontrapuntal character in each play, namely Ophelia in Hamlet and Edgar in KingLear, acts as a balancing argument to the other characters madness or sanity.King Lears more decisive distinction between Lears frailty of mind andEdgars contrived madness works to better define the relationship betweenOphelias breakdown and Hamlets “north-north-west” brand ofinsanity.
Both plays offer a character on each side of sanity, but in Hamlet thedistinction is not as clear as it is in King Lear. Using the more explicitrelationship in King Lear, one finds a better understanding of the relationshipin Hamlet. While Shakespeare does not directly pit Ophelias insanity (orbreakdown) against Hamlets madness, there is instead a clear definitivenessin Ophelias condition and a clear uncertainty in Hamlets madness.Obviously, Hamlets character offers more evidence, while Opheliasbreakdown is quick, but more conclusive in its precision.
Shakespeare offersclear evidence pointing to Hamlets sanity beginning with the first scene ofthe play. Hamlet begins with guards whose main importance in the play is to givecredibility to the ghost. If Hamlet were to see his fathers ghost in private,the argument for his madness would greatly improve. Yet, not one, but three mentogether witness the ghost before even thinking to notify Hamlet. As Horatiosays, being the only of the guards to play a significant role in the rest of theplay, “Before my God, I might not this believe / Without the sensible andtrue avouch / Of mine own eyes.
(I.i.56-8)” Horatio, who appears frequentlythroughout the play, acts as an unquestionably sane alibi to Hamlet again whenframing the King with his reaction to the play. That Hamlet speaks to the ghostalone detracts somewhat from its credibility, but all the men are witness to theghost demanding they speak alone. Horatio offers an insightful warning: What ifit tempts you toward the flood, my lord, Or to the dreadful summit of the cliffThat beetles oer his base into the sea, And there assume some other horribleform Which might deprive your sovereignty of reason, And draw you into madness?Think of it. (I.iv.
69-74) Horatios comment may be where Hamlet gets the ideato use a plea of insanity to work out his plan. The important fact is that theghost does not change form, but rather remains as the King and speaks to Hamletrationally. There is also good reason for the ghost not to want the guards toknow what he tells Hamlet, as the play could not proceed as it does if theguards were to hear what Hamlet did. It is the ghost of Hamlets father whotells him, “but howsomever thou pursues this act, / Taint not thy mind.(I.
v.84-5)” Later, when Hamlet sees the ghost again in his mothers room,her amazement at his madness is quite convincing. Yet one must take intoconsideration the careful planning of the ghosts credibility earlier in theplay. After his first meeting with the ghost, Hamlet greets his friendscheerfully and acts as if the news is good rather than the devastation it reallyis. Horatio: What news, my lord? Hamlet: O, wonderful! Horatio: Good my lord,tell it.
Hamlet: No, you will reveal it. (I.v.118-21) This is the first glimpseof Hamlets ability and inclination to manipulate his behavior to achieveeffect.
Clearly Hamlet is not feeling cheerful at this moment, but if he letsthe guards know the severity of the news, they might suspect its nature. Anotherinstance of Hamlets behavior manipulation is his meeting with Ophelia whilehis uncle and Polonius are hiding behind a curtain. Hamlets affection forOphelia has already been established in I.
iii., and his complete rejection ofher and what has transpired between them is clearly a hoax. Hamlet somehowsuspects the eavesdroppers, just as he guesses that Guildenstern and Rosencrantzare sent by the King and Queen to question him and investigate the cause of hissupposed madness in II.ii. Hamlets actions in the play after meeting theghost lead everyone except Horatio to believe he is crazy, yet that madness iscontinuously checked by an ever-present consciousness of action which never letshim lose control. For example, Hamlet questions his conduct in his soliloquy atthe end of II.
ii, but after careful consideration decides to go with hisinstinct and prove to himself without a doubt the Kings guilt beforeproceeding rashly. Even after the Kings guilt is proven with Horatio aswitness, Hamlet again reflects and uses his better judgement in the soliloquy atthe end of III.ii. before seeing his mother. He recognizes his passionatefeelings, but tells himself to “speak daggers to her, but use none,”as his fathers ghost instructed. Again, when in the Kings chamber, Hamletcould perform the murder, but decides not to in his better judgement to ensurethat he doesnt go to heaven by dying while praying. As Hamlet tellsGuildenstern in II.ii.
, “I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind issoutherly I know a hawk from a handsaw.” This statement reveals out-rightHamlets intent to fool people with his odd behavior. This is after Poloniusenlightened comment earlier in the same scene, “though this be madness, yetthere is method int.” Compare the copious evidence against Hamletsmadness with the complete lack of evidence for Ophelias sanity after herfathers murder. Her unquestionable insanity puts Hamlets very questionablemadness in a more favorable light.
In IV.v. she is quite obviously mad, andunlike Hamlet there seems to be no method to her madness. All Ophelia can doafter learning of her fathers death is sing. Indeed, Hamlets utterrejection of her combined with this is too much for her, and she doesnt singa mourning song at the beginning of IV.v, but rather a happy love song. Later,when she meets with Leartes, she says to him: Theres rosemary, thats forremembrance; pray you, love, remember.
And there is pansies, thats forthoughts. Leartes: A document in madness, thoughts and remembrance fitted.Thought and afflictions, passion, hell itself, She turns to favor and toprettiness. (IV.v.179-89) While the Queen tells Leartes that an “envioussliver” broke and flung Ophelia into the river wearing a headdress ofwild-flowers (compare the mad Lears crown of weeds), the clowns in V.i.confirm the readers suspicion that she did not die so accidentally: Is she tobe buried in Christian burial when she willfully seeks her own salvation?(V.
i.1-2) Here lies the water; good. Here stands the man; good. If the man go tothis water and drown himself, it is, will he, nill he, he goes, mark you that.But if the water come to him and drown him, he drowns not himself; argal, hethat is not guilty of his own death shortens not his own life. (15-20)Ophelias breakdown into madness and inability to deal with her fathersdeath and Hamlets rejection is dealt with neatly and punctually. There islittle evidence against her madness, compared to Hamlets intelligent plottingand use of witnesses to his actions.
Thus, by defining true madness in Ophelia,Shakespeare subtracts from the plausibility of Hamlets supposed insanity.Comparing the juxtaposition of insanity and questioned sanity in King Learreveals another use of this device by Shakespeare. In King Lear the lines aredrawn more distinctly between sanity and insanity, allowing a sharper contrastbetween the plays two versions of madness. Edgars soliloquy in II.iii.communicates his intent to act and dress as a mad beggar: …
Whiles I may scapeI will preserve myself, and am bethought To take the basest and most poorestshape That ever penury, in contempt of man, Brought near to beast. My faceIll grime with filth, Blanket my loins, elf all my hairs in knots, And withpresented nakedness outface The winds and persecutions of the sky. (II.iii.5-12)There is no question of Edgars intent here, and when they see this Bedlambeggar in action, the audience is aware that it is Edgar and that he is notreally insane. As in Hamlet, the contrived madness is more spectacular than thetrue madness. Edgar changes his voice, tears his clothes, and babbles on like agenuine lunatic seeming in contrivance more genuine than Lear, the genuinemaniac. Just as Ophelias breakdown is believable because of her fathersdeath and her rejection from Hamlet, Lears old age accounts for his frailtyof mind and rash, foolish decisions.
The reader is given no motive for Lear totear his clothes off like a raving maniac or wear a crown of weeds and babblelike a fool other than his old age and incapability to deal with his inabilityto act rationally. He realizes after being told for most of the play that he isbeing a fool that perhaps his advisors are right. Only at this point, it haslong been clear to the reader that his madness is due to senility.
In these twoplays, Shakespeare uses the dimmer light of reality to expose the brighter lightof contrivance. Hamlet and Edgar are dynamic, animated, and absurd in theirmadness, making Lears and Ophelias true madness seem realistic rather thanabsurd. Hamlet and Edgar both explicitly state the contrivance of their madness,while Lear and Ophelia do not. Further, Hamlet and Edgar both have motive behindleading others to believe they are insane. Although both are under severepressure and emotional strain due to their respective situations in each play,they both show a remarkable amount of intelligent, conscious, and rationaldecision-making in efforts to resolve their situations. In this way, they aresharply contrasted with the mad Lear and Ophelia, whose insanity is notquestioned by themselves or other characters in either play. Neither afterdisplaying madness make any rational decisions that would lead the reader tobelieve in their sanity. Thus, the argument that Hamlet is truly mad refutes hisability to act rationally and discounts the dramatic device of Ophelia (as Learis to Edgar) as a contrapuntal example of true insanity.
Hamlet one ofShakespeare’s greatest plays, where the young prince of Denmark must uncover thetruth about his fathers death. Hamlet a play that tells the story of a youngprince who’s father recently died. Hamlets uncle Claudius marries his mother thequeen and takes the throne.
As the play is told Hamlet finds out his father wasmurdered by the recently crowned king. The theme that remains constantthroughout the play is appearance versus reality. Things within the play appearto be true and honest but in reality are infested with evil. Many of thecharacters within the play hide behind a mask of falseness. Four of the maincharacters that hid behind this mask are Polonius, Rosencrantz (Guildenstern),the king Cluadius. From behind this mask they give the impression of a personwho is sincere and genuine, in reality they are plagued with lies and evil.There appearance will make it very difficult for Hamlet to uncover the truth,the characters hide behind.
Polonius the kings royal assistant has apreoccupation with appearance. He always wants to keep up the appearance ofloving and caring person. Polonius appears like a man who loves and cares abouthis son, Laertes. Polonius speaks to his son with advice that sounds sincere butin reality it is rehearsed, hollow and without feeling. Polonius gives hisadvice only to appear to be the loving caring father.
The reality is he onlyspeaks to appear sincere as a politician, to look good rather then actually begood: “And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry. This above all: to thineown self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not thenbe false to any man. Farewell; my blessing season this in thee!” Act 1Polonius gives his son Laertes his blessing to go away, he sends a spy to followhim and keep an eye on him. This shows his lack of trust for anyone, he givesthe appearance of a confident father who trusts his son to go off on his own.
Inreality he lies about his trust for his son by sending a spy to watch him. Hisadvice he gives his son is rehearsed and only said to give the appearance of aloving father. Polonius further adds to the theme appearance verses reality byordering Ophelia to stop seeing Hamlet. He lies to her telling her that Hamletdoes not love her, he only lusts for her, in truth he does love her: Ay,springes to catch woodcocks. I do know, When the blood burns , how prodigal thesoul Through the play Polonius hids behind his mask appearing to be honestloving parent.
In reality Polonius lies, manipulates people and eavesdrops onpeoples conversation. Polonius helps contribute to the theme appearance versesreality by showing how his appearance is not his true nature, behind the maskthere lies someone totally different. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two ofHamlets childhood friends who when asked by the king, try to find out what istroubling the young prince. Both help to contribute to the theme by showingthere appearance of being Hamlets friends. The pair go to Hamlet pretending tobe his friends when in truth they are only there because the king asked them tofind the truth. There is some irony within the twins, they are asked by the kingto find out the truth by hiding within a lie, by pretending to be his friend: Adream is but a shadow Act II. Hamlet knows there purpose for their visit is todig into his soul to find the real reason for his actions as of late.
As theplay continues the twins are asked again by the king to go to Hamlet and tryagain to find the real reason for Hamlets behavior. Hamlet insults them at everychance knowing they are lying to him about there purpose of the visit: Tis aseasy as lying; govern these ventages with you finger and thumb, give it breathwith your mouth…Act III As the melodrama continues Hamlet goes with the twinsto reclaim money that another state owes Denmark. Hamlet is sent by the king toretrieve the assets.
In actuality Hamlet is sent off to wither because the king,Claudius knows that Hamlet knows too much and must be killed. The twins showthere appearance of being Hamlets friends but in truth they have a hidden reasonfor visiting with Hamlet. Both show that it will be very difficult for Hamlet touncover the fidelity hidden within the lies. Claudius the king of Denmarkconduct in council gives him the appearance of an Honest and honorable man. InAct one scene two Claudius in the presence of council shows his true skill andease of manner at speaking.
Claudius speaks well of the spent king by showing ageneral love for him by all his subjects. Claudius show respect for the oldsovereign by speaking kind words of him. In reality he cares little for the oldking, he speaks kindly only to give the appearance of loving brother. Though yetof Hamlet our dear brother’s death The memory be green, and that it us befittedTo bear our hearts in grief, and our whole kingdom To be contracted in one browof woe Act I As Claudius sends Voltimand and Cornelius off to give the king ofNorway the message of Fortibras, he thanks and gives them complete trust, in thedeliverance of the notation. This shows his trust and caring for his subjects infront of the council, wining even more consent from the council: We doubt itnothing: heartily farewell. Act I Claudius increases his appearance of a honestand honorable man, in front of the council by showing his respect for Polonius.He gives him the power to let his son Laertes stay or leave for Norway.
Claudiusspeaks highly of Polonius giving him thanks and saying the he was responsiblefor Claudius becoming king: The head is not more native to the heart, The handmore instrumental to the mouth, Than is the throne of Denmark to thy father.What woudlst thou have, Laertes (Act I ii, 47-50) This council would see this asa man who greatly respects his subjects and cares for them. This adds to thedifficulty of uncovering the truth for Hamlet later. Hamlet enters the councilchamber and speaks with Claudius. The king (Claudius) speaks with Hamlet seemingto be concerned with Hamlet. He gives advice that over grieveing is not healthy,this shows a concern for Hamlets well being. This conduct of Claudius gives himthe appearance of being kind in front of council that accepts him even more forhis family values: How is it that the clouds still hang on you? Act I Claudiusappears to be even more caring when insulted by Hamlet he still shows love andgeneral care for Hamlet. A normal king would have become angry and Hamlet wouldhave gotten into trouble.
Claudius shows the council that he is understanding ofHamlet’s grief over his father: A little more than kin, and less than kind. ActI . Claudius gives Hamlet advice that over grieveing can be harmful and nothealthy.
Claudius tells Hamlet that he is a admirable person for grieveing forso long over his dads death. Yet again Claudius keeps putting on the appearanceof the honorable man. Tis sweet and commendable in your nature, Hamlet, To givethese mourning duties to your father: But, you must know, you father lost afather; That father lost, lost his; and the survivor bound In filial obligationfor some term To do obsequious sorrow; but to persever In obstinate condolementis a course Act I Claudius further makes it difficult to uncover the truth byannouncing that Hamlet is next in line for the throne of Denmark. This showsthat Claudius would let Hamlet become the next king when he is gone. Thisreveals a love and care for Hamlet to the council and Gertrude making Claudiusappear to be kind, loving person: You are the most immediate to our throne; Andwith no less nobility of love Act I Claudius final conduct that makes him adifficult truth to uncover, is his care and want that Hamlet remain in Denmark.Claudius is insulted by Hamlet, he asks Hamlet to stay only that his queenGertrude wants Hamlet to stay.
Claudius appears to be concerned with Hamletswell being, Gertrude and council see this ,making Claudius a more deservingperson to be king. As Claudius speaks in council he gives the appearance ofsomeone who is a deserving person that should be king. Claudius is voted in asking meaning he is already approved by everyone. Claudius gives respect to hissubjects giving the council the impression that he respects them.
The king showsgeneral concern for Hamlet, his nephew. This will make it very difficult toprove the truth about Claudius in the future for he has not only, one the loveand respect of council (that voted him in). But also has prevented a attack onDenmark (from Fortinbras) proving that he is good king that can protect thestate from harm. Claudius makes it very difficult for Hamlet to uncover thetruth about the true nature of Claudius in the future.
Through the characterswithin the play all help to show the theme, that being appearance versesreality. Polonius, Rosencrantz (Guildenstern) and the king all appear to be goodand honest. As Hamlet finds out, all contain lies and have hidden intentionswithin them.
As each character is presented in the play all appear to be goodand honest making it a difficult task for Hamlet to uncover the hidden truthabout the nature of each character. As Hamlet best said it somethings is rottenin Denmark That being the lies which have replaced or covered the true state ofeach character. Madness may be “mental incapacity caused by anunmentionable injury.” Such wounds often are not easily perceived but maybe revealed in time of stress. Hamlets question, “have you adaughter?”(Act II. Sc2 182) Polonius about the Princes emotional state.
What is hidden will surely be told to Cloudius by his adviser. Laertes searchfor revenge is sharper proof that madness in degrees of publicity causes harm tothe observers. Claudius promise “no wind of blame”(Act IV, Sc.
7,66)once Laertes kills Hamlet; perhaps this is what the uncle has sought all alongfor himself. Ophelia has a unique, very powerful form of madness; she seemscaught as a “bakers daughter,”(Act IV, Sc. 5, 42) between memoriesof her father and Hamlet who ought have spokedn to her of events on”Valentines day.
“(Act IV, Sc 5, 48) She is doubly hexed and themadness she has infects the whole court. Once a persons mental state has beenstudied in public, there is no telling the injuries which may affect theviewers. Ever since the death of King Hamlet young Hamlet has been what appearedto be in a state of madness. In a discussion between Hamlet and Polonius Hamletquestions Polonius by asking him “have you a daughter.”(Act II, Sc.2,182) In this discussion Hamlet shows antic behavior towards Polonius by mockinghim when Hamlet would usually show great respect for him because of he age andheis high position in the court.
This sudden question to Polonius has causedPolonius to believe that Hamlet has a form of love-sickness and that Polonius issure to tell Claudius of his condition. Hamlet also accuses Polonius of beingthe “Jephthah, judge of Israel,”(Act II,Sc.2, 399) meaning thatPolonius would put his country in front of his daughter.
Hamlet has nowconvinced Polonius that he is in a state of madness because he knows thatPolonius cares for his daughter very much and would never put her second. Byconvincing Polonius that he has no consideration for the well-being of others,Hamlet is then hoping that Polonius will tell the court of his emotionalmadness. Unlike Hamlet, Laertes has developed a different kind of madness, amadness that is controlled by revenge. When Laertes is talking to Claudius,Laertes gets so much revenge building up inside him against Hamlet that Laertesnow wants to “cut his throat.”(Act 4,Sc.7,125) Laertes behavior iscaused by the sudden death of his father who was without a due ceremony, and hissister who has been driven mad, has contributed to the madness that is beingbuilt up inside Laertes.
This madness grows even stronger when Claudius promises”no wind of blame”(Act IV.Sc7,66) when Laertes kills Hamlet. WithClaudius being the puppet holder and Laertes being the puppet, Claudius turnsLaertes into a savage beast to avenge for his fathers’ death; perhaps this iswhat the Claudius has planned all along. Laertes has a form of madness that isescalating because Laertes knows that he has the capabilities and motivation toact on what he believes on. Ophelia has a unique form of madness unlikeHamlets and Laertes because it a mixture of love and hate. An example ofhate is when she sings about a “baker’s daughter.
“(Act IV,Sc.5,42)Ophelia is referring to the way her father used to treat her before the tragicincident of his death. A love within her madness is when she speaks about theevents on “Valentines day.”(Act IV, Sc.5,48) When Ophelia speaksabout Valentines day she is referring to the events of romance that she wasdenied. Ophelias madness is brought on by her lack of being able todemonstrate any maturity in trying to cope with her losses and in return canonly inflict her madness on the court. By stating that Hamlet could havecontrolled his fraudulent madness, he then had the capability of controlling hisconscious mind into acting traditional. Where Laertes was very influential byothers and had no real control over the mental state he was developing by thesway of Claudius.
Ophelia was the most innocent victim of all because she wasthe side affect of everyone elses actions and had no idea that she wasmentally disintegrating. It can be noticed that within each of these threepeople there can be no reassurance on what the affect they may have on othersdue to their mental state in public. Hamlet’s Sanity Hamlet appears to beinsane, after Poloniuss death, in act IV scene II. There are indications,though, that persuade me to think other wise.
Certainly, Hamlet has plenty ofreasons to be insane at this point. His day has been hectiche finallydetermined Claudius had killed his father, the chance to kill Claudiusconfronted him, he comes very close to convincing Gertrude that Claudius killedhis father, he accidentally kills Polonius, and finally the ghost of his fathervisits him. These situations are enough to bring Hamlet to insanity, but heremains sharp and credible.
Hamlet is able to make smart remarks to Rosencrantzand Guildenstern, comparing then to sponges, “When he (Claudius) needs whatyou have gleaned, it is but squeezing you and, sponge, you shall be dryagain,” (pg 98, 20). This is random and unexpected, as many of his actions,but the comparison makes sense; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern soak up all thekings favors, only to become dry again after they mop up the Kings mess(spying on Hamlet, and getting Poloniuss body). Later, with Claudius, Hamlettells how lowly a king can be by saying, “A man (beggar) may fish with theworm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of thatworm,” (pg 99, 29).
This also makes sense, and is not quite as random; whenHamlet confronts Claudius, and the king asks where Polonius is, Hamletimmediatly begins the comparison by telling Claudius that Polonuis is at supper(the worms are eating him for supper, and so on). This proves that Hamlet hadsome kind of planning for this degrading comment, and that his thoughts are notscattered and he is able to stay focused. There is a question of what beinginsane really is. Since it is agreeable that Ophelia was crazy, its possibleto use her as a guide to make this argument valid. Hamlet and Ophelia bothshared the trait of having calculated thoughts, Ophelias singing andHamlets verbal attacks. They also shared calmness before their deaths. Butwas Hamlet spraying rude remarks to everyone before he died, as Ophelia had sungfloating down the river? No, in-fact Hamlet was the opposite of what he wasbefore. If he were crazy, like Ophelia, he would have remained hectic and randomup until the time of (and after) the duel.
Hamlet, though, was nothe evenreasoned what death for him was, finishing his question of whether life wasworth living for. Hamlet can truley be seen to be sane, and not. The facts thatHamlet was smart and swift thinking, and in such a reversal of emotions (fromafter Polonius died) in the end, leads strongly to the opinion that Hamlet wasnot insane.