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Hamlet: I have to write an analytical essay about Hamlet's madness. I was wondering...

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kimmlisa | eNotes Newbie

Posted August 23, 2013 at 1:24 PM via web

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Hamlet: I have to write an analytical essay about Hamlet's madness. I was wondering what good arguments are there about his antic position. My angle is that he feigned the madness, but I don't know where or how to begin this essay. Thank you!

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amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted August 23, 2013 at 2:24 PM (Answer #1)

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Critics differ on whether Hamlet was truly mad or not. In the wake of psychoanalysis, since Freud, some have suggested Hamlet was "mad" on a subconscious level. But many critics have found evidence that Hamlet's madness was feigned, all a part of his scheme to distract the other characters while he exacts his revenge on Claudius in dramatic fashion. 

In Act 2, Scene 2, Polonius, trying to determine Hamlet's state of mind, notes in a famous line that: 

Though this be madness, yet there is method 

in't.- (II.ii.216-17) 

Polonius thinks that Hamlet is mad for a reason which suggests something caused him to become mad or that Hamlet is faking it for some reason. 

It is in Act 2, Scene 2 that Claudius and Gertrude send for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern so that they might talk to Hamlet and find the cause of his "transformation." It is suggested (by Gertrude in this scene) that Hamlet might be suffering from love sickness (for Ophelia). But Hamlet has developed a disdain for women in general, following his mother's hasty marriage to Claudius. So, Hamlet's poor treatment of Ophelia and Gertrude is a result of his anger at his mother.

Hamlet's sulking is part grief, part frustration, part "madness" as in anger rather than insanity, and finally his sulking is part intellectual. In other words, Hamlet's constant delaying of killing Claudius is a result of his over-thinking and philosophizing on how best to carry out his revenge. (Even prior to that, Hamlet rationally thinks that he must first figure out if the ghost of his father is really his father or a devil. This is not the strategy of an insane man - considering that the ghost is real - it is the strategy of a man trying to understand the reason and motivation behind seemingly insane circumstances.) 

The spirit that I have seen

May be the devil, and the devil hath power

T'assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps,

Out of my weakness and my melancholy--

As he is very potent with such spirits--

Abuses me to damn me. (II.ii.575-80) 

Since Hamlet carries on with his revenge, it seems that he has decided that the ghost is of his father; in either case, Hamlet determines that Claudius must pay for his sins. 

But perhaps the best evidence illustrating that Hamlet's madness is feigned is that his constant sulking and odd behavior (which others see as "madness") results from the fact that he is constantly thinking and philosophizing about his situation. Thus, he makes it a point to ignore and shun (Ophelia) any other people and relationships that would distract him from his plans for revenge. In his constant over-thinking, he is drawn into his own mind, making it appear that he has lost his mind when in fact he has, in a sense, gone into his mind to think deep thoughts. So, outwardly it only appears that Hamlet is lost in another world. 

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kimmlisa | eNotes Newbie

Posted August 24, 2013 at 12:24 AM (Reply #1)

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Thank you so much for your quick reply! This will help tremendously. 

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