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Hamlet: What initially caused Hamlet's insanity?
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The initial cause for Hamlet's gloom and despair is the murder of his father, Old King Hamlet. Hamlet is further enraged by his mother's quick marriage to his Uncle Claudius (Old King Hamlet's brother). Hamlet becomes melancholy and has trouble trusting anyone, especially women (because he is so upset with his mother's marriage to Claudius so soon after her husband's death).
But Hamlet's insanity or madness is a bit different. It is not solely caused by external events (as his melancholy and distrust are caused by his father's death and his mother's marriage). Hamlet's madness is a combination of his reactions to these things around him but it is also a conscious "acting" - meaning that he is acting mad for a purpose. Polonius points out Hamlet's insane behavior in Act II, Scene 2:
I will be brief. Your noble son is mad.
Mad call I it; for, to define true madness,
What is't but to be nothing else but mad?
But let that go. (II.ii.98-101)
Later in this scene, Polonius remarks that there must be some reason or method behind Hamlet's madness. "Though this be madness, yet there is method / in't." (II.ii.216-17)
In the same scene, Hamlet tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that he knows they were sent to figure out why he is acting so strange. Whether primarily a reaction to his father's murder and his mother's hasty marriage or a part of his voluntary isolation in pursuit of his plan for revenge, Hamlet is well aware of his mad behavior. This suggests that at least part (or the majority) of his madness is an act, one to confuse the king and thus distract the king (and anyone else) from discovering his (Hamlet's) plans for revenge.
Hamlet essentially admits to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that his madness is faked in this scene as well:
I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is
southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw. (II.ii.376-77)
Posted by amarang9 on May 30, 2013 at 3:32 PM (Answer #1)
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