I have an essay tomorrow and I need a little help...
The topic is compare and contrast Shakespeare's use of madness as a motif in "Hamlet" and "Macbeth".
Madness is used differently in each case. In Hamlet's case, Hamlet wonders if he is going mad because he is seeing ghosts and feeling paranoid and suspicious. In Macbeth's case, his wife really seems to be over the edge, hallucinating. Both of them talk to themselves, but so do many people!
I think it's important to realize that Hamlet is merely faking his madness in order to get to the truth. Some critics believe that in the process he does go a little mad, but I believe that he is able to hold on to his sanity despite being terribly depressed. After all, he does not kill Claudius when he has the chance because this action would send Claudius directly to heaven. He is able to gain control of himself with his mother and convince her he is merely pretending. Lady Macbeth, on the other hand, does truly go mad. Instead of having to search for the truth, she is well aware of how King Duncan died and the guilt associated with that knowledge drives her insane. She ends up killing herself but Hamlet, although he contemplates suicide, does even attempt it. Thus, in these two plays, guilt or lack of it, seems to be the deciding factor in whether one is able to hold on to one's sanity.
Shakespeare uses a madness motif to aid in the drama of his plays. Anger and insanity are joined to illustrate the themes, and they both cloud the judgment of characters in various ways. “A contrast between actual insanity and fabricated madness aids in the depiction of the main theme as well. Unless the mad person is someone we know and love and must do business with, we may find ourselves intrigued by that madness. We may have mixed feelings about the affliction. In Macbeth, madness is an expression of guilt.” “Macbeth talked to Banquo's ghost. Meanwhile, “Hamlet talked with a ghost, but the doing so gave justification to some of his violent plans.” When Shakespeare uses madness in these plays it deepens the drama and the plot. He usually has more than one character demonstrate madness. Ophelia goes mad after the death of her father and ends up drowning. Shakespeare knew his audience and he knew that to reach them he had to introduce madness into the characters, because we all have a little madness in us. When this happens, those who "lose it" may become characters who are much more interesting and thereby worthy of depiction in drama.