Explain And Illustrate Hamlet’s Madness

Hamlet’s Madness is a vexed question. In spite of Hamlet’s own assertion-“I’ll put an antic disposition,” there are critics who argue that he was really mad, at least, on certain occasions. George Farren, for example says:

“I do not maintain that Hamlet is uniformly deranged, or that his malady disqualified him altogether for the exercise of his reason, but that he was liable to paroxysm of mental disorder.”

A person predisposed to gaiety, Hamlet received three rude shocks-the death of his father, the hasty marriage of his mother, and the loss of all hopes of inheriting the throne and was mentally unhinged. The shocks contribute to the instability of intellect. He constantly brooded over the ghost, and was in a state of melancholy. Even before he knew the murder of his father, he was thinking of suicide, which was the outcome of mental imbalance. When left a lone, he was indulging in self reproaches and expressing his wish to put an end to himself. He outrage on Laertes at the graveyard, and his treatment of Ophelia also confined the conviction that he was mad. Allardyce Nicoll, Bucknill, Kellogg and Conolly also hold the view that Hamlet was mad. According to Nicoll, Hamlet’s madness is clearly manifest in some of the scenes. But the madness has a touch of wisdom and a method. He is not uniformly deranged.

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But even in scenes, where he is not mad, he indulges in too much introspection, which lends support to the view that he has morbidity. Madness is a term having a wide connotation. But we all agree, that when a person uses momentarily or permanently, all control of himself, utters words and calculates action which spring not from his reason but from a part of his brain which has gained dominance over other faculties, and when there is a marked loss of mental balance, he may be called mad. Judged from his point of view Hamlet was certainly mad, particularly, when he met the ghost or in the scene of the play within the play when Claudius cried out for light, or when he jumped into the grave pro- testing his love for Ophelia, not to be beaten by Laertes, Bucknill, Kellogg and Conolly have gone one step ahead, and passed their verdict that Hamlet is mad. They have referred to certain instances in support of their contention, e.g., his disturbed sleep and nightmares and his treatment of Ophelia.

H. Somerville in his Madness in Shakespearian Tragedy believes that for the most part Hamlet is sane. But at times he is in a state very close to melancholia, which is close to insanity. His mind is so disordered that it is incompatible with clarity of thought. On such occasions he is neither sane nor mad. He is only extremely melancholic. When the ghost administers an he sees the ghost during his encounter with his mother, he is experiencing a hallucination. His spells of mental confusion, when he appears bemused, spiritless, maundering, making remarks, lacking in coherency and seemingly pointless, come upon his after some intensely exciting or terrifying mental experience.” Hamlet has an unstable and highly sensitive nature, and, therefore, a mental breakdown is only natural. “The type of insanity to which Hamlet’s madness’ most nearly corresponds is that known as maniac-depressive a kind of varying mentality in which a person appears at times over-excited and at other times over depressed, while he may or may not enjoy intervals of relative sanity, as Hamlet did.”

But most of the critics today refuse to believe that Hamlet is mad. “If Hamlet were really mad in the story,” says Bradley, “he would cease to be a tragic character.” The tragic hero must accept full responsibility for his action-a thing which a mad man cannot do. Dowden thinks that Hamlet assumes madness to conceal the disturbance of his mind. His emotional stress. His excitability may betray him when he is always surrounded by enemies. “To be in presence of all, and yet to be hidden- to be intelligible to himself and a of others, to be within reach of everyone, and to be himself inaccessible; that would be an enviable position. Madness possesses exquisite immunities and privileges. From this safe vantage of unintelligibility he can do light himself by uttering his whole mind and sending forth his words among the words of others, with their meaning disguised, as he himself must be, clothed in an antic garb of parable, dark saying which speaks the truth in a mystery.”

Stopford Brooke thinks that Shakespeare has never intended to represent Hamlet as mad or even verging on madness. All men of genius are mad and Hamlet is mad only because of genius. Hamlet has the analytic reason, with which is coupled extraordinarily imaginative power.

Snider says that Hamlet is never so mad as not to be responsible. He has weakness and no man is infallible. If Hamlet is mad, three fourths of mankind deserve to be dispatched to the madhouse. Even if his reasoning is, at times, unsound, we cannot make out a case for insanity.



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