Though this be madness, yet there is method in't.

(II.ii.204-205) - Polonius

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Significance Of Madness In Hamlet

Shakespeare’s look into madness through Hamlet brings the questions of fair life or death. Through the mystery of death, “the undiscover’d country” (III. i. 80), the rotten state of Denmark, Hamlet’s ‘play’ of madness, fair Ophelia’s madness through death and love, Laertes’ revenge of his father, and the King’s corrupt manner. The significance of madness is the heart of the play.

When Hamlet is contemplating life or death in the famous “To be, or not to be” (III. i. 58) soliloquy, he brings a lot of attention of the significance of madness. When you’re questioning your own mortality, usually it meant that there wasn’t something worth living for – or to die and ‘sleep’. With Hamlet’s speech, it brought a whole level of depth to Shakespeare’s character. Hamlet represents madness – so it madness to question your life? Perhaps facing uncertainty and dream would be genius against misfortune but there’s no immediate reason for Hamlet’s choice to live.

Another theme of madness found through Hamlet’s craves for honesty and his dislike for deception. It brings a lively twist to our understanding of how he goes about his play for the truth. Hamlet is stuck in a world of deception in political corruption (the murder of Hamlet’s father and Gertrude’s remarriage) which kills Hamlet. His madness later on represents the treachery that each character goes through due to their manipulation in the state of decline in Denmark.

"And it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man” (I. iii. 78 - 80).

Here, the advice given to Laertes from Polonius describes the situational irony of the state of Denmark indirectly as Laertes is about to go to university in France.

“Why then 'tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison” (II. Ii. 250 – 251).

Here Hamlet is talking to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (where Claudius sent them to spy on his “antic disposition”). Hamlet describes Denmark as a prison – but says something relating to madness. Hamlet’s thinking is his prison and because he’s stuck with his mother (who married his uncle after his father died in such short time) and his murderous uncle. He sort of hoping for ignorance with bliss because if you think it to be bad, then it’ll be bad, but if you think it to be good, it’ll be good.

As with Hamlet, madness itself turns into all Hamlet plays and for Ophelia (after her father’s death at Hamlet’s hand) madness turns into her own death. Though, her madness represents true madness for its genuine. She lost her father and she feels lost Hamlet’s love. After she sings about death and love, her madness becomes clear. With the death of Ophelia, Hamlet’s heart is torn and with nothing more than the death of his father and his mere mortality.

When Hamlet is holding Yorick’s skull he comes to terms with death – from a great to a common man, death is our fate. This is a turning point for Hamlet as it liberates him. In the last scene of the play, Hamlet’s at peace with death. He apologizes to Laertes, who defends his honour but takes it with love, and yet duels. He took the situation blindly and it’s almost the classic movie scene where we watch the ‘hero’ die, and yet we know what’s going to happen, but it warms our hearts.

The significance of madness in Hamlet is presented as the defining heart of the play. Without madness, Shakespeare could not explore the certain character of that of Hamlet – how he thinks more rather than acting out of passion and honour. Hamlet is madness that puts everything together and represents the inner conscience of human from when he goes to distraught play writer to a sincere man of apology and peace. When you compare the Hamlet we’ve known throughout the play to the few moments he’s left to live, you know somewhere he accepted death and that Hamlet is a story to tell.

Works Cited

“Hamlet Theme of Lies and Deceit.” Shmoop Beta. Accessed on Tuesday, April 20, 2010.

“Hamlet Theme of Mortality.” Shmoop Beta. Accessed on Tuesday, April 20, 2010.

“Hamlet Theme of Revenge.” Shmoop Beta. Accessed on Tuesday, April 20, 2010.

“Hamlet Theme of Madness.” Shmoop Beta. Accessed on Tuesday, April 20, 2010.

E Notes. Accessed on Tuesday, April 20, 2010.

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