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Madness Hamlet's originally acts mad (crazy, not angry) to fool people into think he is harmless while probing his father's death and Claudius 's involvement.

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slide1

Madness

  • Hamlet's originally acts mad (crazy, not angry) to fool people into think he is harmless while probing his father's death and Claudius's involvement.
  • Early on, the bumbling Polonius says "[t]hough this be madness, yet there is method in't" (Act II, Scene II). Polonius's assertion is ironic because he is right and wrong. Polonius falsely believes Hamlet's madness stems from Hamlet's love of Ophelia. To notice a method behind the crazy talk was impressive of Polonius.
  • But as the play progresses, Hamlet's behaviour become more erratic. His acting mad seems to cause Hamlet to lose his grip on reality. The circumstances he has to manage emotionally are difficult, to say the least. Succumbing to physical violence when under extreme stress shows that Hamlet has deeper-set issues than merely acting mad.
  • The question is whether the lines between Hamlet’s feigned madness and reality are ever blurred.
  • Ironically Ophelia succumbs to madness because of her father’s death (at the hands of Hamlet) and her failed relationship with Hamlet (Hamlet convinces Polonius his madness stems from his love sickness over Ophelia). Ophelia’s actual madness and ultimate death stem from Hamlet’s ‘antic disposition’
slide2

Elizabethans believed the human body was made up of four basic elements, called humors: phlegm, blood, yellow bile, and black bile.

  • Hamlet seems to be suffering from what Elizabethans referred to as "melancholy," which was associated with too much "black bile" in the body.
  • This state led to lethargy, irritability, distorted imagination, and so on. Basically, it sounds a lot like what we call "clinical depression" today

HAMLETO, that this too too solid flesh would meltThaw and resolve itself into a dew!Or that the Everlasting had not fix'dHis canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God! God!How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable,Seem to me all the uses of this world!

(1.2)

slide3

After the Ghost tells Hamlet that Claudius has murdered his father, he warns his friends that he will put on an "antic disposition"—i.e., pretend to be a madman.

  • He says he's going to pretend to be mad; ergo, he isn't actually mad.
  • Consider: (1) Hamlet says he's going to pretend to be mad ; (2) Hamlet's already "melancholy" at the beginning of the play ; (3) Elizabethan ideas about "madness" are unstable and they're different than modern notions of mental illness. As we'll see, the play itself offers multiple definitions of madness.

HAMLETHow strange or odd soe'er I bear myself,As I perchance hereafter shall think meetTo put an antic disposition on

(1.5)

slide4

OPHELIAMy lord, as I was sewing in my closet,Lord Hamlet, with his doublet all unbraced;No hat upon his head; his stockings foul'd,Ungarter'd, and down-gyved to his ancle;Pale as his shirt; his knees knocking each other;And with a look so piteous in purportAs if he had been loosed out of hellTo speak of horrors,—he comes before me.

(2.1)

  • Elizabethans thought that love really could make a man sick and mentally ill. They called this state "love melancholy
  • Here, Ophelia describes Hamlet as looking and acting just like a guy who's playing the stereotypical role of an unrequited lover. It's a textbook case of lovesickness. In fact, maybe tootextbook.
slide5

The Ghost always seems to be associated with Hamlet's is-he-or-isn't-he insanity.

  • Here, Hamlet is concerned that the Ghost may be "the devil" and is trying to tempt him to murder Claudius without just cause.
  • What's interesting to us about this extract is the way Hamlet (who is alone on stage at this point) wonders if being depressed has left him vulnerable to evil—which is maybe one more reason to drag his feet before committing murder.

HAMLET

[…] The spirit that I have seenMay be the devil: and the devil hath powerTo assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhapsOut of my weakness and my melancholy,As he is very potent with such spirits,Abuses me to damn me:

(2.2)

slide6

KING CLAUDIUSWhat, Gertrude? How does Hamlet?QUEEN GERTRUDEMad as the sea and wind, when both contendWhich is the mightier: in his lawless fit,Behind the arras hearing something stir,Whips out his rapier, cries, 'A rat, a rat!'And, in this brainish apprehension, killsThe unseen good old man.

(4.1.)

  • This is an incredibly interesting passage. In the previous passage, Hamlet tells Gertrude that he isn't crazy but he asks her to lie and tell Claudius that he is in fact mad.
  • As we can see here, Gertrude tells the king that Hamlet's as "mad as the sea and wind." Why does she do this? Is she trying to protect her son by lying to Claudius? Or, does she really think Hamlet's gone off the deep end?
  • Where do Gertrude's loyalties lie at this point in the play?
slide7

CLAUDIUS[…] poor OpheliaDivided from herself and her fair judgment,Without the which we are pictures, or mere beasts:

(4.5)

  • Here, Claudius describes Ophelia as being "divided from herself." In other words, she's lost her mind. But what causes Ophelia to go mad?
  • Obvious explanation is that Hamlet has murdered her father, but maybe it's more complex than that.
  • Maybe she's actually just cracked under the patriarchal pressures of the court. Throughout the play, Ophelia is ordered around by her brother and her father and has no control over her social or love life. Madness might just be the only way she has of fighting back.