The Madness of Hamlet

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Examine how Shakespeare presents the theme of madness in Hamlet. Are we supposed to treat it as real, feigned, or a mixture of the two? The definition of madness is ‘to be with disordered mind, insane; frenzied; wildly foolish.’ Throughout the play, Shakespeare invites the audience to make sense of Hamlet’s state of mind – is his mind without order or is his madness part of an overall strategy? Hamlet’s first soliloquy takes place in Act 1 Scene 2, after Hamlet’s meeting with his mother, the Queen, and Claudius. In this soliloquy, the audience sees his depression and grief over the death of his father coupled with his incredulity at the ‘most wicked speed’ with which his mother has remarried. Here, Shakespeare is already showing the audience what is going on in Hamlet’s mind. He is already preoccupied with grief and suicide: HAMLET: ‘O that this too too sullied flesh would melt… Or that the Everlasting had not fixed His canon ’gainst self-slaughter.’ Language like ‘O God’ and ‘Heaven and earth, must I remember?’ give an impression of misery and despair. This is effective in showing exactly the onset of Hamlet’s state of mind. Shakespeare is suggesting that Hamlet’s is already a troubled mind, thus the audience is already aware of the burdens Hamlet suffers. As this is made clear at such an early stage, it is fair to assume that Shakespeare may be presenting these burdens as a reason for Hamlet’s fall into madness. This reference to religion is also quite significant. Had Hamlet not had these Christian views that God punishes ‘self slaughter’ he might have already tried to commit suicide. Shakespeare’s audience would also have had these views, and by using this reference to religion, Shakespeare is conveying to them Hamlet’s complete desperation – he is contemplating jeopardising his soul by going against the word of God. Hamlet’s meeting with

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