Hamlet- Purposefully Mad Essay, Research Paper
The ever-burning question upon the reader?s mind after having read Shakespeare?s Hamlet, was Hamlet mad? Did he just fake it to fool those under the influence of his uncle? Rarely do people ask themselves this question: Why is it that Hamlet feigned madness? The reason behind his madness, as displayed through several characters such as: Gertrude, Ophelia, Claudius, and the pair Rosencratz and Guildenstern, was that Hamlet was using his madness to test those around him for various reasons.
The first and probably most minor of the four, Rosencratz and Guildenstern, Hamlet tested when they arrived from school on Claudius? request to seek out the cause of Hamlet?s odd behavior.
I am but mad north-north-west. When the
wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a shadow.? (2.2.402-403)
As Hamlet says these words to Rosencratz and Guildenstern there is a sense that he is imparting to them a secret, that he is acting his madness. But why would he tell his friends this? Hamlet undoubtedly trusts no one, not even these two friends of his. He is telling the two that he is acting his madness to test them, to see what they will do with the secret he tells them. Obviously, both Rosencratz and Guildenstern fail Hamlet ultimately, as later in the play they become small pawns used by Claudius to control Hamlet, which Hamlet easily sees through.
Hamlet must administer one of the most taxing tests to Ophelia, which in turn tests himself. Hamlet obviously loves Ophelia, proven when he speaks alone about her. Yet even though he does love her, he cannot trust himself to let her in to his plot. One of the most candid examples of Hamlet?s love-hate relationship with Ophelia occurs during the scene when they are alone in the room full of mirrors.
Ay, truly, for the power of beauty will sooner
transform honesty from what it is to a bawd than
the force of honesty can translate beauty into his
likeness. This was sometime a paradox, but now
the time gives it proof. I did love you once. (3.1.121-125)
The most tragic of those which Hamlet tests is Ophelia, simply because of her innocence both to the facts of life, and to the plot to unfold Hamlet?s mind to Cladius.
Although Hamlet can be admired for his clever wit in testing the others, it seems nothing but selfish the way he tests Ophelia. Eventually, due to his continuing torturous tests of Ophelia, she commits suicide, and any validity which he earned becomes lost when she dies because of him.
Perhaps the most captivating and cataclysmic of the tests Hamlet administers is the one he puts Claudius through. This test becomes the backbone of the story, and the ensuing conflict which occurs eventually destroys the household of Hamlet.
?Tis a knavish piece of work, but
what of that? Your majesty and we that have free
souls, it touches us not. Let the galled jade wince;
our withers are unwrung.? (3.2.264-267)
During this revealing speech Hamlet gives during the Player?s act, we realize that he pushes Claudius harder than he pushes anyone else, and the rage behind his questioning also becomes evident. Hamlet?s work on Claudius only becomes more and more intense as the internal battle within Hamlet grows heated, and his conversations with his father?s ghost grow more desperate. Although many believe that Hamlet?s madness can be most readily seen in his arguments with his mother, evidence displays that it actually flickers in and out during his speech to Claudius.
Finally, Hamlet repeatedly tries to shame his mother even as he puts her to the test as well. In one of the most powerful scenes in the story, Hamlet enters his mother?s chambers and mistakenly kills Polonius, and following this speech, King Hamlet?s ghost enters.
This was your husband. Look you now what follows.
Here is your husband, like a mildewed ear
Blasting his wholesome brother. Have you eyes?
Could you on this fair mountain leave to feed
And batten on this moor? Ha! Have you eyes?? (3.4.73-77)
Hamlet makes deep cuts in to Gertrude?s pride and conscience in this scene, until he eventually leaves her begging for him to cease his relentless speech. Her mood and Hamlet?s dramatically change upon the entrance of the ghost of King Hamlet, and true concern shows itself within Gertrude?s words, while Hamlet softens his attack following a command from his father. Gertrude believes Hamlet to be afflicted with some sort of madness when he confesses to speaking with his father, yet she does not know of one important detail which dismiss this type of claim. Three men other than Hamlet have seen the same ghost, thus making the apparition more than an imagined figure. Rather, Hamlet?s sight of his father are perhaps the only thing he does see clearly.
So, the question once again must be asked? Is Hamlet truly mad or does he merely use certain actions to disguise his testing of those closest to him? Regardless of the answer, the question will remain the most riveting in the reader?s mind, that?s what makes Hamlet the great work of literature it is.