Have we all gone mad?
Did you ever ask yourself, have we all gone mad? It seems that in our time confusion, disorder, and madness seem to reign chaotically throughout the world. Then, we seem to look at ourselves and wonder, who really is mad? The people around us are so diverse that we sometimes forget what normal is and we falsely accuse others of being insane. The presence of madness is also a very integral part of some great literary works. Shakespeare, for example, used several “mad” characters in his brilliant plays Hamlet and Macbeth. In the writings, the reader has to decide who really is mad and how far “off the deep end” did they go. The use of madness illustrates to the reader that even in earlier times people were considered to be “sick in the mind.” As further illustrated, the presence of madness is quite evident and plays a strong role in the formation of the plot in Shakespeare’s writings of Hamlet and Macbeth.
It is evident that in both Hamlet and Macbeth, there is proof of madness in some of the minor characters. The issue of madness in any form of writing shows the reader that there must be something plaguing the characters to make them act so foolishly. In Hamlet, this foolish person would be the daughter of Polonius, Ophilia. She puts on quite a display for
the reader when she comes into the castle and appears very upset and as
many would say, “mad”. She enters into the room and begins to sing and respond to everyone with a different verse. Then she sings, “You must sing “A-down a-down, and you call him a-down-a.” O’ how the wheel becomes it!” (H4.5.170-171) This display of childish singing shows that Ophilia is distressed because of her fathers death and she can not handle the shock. She leaves the scene and the play by saying, “And of all Christian souls, I pray God. God bye you.” (H4.5.198) Then Ophilia makes her way to a brook where she commits suicide. Another situation of madness is in the play of Macbeth. The once stable and bossy Lady Macbeth starts to “loose her cookies” when she is distressed over a death similar to Ophilia. Only this death was a murder that her husband Macbeth committed. The reader finds that she has become mad when the Doctor says, “Do breed unnatural troubles; infected minds/…/More needs she the divine than the physician.” (M5.1.62-64) Though Lady Macbeth may not have been as insane as Ophilia, it did show the reader that she was still affected by it. This proves that even the minor characters experience some madness.
The evidence of madness is also very significant in the main characters of Macbeth and Hamlet. Both Macbeth and Hamlet speak to themselves about the value of life and how the outcome of their actions will effect them and the people around them. Though not too evident, Macbeth seems to have a madness problem when dealing with the prophecies of the witches. He is puzzled by his destiny and what will become of it, especially if he heard it from some “secret, black, and midnight hags”. (M4.1.48) Macbeth is also driven to his madness by his pushy wife. She says things to him like, “And, to be more than what you were, you would Be so much the man.” (M1.7.50-
51) This means that Lady Macbeth is pushing Macbeth by bringing up the
issue of manliness and if Macbeth is up to the challenge.
Since Hamlet didn’t have witches and a wife to drive him insane, he had to deal with himself and a ghost. This could probably drive anybody crazy if they had to consider the significance of life and death so many times and deal with a spirit. As Shakespeare famously wrote it, “To be, or not to be: that is the question:” this is where the reader may question Hamlet’s sanity. (H3.1.56) Why? When someone begins to question life and death they are beginning to question their very existence or their value. Since the beginning of the play, Hamlet seemed distressed over the death of his father and never really did get over it. Also, the appearance of his father as a ghost put stress on him. His father pushed him to the edge of sanity. King Hamlet puts a burden on the shoulders of Hamlet by telling him that he is, “Doomed for a certain term to walk the night, And for the day confined to fast in the fires, Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature Are burnt and purged away.” (H2.5.10-13) This pressure to avenge his father’s death may be the cause for Hamlets madness.
The severity of madness in Macbeth and Hamlet differs by the characters and who influences them. In the play Macbeth, the two characters, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth who were deemed mad, seemed to be influenced by each other. But, Macbeth handles the stress somewhat better than Lady Macbeth and her insanity is considered beyond Macbeth’s. As the doctor states, “This disease is beyond my practice;” (M5.1.49) In Hamlet, the insanity is better balanced between Hamlet and Ophilia. However, it seems that Hamlet’s insanity is much more severe than Ophilia because it lasts longer and he deliberates about his problems more. Just because Ophilia solves her problem faster does not mean that her madness is more severe, it is that she can not deal with it.