Descent Into Madness
Insanity. There are a diverse range of thoughts that just flooded one’s mind when they read that word. This word can have a different meaning to each individual, it just all depends on the way it may or may not relate to their life. Insanity is when a person’s state of mind is preventing them from normal perception, behavior, and social interaction, causing them to be severely mentally ill. Most people have a different perception of insanity because it can affect victims at varying levels, especially depending on the situation that drove them to instability. It’s appalling to watch someone you love or care about go insane because one’s ordinary mind most likely can’t comprehend how one goes mad unless they were to experience it themselves or they’ll want to deny that it’s truly happening. Throughout the play Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, the main actor, Hamlet went through various situations in his life that drove him mad. These situations included, his father passing away, him seeing a ghost, and him committing to pretend as though he’s insane.
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To begin, one of the reasons it is believed that Hamlet was going insane was because his father had just passed away and he was having a difficult time overcoming his grief. His father’s death did not only affect him emotionally but mentally as well. It still had not been very long since his father passed away and everyone kept telling him that he needed to get over it already and he shouldn’t be grieving for this long. For example, it shows this in the play when it’s stated:
QUEEN. Good Hamlet, cast thy nighted colour off,
And let thine eye look like a friend on
do not for ever with thy vailed lids
Seek for thy noble father in the dust:
Thou know’st ‘tis common; all that lives must
Passing through nature to eternity.
In this passage, his mother is telling him that he should stop grieving his father because death is common and all people are going to die eventually anyway. So, not only is Hamlet struggling with this mourning period in his life, but he also has no support system to overcome it. This could have made him feel as though there was something wrong with him because according to his own mother, he should be over his father’s death already. This is strongly considered to be the start of his derangement because he wasn’t ever given the chance to recover. Including that this trauma may have affected Hamlet so greatly that it wired Hamlet’s brain to believe there was something wrong with him and it angered him to be told he was weak.
Furthermore, there was an appearance of a ghost in the play but Barnardo, Marcellous, and Horatio were the first ones to catch sight of it. They stated that it looked much like the old King, Hamlet’s father, which made the audience wonder if it was the King’s spirit or if it was only coincidence. This is shown when:
MARCELLUS. Peace, break thee off; look, where it
BERNARDO. In the same figure, like the king
MARCELLUS. Thou art a scholar; speak to it,
BERNARDO. Looks ‘a not like the king? mark it,
HORATIO. Most like: it harrows me with fear and wonder.
Then Hamlet saw the ghost in the play and believed it was his father’s spirit coming back to help him get revenge and talk to him about what Hamlet needs to do. It was not only him who saw the ghost, nor was he the first to see it, but he was the only one to actually speak with it in a hummanly manner and have a full conversation. It’s shown when:
Enter GHOST and HAMLET.
HAMLET. Whiter wilt thou lead me? Speak; I’ll
Go no further.
GHOST. Mark me.
HAMLET. I will.
GHOST. My hour is almost come,
When i to sulphurous and tormenting flames
Must render up myself.
HAMLET. Alas, poor ghost!
GHOST. Pitty me not, but lend thy serious hearing
To what I shall unfold.
HAMLET. Speak; I am bound to hear.
GHOST. So art thou to revenge, when thou shalt
GHOST. I am thy father’s spirit,
Doom’d for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confin’d to fast in fires,
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purg’d away. But that I am forbid
To tell the secrets of my prison-house (Shakespeare 1.5.1-14).
This now opens the possibility that his brain was tricking him and he was hallucinating the conversations he was having because he wanted to believe so badly that his dad was trying to spiritually connect with him. So, not only has he perhaps reached the point of insanity because he’s having conversations with a ghost but Hamlet is also drawing himself deeper into madness by continuing the interactions with the ghost.
In addition to that, Hamlet makes a plan that he’s going to act as though he is going insane and make everyone believe it in order to distract everyone from his plans to get revenge on Claudius and make it seem justifiable. This is stated when Hamlet says:
HAMLET. And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
Here, as before, never, so help you mercy,
How strange or odd soe’er I bear myself,
As I perchance hereafter shall think meet
To put an antic disposition on (Shakespeare. 1.3.164-172)
However, his plan to get revenge on Claudius took longer than he had expected which caused him to have to act insane for over four months. The more he acted insane, the more his brain got used to the psychotic behavior so he lost what it was like to act ordinary. It then became his reality to act deranged other than something that was organized and by then he didn’t know any different.
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However, in the play, it deliberately shows the audience that he did say he was going to behave insane, so it could have just been that he was trying to persuade all of his audiences. In addition to that, he knows that he’s being spied on meaning that he could suspect there is always more people listening to what’s going on. Because of this, he’s likely acting more outraged than he actually was especially around his enemies. For example he states:
HAMLET. I am but mad north-north-west:
When the wind is southerly I know a hawk
From a handsaw (Shakespeare 2.2424-426).
But, one does not know this for certain, it can be perceptive in different ways. He’s stating that he’s only acting as though he’s mad but it’s clearly shown that he is thinking in a madly manner and acting upon those thoughts.
In conclusion, the play Hamlet, written by William Shakespeare showed that Hamlet indeed had gone insane because of his father’s death, him interacting with a ghost, and pretending to be deranged for so long that it actually became a reality. It is for these reasons that prove people could perceive the fact that Hamlet surely did go insane.
- Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Literature and Composition: Reading Writing Thinking, Edited by Carol Jago ef al., Bedford, 2017. Pp. 652-731.
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