Hamlet: A Meaningful Madness

[ * It’s been many years since I first saw Hamlet, but I went and saw a local performance the other night and comments I overheard got me to thinking that I differ from the viewers who believe Hamlet was really mad. And here are my reasons. ]

 

There are many who believe Hamlet is genuinely mad throughout most of the play. Likewise, there are many who believe Hamlet begins by acting crazy, and then slowly descends into madness as events progress. Thus, I appear to be in the minority, since I don’t believe Hamlet ever loses his mental faculties. It is true that he gets emotional at certain times, but getting emotional and going bonkers are two different things.

I hold to my belief on this issue because of the following: at no time from the beginning of the play until the crazy antics of Hamlet begin does Hamlet show any inclination or weakness to warrant a belief in the alleged madness. Quite the contrary; when Gertrude asks Hamlet why he seems to take a particular stance to something as common as death (pertaining to the alleged long mourning period over his father); Hamlet admits his special inclination toward the particular over common. And Hamlet claims it with a very telling line: “These indeed seem, for they are actions that a man might play, but I have that within which passes show; these but the trappings and the suits of woe” – (1.2.83-86). In other words, prior to Hamlet seeing the ghost of his father, his mindset already dwells on how emotions or true motives can be hidden with pretend actions. And after the King and Queen exit Hamlet laments the situation, and shows his anger over how quickly his mother jumped into his uncle’s bed. Yet, we again see Hamlet’s tendency to hide his true emotions: “It is not, nor it cannot come to good. But break my heart, for I must hold my tongue” – (1.2.157-158). This same mindset is shown when Hamlet is made aware of the ghost by Horatio, Marcellus, and Barnardo, urging them to remain silent: “I pray you all, if you have hitherto concealed this sight, let it be tenable in your silence still” – (1.2.246-248). And immediately following the conversation with his father’s spirit Hamlet again swears them to secrecy. He also warns them not to be alarmed or give it away when they see him acting strange: “how strange or odd some’er I bear myself (As I per chance hereafter shall think meet to put an antic disposition on)” – (1.5.170-172).

Additionally, Hamlet’s character is clearly closer to his dead father (who is portrayed as a competent king, leader, and husband), not like his weaker uncle. That inherited strength, plus years of parental teaching, along with his new found singleness of purpose, and the multi-shown mindset of camouflaging his true motives leads me to conclude Hamlet never lost touch with reality. And since there is not a single dialogue or weak character trait attributed to Hamlet prior to the antics beginning, I see no reason to think Shakespeare had any such intent during the writing.

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