Insanity in Shakespeare's Hamlet - The Madness of Hamlet Essay

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The Madness of Hamlet

William Shakespeare, in the tragedy Hamlet, designed two characters who exhibit symptoms of madness: Ophelia and the prince. Hamlet states his own madness as intentional, purposeful, for the carrying out of the ghost’s admonition. But does Hamlet’s pretended insanity actually touch on real, actual insanity from time to time, or is it consistent?

Phyllis Abrahms and Alan Brody in “Hamlet and the Elizabethan Revenge Tragedy Formula” consider the madness of the hero to be completely feigned and not real:

Hamlet is a masterpiece not because it conforms to a set of conventions but because it takes those conventions and transmutes them into the pure gold of vital, relevant meaning. Hamlet’s feigned madness,
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a beast, that wants discourse of reason,

Would have mourn'd longer--married with my uncle,

My father's brother, but no more like my father

Than I to Hercules: within a month:

Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears

Had left the flushing in her galled eyes,

She married. O, most wicked speed, to post

With such dexterity to incestuous sheets! (1.2)

Soon Horatio, the hero’s closest friend (“Horatio, thou art e'en as just a man / As e'er my conversation coped withal.”), and Marcellus make contact with Hamlet and escort him to the ramparts of Elsinore. At one a.m. the Ghost reveals to the protagonist the extent of the evil within Elsinore, “the human truth” (Abrams 467). The Ghost says that King Hamlet was murdered by Claudius, who had a relationship with Gertrude prior to the murder; the ghost requests revenge by Hamlet: “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.” Hamlet swears to carry out vengeance on King Claudius for the murder of his father.

The hero resolves to put on an “antic disposition” to disguise his intentions while he seriously works on avenging his murdered father. R.A. Foakes in “The Play’s Courtly Setting” explains:

Perhaps the most terrible feature of his
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