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Thread: Why would hamlet pretend to be mad?

  1. #1

    Why would hamlet pretend to be mad?

    The question of whether Hamlet is truly mad or is pretending is continually debated. If he were merely pretending to be mad, why he would do so. One explanation is to protect his life.
    After learning from the ghost that his mother had an adulterous affair with Claudius and that Claudius had murdered his father, Hamlet refuses to tell Horatio and the others what the ghost had said to him. (1.5.138-139). He trusts no one. He swears them to secrecy about the ghost. He also makes them swear not to give him away if he appears to act mad:
    “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, that you at such times seeing me, never shall . . . note that you know aught of me.” (1.5.168-178).
    Hamlet is rival to Claudius for the throne. He wants to be king. (5.2.65). He is popular with the people (4.3.4; 4.7.18). Claudius is afraid of Hamlet. (3.3.1-7). He refuses to permit Hamlet to return to school at Wittenberg, so he can be watched, in effect putting him under house arrest. (1.2.112-116). Hamlet says that Denmark is a prison. (2.2.239). Having learned from the ghost that Claudius killed King Hamlet to gain the throne, Hamlet is fearful that Claudius might kill him to retain it. Hamlet was perhaps inspired by the example of King David who pretended to be mad to save his life:
    “And David laid up these words in his heart and was sore afraid of A’chish the king of Gath. And he changed his behavior before them, and feigned himself mad in their hands, and scrabbled on the doors of his gate and let his spittle fall down upon his beard. Then said A’Chish unto his servants. Look ye see the man is mad wherefore have you brought him to me? Have I need of mad men, that ye have brought this fellow to play the mad man in my presence? Shall this fellow come into my house? David therefore departed thence and escaped. . . . (1 Samuel, 21:12- 22:1).
    Hamlet might also have been persuaded by the belief that insane people are under divine protection.
    Hamlet was successful. Many believe him to be mad: Claudius (3.1.2-4; 3.3.2; 4.1.19; 5.1.262), Gertrude (3.4.103; 4.1.7-11,25), Polonius (2.1.107;2.2.49, 92,148), Ophelia (2.1.82-84; 3.1.150,156-160), Rosencrantz and Guildernstern (3.1.7), and the grave digger (5.1.142). Even Hamlet himself, proclaims that he is mad (3.1.146-147; 3.2.309; 5.2.217-224).
    Claudius had some doubts about Hamlet’s madness (3.1.162-165). He dismisses them and continues to believe him mad.(3.1.189). Hamlet does confess that he is not really mad. He says to Gertrude, “I essentially am not in madness, but mad in craft”. (3.4.186-187). He also says to Rosencranz and Guildernstern that he is not mad (2.2.368-369).
    Why does Hamlet wait and not act and kill Claudius to revenge his father’s murder as he had sworn to do? He did not act to protect himself until he could get verification that what the ghost told him was true. (2.2.583-589). He wanted to be king. Therefore, he wanted it commonly known that Claudius had murdered King Hamlet so his act of killing Claudius would be seen as justifiable revenge. Otherwise if he killed Claudius and said that he was told by his father’s ghost of Claudius’ deed, no one would have believed him. They would have thought him a homicidal maniac and would have treated him accordingly. There would have been no chance of him becoming king. By having the players re-enact the murder, which upset Claudius, he had proof and it was clear to those at the play of Claudius’ guilt. It was immediately thereafter, that Hamlet decided to kill Claudius, first at prayer and then in his mother’s apartment, killing Polonius by mistake.
    Once Hamlet has revealed to the Court that Claudius had killed King Hamlet and after he had killed Polonius believing him to be Claudius, his madness is no longer protection. Claudius realizes that Hamlet knows of the murder and wants to kill him. He decides to kill Hamlet.
    In the end, both Hamlet and Claudius die.

  2. #2
    Registered User prendrelemick's Avatar
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    Excellent post /\

    I wonder if it is so clear cut as that- Hamlet was in turmoil over his mothers marriage and was pushed right to the edge of madness by the ghost's revelation.

    It is true that he put on an antic disposition in public, but that was a poor parody of insanity. Shakespeare being Shakespeare gives us just enough, through the soliloquies and moments when he drops his guard, to wonder if he is properly mad as well. Charles Lamb says perhaps he counterfeited insanity to hide his madness.
    Last edited by prendrelemick; 03-23-2010 at 03:07 AM.

  3. #3
    the beloved: Gladys's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by prendrelemick View Post
    Charles Lamb says perhaps he counterfeited insanity to hide his madness.
    The mayhem Hamlet creates in the lives of his acquaintances seems akin to madness.
    "Love does not alter the beloved, it alters itself"

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    Registered User prendrelemick's Avatar
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    "akin to madness" is right. His mind is in turmoil and he creates turmoil around him. Is that madness? I dont know, but I think those conversations he has with others where he is fiegning madness are unsubtle and obvious (hawk from a handsaw,and suchlike). But then there are the moments where he feels the real thing creeping up on him.

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    Insert Witty User Title AxLxExC's Avatar
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    I think I agree with you on that one.
    If you really look at it, Hamlet was no loon. He was a master of manipulation as he fools everyone into believing he is mad. However, the more he pretends to be mad, the more he starts to loose that logical brain we see him have at the beginning of the play.
    Is it possible then that he could have been so good at fanning madness that he even tricks himself into believing he is mad?
    "May the road rise to meet you..."

  6. #6
    I think he pretends to be mad and makes fun of the perception of madness. Hamlet's mad in an obsessional sense but not totally insane. I think Ophelia represents true insanity. In his feigning madness, Hamlet has caused true madness.

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    Registered User Beewulf's Avatar
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    Question of Madness

    Well, here's a question regarding Hamlet's madness:

    We know that Hamlet tells Horatio that he'll act a bit crazy as he investigates whether the Ghost's accusation of murder is correct, and we see him put on a "antic disposition" in scenes with Polonius and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. On the other hand, we also know that Hamlet's despair causes him to behave irrationally, and that this behavior is not a masquerade.

    So, what about the scene in Act II, scene i, in which Ophelia describes Hamlet's odd behavior when he comes to her as she is sewing in her closet? Is he acting strangely to begin the rumor that he is crazy in love, or is his behavior motivated by despair and not connected to his murder investigation?

    Is there evidence from the text to support your answer?

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