Hamlet's Insane State: is Hamlet's Madness Real Or Feigned

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The corruption that Hamlet learns of within Denmark is where Hamlet first learns of the truth behind his deceased father’s death, thus causing negative complexity within Hamlet’s emotional and mental state. When Hamlet encounters the ghost of his deceased father, who tells him, “So the whole ear of Denmark is by a forged process of my death rankly abused... The serpent that did sting thy father’s life now wears a crown” (1.5.43-47). 

The phrases “forged” with “rankly abused” contrasted with “crown” signify the contrast between the inherent abuse within King Claudius’ regime with the implications of royalty and power associated with becoming a King. This renders dissonance in King Claudius’ persona, underlying how King Claudius’ outward image as “goodly” should not be trusted from his inward persona and true intentions. By further paralleling King Claudius to a “serpent,” an image synonymous of deceit and evil, the ghost is degrading and to an extent, belittling King Claudius’ role as King. The deep feelings of apathy and injustice the ghost feels towards King Claudius causes Hamlet to realize the corruption within Denmark. 

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When the ghost appears before Marcellus, Hamlet’s friend, he recognizes the ghost’s appearance in relation to the corrupting state of Denmark, and states, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” (1.5.100). The ghost’s vengeance toward King Claudius turns Hamlet’s sorrow into one of deep anguish and remorse at his inaction towards avenging his father’s death as he learns Claudius was the one to murder his father. Hamlet then blames himself for his cowardice and inaction by calling himself derogatory words such as “pigeon-livered” (2.2.594-604). By comparing himself to a “pigeon,” he dehumanizes his existence and equates himself to lesser than that of an animal, belittling his cowardice and using it to symbolize his feelings of self-depreciation for not having the bravery to take vengeance upon King Claudius. 

The growing discursiveness in the complexity of emotions Hamlet feels-from anguish, remorse, guilt, vengeance- causes Hamlet’s state of mind to be one of disarray and confusion. Hamlet then shifts from instability in his mental state to self-degradation when he calls himself a “whore” (2.2.614). Hamlet inwardly condemns, belittles, and thus degrades himself to the worst possible insult, calling himself a woman, to emphasize his unimportance and seemingly lost position he feels within society. The many emotions Hamlet feels-from the anguish and remorse he feels for his deceased father, to the vowed vengeance he promises the ghost, to the guilt and self-blame Hamlet feels for his cowardice, adds onto his emotional state to become more convoluted.

The corruption that Hamlet learns of Denmark affects his emotional state, blurring and distorting the lines of reality and pretense in where Hamlet’s sanity lies. When Hamlet learns of the truth that King Claudius was the one behind his deceased father’s death, he is determined to put on an “antic disposition” (1.5.192). Hamlet’s determination to act out of feigned madness allows him to openly speak his mind, deriding Polonius by stating, “[he] shall grow old as [he] is,” (2.2.221). This causes Polonius to observe how “though this be madness, yet there is method in it” (2.2.223-224). Hamlet is an enigma who confounds doubt amongst the people around him, and acknowledges the capricious nature in his temperament and disposition when he states, “ ‘I know a Hawk from a Handsaw’ ” (2. 2. 403). The “antic disposition” Hamlet puts himself in, blurring the lines of reality with pretense, is signified by the phrases “Hawk” and “Handsaw.” His words suggest that just as the wind blows towards an uncertain direction “north-west” (2.2.402). The unpredictable direction of the wind reflects Hamlet’s uncertainty and ambiguity in the direction and steps he should take to take revenge against King Claudius for murdering his deceased father. 

However, the phrases “Hawk” and “Handsaw” contrast Hamlet’s ambiguity in his mental state and serve as a warning to Rosencratz and Guildenstern that he is capable of differentiating between a “Hawk” and a “Handsaw,” in this case between a friend and a foe. Hamlet’s antic disposition in his feigned madness does not seem to be overtaken by his “real” madness when he states, “My pulse as yours doth temperately keep time...It is not madness That I have uttered” (3.4.162-163). Hamlet’s instability in his mental state and the complexity of emotions that result are reflected by a shift in tonal nuance from self-depreciation to denial then acknowledgement of his feigned madness becoming a reality. However, the semblance of Hamlet’s madness is contrasted when he acknowledges the complexity of emotion that he feels in regards to his “feigned” madness and is a result of the corruption within Denmark. Hamlet acknowledges his madness when he states how his madness “will skin and film the ulcerous place, whiles rank of corruption, mining all within, infects unseen” (3.4.168-170). 

By paralleling his “madness” to being able to “skin” and “film,” the “ulcerous place,” Hamlet connotes how his madness has the capability to proliferate outwards, while corruption has the capacity to proliferate, or in this case, “infect” the unseen. In doing so, Hamlet denotes how his madness grows due to the corruption he learns of within the state of Denmark, establishing a cause-and-effect relationship between the two traits.

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