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The Inner Turmoil and Madness of Hamlet in Shakespeare's Play

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“To be or not to be” is one of the most famous quotes of all time by an author that has stood the test of time, William Shakespeare in his play, Hamlet. There are several themes displayed in Hamlet, these themes include death, obsession, and betrayal, all of which contribute to increase Hamlet’s madness. Hamlet experiences turmoil based not only on his inner mental state, but also on the external circumstances of both the murder of his father and the constant spying upon him by those whom Claudius and Polonius dispatch to do so. Thus, Hamlet suffers from paranoia, and ends up mad.

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Hamlet frequently thinks about suicide throughout the play, his perspective on life can be seen in his “To be or not to be” speech. By mentioning the thoughts of suffering the “slings” and “arrows”, followed by the consideration of facing a “sea of troubles” by living, it is apparent that he desires to experience death. At the end, Hamlet made the decision that he would rather die. The fact that he contemplates suicide could be thought of as madness, as it is not a thought that any normal person would have. Instead, a normal individual sees that life issues need to be dealt with instead of running away. Hamlet’s uncertainty is also what drives his obsessions, which revolves around the betrayal leading to the death of his father. At the same time, for obvious reasons, he hates his mother although he is strongly attached to her, and this gigantic conflict in his feelings is the foundation for his madness, which is compounded by the knowledge that his mother’s lover Claudius is constantly spying on him.

Another character that can be considered mad is Ophelia. She is portrayed as a weak character who is unable to think clearly for herself or to have any sense of individuality. In the play, Ophelia says to her father, Polonius, “I do not know, my lord, what I should think”. This indicates that she is too confused to have an identity of her own, and the loss of identity propelled her further into madness. Grieving over the death of her father, Ophelia drowned herself in a river. This madness, in the end, led Ophelia to commit suicide as she had nothing to live for without the men (Polonius and Hamlet) in her life who bestowed her sense of identity upon her. Hamlet even finds it necessary to be vulgar towards Ophelia as it would have been impossible for him to continue to love her while attempting to avenge his father’s death. Hamlet experienced tragic life situations rather quickly and they made a huge impact on his life. His father had passed away and his uncle had just married his widowed mother. This was then followed by the appearance of the ghost of his dead father with instructions for revenge, and then as if that were not enough, Ophelia’s father had made it impossible for Hamlet to see her. At the same time, Hamlet finally manages to confront his enemies and without meaning to, kills Polonius. Laertes dispatches Hamlet with a poison-tipped sword, but not before Hamlet has also killed his real enemy, Claudius. It is, in fact, a mark of how intense and deep his madness is that when he does finally act, it leads ultimately to his death. Even though Hamlet appears to have been given evidence that his uncle did, as a matter of fact, murder his father, it seems that this evidence is simply not enough for Hamlet.

A conversation happens between Hamlet and the ghost of his dead father where the ghost openly accuses Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle, of having been the murderer by stating that “The serpent that did sting thy father’s life Now wears his crown” (I, v, 39-40). If the ghost is indeed Hamlet’s father and is to be believed, the ghost’s accusation should be the proof that Hamlet needs, yet he continually searches for proof. Eventually, his obsession with his father’s death gets reinforced by an increase in separation from his family as well as his loved ones. Simply seeing a ghost raises questions of madness because reality says that there are no such things as ghosts, yet, people still claim to see them. In this case, it can be thought that Hamlet descended into madness even further. Not many people will see such thing unless they are mentally disturbed, and this is the first implication that signals Hamlet’s madness. Is it madness that drives him to attempt to communicate with the ghost? Hamlet must learn to deal with the loss of his father and perhaps seeing something like a ghost could be his coping mechanism, and this cannot be healthy, but for lack of explanation, at least it is a way to cope. Also considering that the only person that the ghost talks to is Hamlet, it seems that this is because Hamlet was the only one willing to see and talk to the ghost. As the play progresses, Hamlet becomes separate emotionally from his family and the woman he once proclaimed to love, Ophelia. He goes on to tell her that he loved her once, only to say that Ophelia “should not have believed me, for virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it. I loved you not” (III, i, 119-121).

The madness displayed by both Hamlet and Ophelia is driven by the deaths of their fathers, however they portray madness in different ways even though their madness is driven by similar factors, and the madness of each of these characters ultimately ends in tragedy. The world of Hamlet shrinks from being one in which he could have been a noble prince in a peaceful and prosperous kingdom to one in which potential enemies are everywhere present. It is no wonder that Hamlet had episodes of madness throughout the play and appeared to lose touch with reality.   

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