Madness as a Tool for Revenge in Hamlet

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The play Hamlet is a Greek tragedy written by William Shakespeare. Hamlet supposedly descends into madness, but this all apart of his plan to avenge the true King, his father. He brilliantly plans out his scheme for his revenge, making him a truly intelligent character.

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The complexity of the character of Hamlet is something that needs to be dissected in order to understand his motives and ways. With the combination of horrible things going on in his life, one can assume it was too much for him to handle, driving him into insanity. But looking at the picture as a whole proves that there really is a “method to his madness.” Hamlet is considered the most intelligent character in literature for a reason, being that he leaves people questioning his motives. He is a mysterious character who never reveals his true nature, but it is obvious to those who read more into the play.

There are steps to figure out the complexity of Hamlet. He is always one step ahead. He uses the fact that he suppressed his true emotions to his advantage. This makes people believe that Hamlet, the idealistic prince of Denmark, had truly descended into madness. Its smart thinking about how he used this to his advantage to make everyone focus on how he is now a “lunatic.” He messes with everyone, taking attention off of his plan for revenge. There is plenty of evidence that supports the idea that he purposely feigned his madness in order to confuse everyone. Towards the start of the play after the ghost reveals to Hamlet that he was murdered, he tells Horatio and Marcellous that he is going ‘to put an antic disposition on” meaning he is going to pretend that he is crazy to make Claudius think he is harmless. He reveals from time to time that his is only playing a part. When completing the arrangements for the play with Horatio, and just before the entrance of the court party, Hamlet says, ‘I must be idle’. This is a declaration of his intention to be ‘foolish’. Then to his mother in the Closet Scene, he distinctly refers to the belief held by some about the court that he is mad, and assures her that he is intentionally acting the part of madness in order to attain his goal: ‘I essentially am not in madness, But mad in craft.’

The perspective of other characters also proves that Hamlet is not really mad. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who are tasked with spying on Hamlet, report to Claudius, “Nor do we find him forward to be sounded. But with a crafty madness keeps aloof When we would bring him on to some confession Of his true state” revealing that they realize Hamlet dances around their questions and that he is very sly. Polonius also notices Hamlet’s wit when he speaks to him in Act II Scene II, and remarks ‘How pregnant… his replies are!”, although he is not intelligent enough to realize that Hamlet is capable of clever responses because he is sane. Claudius also doubts Hamlet’s madness because although Polonius insists he is mad because of his love for Ophelia, Claudius is determined to find concrete proof of the reason for Hamlet’s madness.

Further proof that Hamlet is not crazy is the careful and deliberate way he manages to execute his plan. Hamlet’s main objective is to avenge his father who was killed by King Claudius, his uncle. The only thing Hamlet thinks about is exacting revenge on Claudius, and cannot wait for the moment he can kill him. However, this plan requires patience and caution. Hamlet decides that he must kill Claudius in the right way at the right time. To do this, he first proves Claudius’ guilt by devising a plan to show him a play similar to reality. Then, once Claudius has shown himself to be guilty, Hamlet decides to wait until his uncle is sinning to kill him so that he will not go to heaven, like Hamlet’s father.

More evidence that Hamlet’s madness was feigned includes the fact that the character Ophelia went mad. There are differences between their madness. Ophelia goes mad because of the loss of the love of her life and her father’s death. It becomes too much for her and so she snaps. Hamlet is dealing with many troubling factors as well, but he is more angry than anything but he is able to keep this anger under control and so he switches back and forth, making a show and only showing his madness in front of the others in the play. Polonious says, “there is a method in it” referring to Hamlet’s madness. By saying this he means that Hamlet has a purpose as to why he is acting this way and that even his nonsense makes sense. Hamlet chooses at what moments he wants to display his insanity.

There need be no doubt, then, that Hamlet’s madness was really feigned. He saw much to be gained by it, and to this end he did many things that the persons of the drama must construe as madness. His avowed intention was to throw them off the track. The fact that Hamlet clearly states that he is, in fact, sane contributes to the idea that he is not psychotic or senseless; and, revealing his plan of acting mad shows that he has a clear mind, knows what he is doing, and is brilliant in that way. In acting insane, the other characters are unaware of his true motives, which makes it easier for him to carry out the murder of Claudius.   

07 April 2022

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