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Explore Shakespeare’s Presentation of Madness in the Play

Uploaded by emmashep on Jan 15, 2005

Within his tragic Hamlet, Shakespeare explores three definitions of madness. The definition presented by Ophelia is the only one I interpret as conventional madness, whereas I think the two presented by Hamlet are either feigned or the result of heightened emotions. Each condition contains similarities and differences that help to highlight the dramatic purpose that this theme provides to the play.

The first of these conditions is named the ‘antic disposition’ by Hamlet in act one, scene five, and could be argued to be Hamlet’s genuine state. However, I think that Shakespeare employs a number of methods to disprove this belief and confirm that whilst employing the antic disposition, Hamlet is sane. The first of these methods is the witty wordplay Shakespeare assigns to Hamlet to allow him to mock those he suspects of working in liaison with his uncle.

Claudius’ most infamous and interfering courtier, Polonius, is one of Hamlet’s prime targets. This is illustrated in the famous Fishmonger’s Scene where, under the guise of madness, Hamlet not only accuses Polonius of being a dishonest spy, ‘I would you were so honest a man,’ and a pimp, ‘you are a fishmonger,’ but also takes great pleasure in calling him a fool. This is seen in a large section of prose given to Hamlet where he picks out amusing examples of Polonius’ senility, ‘old men have grey beards,’ ‘their faces are wrinkled,’ ‘they have a plentiful lack of wit.’ He also mimics Polonius’ obsequious repetition of ‘my lord,’ with his own, sarcastic, ‘sir,’ which appears three times in this speech where it need not have been said at all.

Hamlet continues to belittle and prove Polonius a fool throughout the beginning of this scene but, the use of this wordplay is only seen as definite proof of Hamlet’s sanity when Shakespeare continues the theme into act three, scene two. Here, Hamlet calls Polonius, ‘so capital a calf,’ and fools him into believing he is mad with such ridiculous lines as, ‘do you see yonder cloud that’s almost in shape of a camel?’ to which Polonius fawningly agrees. The extent of this continuity not only allows Shakespeare to prove Hamlet’s sanity, but also helps him to define the first type of ‘madness’, which is very well planned and implemented by Hamlet’s vast intellect, quick thinking and convincing acting ability.

This superb performance, which allows the ‘antic...

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Uploaded by:   emmashep

Date:   01/15/2005

Category:   Hamlet

Length:   9 pages (1,985 words)

Views:   2046

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