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Hamlet's Purported Insanity

Uploaded by Enirambus on Mar 04, 2002

The character Hamlet in Shakespeare’s Hamlet may be considered eccentric at least, insane or deranged at worst. While Hamlet is assuredly a man of ineffable wit and infallible intent, his mental foundation is made of sand; he is “very foolish, impractical, extravagant; senseless,” as Webster’s dictionary defines “Insane.” While Hamlet never loses his ability to reason, his “antic disposition” causes him to become foolishly extravagant, to which no purpose is served. His show of insanity is far too convincing. Every important character in the play mentions at some time that he is mad, and indeed, Shakespeare provides an oft-overlooked symbol to this effect, saying his antic disposition is not quite as “antic” as he intended.

The first character to notice Hamlet’s insanity is Polonius, Ophelia’s father, who accosts Claudius and Gertrude, saying their “noble son is mad.” (89) Polonius first suspects this when he intercepts a love letter intended for Ophelia, and contemplates why such a highborn individual such as he would take an interest in one so lowly as Ophelia. Presently, Polonius concludes that Hamlet is mad with love and anguish over his father’s death; anon he concludes Hamlet is well along the path into love-madness—“And he, repelled (a short tale to make), fell into a sadness, then into a fast, thence to a watch, thence to a weakness, thence to lightness, and, by this declension, into the madness wherein now he raves, and all we mourn for.” (91) In dialogue with Hamlet, Polonius observes that Hamlet converses with “a happiness that often madness hits on, which reason could not so prosperously be delivered of.” (97) In seeing Hamlet speak so irrationally happy to him, Polonius concludes that Hamlet may be insane with love for his daughter, and indeed, Ophelia concurs.

Ophelia must be one of the most mistreated individuals in the play. The man who loves her treats her as a slanderous whore, no better than a prostitute, after sending her a note saying “doubt thou the stars are fire, doubt that the sun doth move, doubt truth to be a liar, but never doubt I love.” (89) These words sound as those of an amorous lover, but at their next meeting, Hamlet cross-stances and speaks with coldness and derision, “Get thee to a nunnery (meaning a brothel), farewell.” When Polonius questions her on this subject, whether Hamlet was mad for her love, she replies, “I truly do fear it.”...

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Uploaded by:   Enirambus

Date:   03/04/2002

Category:   Hamlet

Length:   5 pages (1,087 words)

Views:   1829

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