(I was 16 when i wrote this essay and i’d like to see any stupid american bastard to better)
Shortly after seeing his fathers ghost Hamlet says that hereafter he will put an antic disposition on. To what extent is the madness he exhibits in the rest of the play feigned? Is he really mad?
To discuss whether or nor a person is mad it is first necessary to define exactly what you mean by madness. In its everyday sense it refers to recklessly frantic or passionate behaviour. However, by madness I am going to refer to the mental disorder formerly known as insanity but now called psychosis. The main systems include hallucinations, thought disorder, loss of emotion, mania and depression.

The biggest problem with studying the character of Hamlet is that there is no continuity in the nature of his words and actions. However, if you remove the scenes where he is obviously pretending to be mad (such as his discourse with Polonius in Act II Scene II) you emerge with a clearer picture of his supposed mental demise which culminates in the murder of Polonius in Act IV.
To discover how much of Hamlets madness is acted we must first consider his reasons for pretending to be mad in the first place. When we see Hamlet in Act I Scene II he is in a state of depression and mourning. However, his suits of solemn black seem more a mechanism for protecting himself from the reality of his mothers incestuous marriage then signs of respect for his late father. Throughout the play Hamlet shows an inability to deal with his difficulties and problems. When his relationship with Ophelia becomes confused he denies its very existence:
Hamlets biggest responsibility is to revenge his fathers death. He seems to agree with what the ghost demands in principle but is unable to go through with it. To escape this responsibility is why he starts this pretence of madness. If he is mad it is not his fault that he fails to kill Claudius. In Act V Scene II Hamlet tries to blame the death of Polonius on his madness almost as if it where another person:
Wast Hamlet wrongd Laertes? Never Hamlet
It is almost as if Hamlet uses his madness as a scapegoat. Hamlet claims that by pretending to be mad he will divert suspicion. The exact opposite is true. It is because of Hamlets transformation that Claudius gets Rosencratz and Guildenstern to spy on his nephew. Hamlet even seems to court suspicion by revealing his wish to kill the king to people connected with him. The only possible reason for Hamlet to pretend to be mad is to escape reality and the problems that it contains.
It is possible to argue that to pretend to be mad one must be mad in the first place. In Hamlets case I would not agree with that statement. Hamlet does not pretend to be mad on account of being mad in the first place. He becomes mad because of having to act so. Like any good actor Hamlet gets into the character he is playing however this character is so close to the real Hamlet that eventually the two become indistinguishable. Before he starts to act Hamlet is depressed and confused but he clearly is not mad. However, after he has been pretending to be mad for a considerable amount of time his actions do seem those of a mad man. Whether he is acting or not what he says and does relating to the killing of Polonius show that he has become insane. Firstly he kills Polonius with no motive and without even knowing whom he was killing. Secondly he shows no remorse for the murder of someone who had never consciously hurt him.

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Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell
Hamlet does not actually desire to kill Polonius he is simply playing his role as an irrational mad man. However, he is unable to distinguish what he wants to do and what the character he is acting would do. This almost schizophrenic inability to distinguish between the acted and real personality cannot be called anything else but madness. Therefore in this part of the play Hamlet is mad. This real madness does not suddenly come into existence in Act III Scene IV it builds up gradually as Hamlet loses touch with reality.
In a majority of the play Hamlet is not mad in the medical sense of the word. He is depressed and sick of life but the insanity which he exudes is just a smoke screen to much deeper problems. As Claudius says:
Theres something in his soul Oer which his melancholy sits on brood
This something is not simply the murder of his father and the remarriage of his mother it is a problem that goes right to the core of Hamlets being. From the beginning of the play the audience can see the underlying fragility of Hamlets consciousness and his disillusionment with the world. In Act I Scene II Hamlet makes an extraordinary statement:
How very stale flat and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world
Later on he declares that man, the paragon animals does not delight him. Hamlet does not like reality and cannot deal with the problems and responsibilities that it contains. That is why he pretends to be mad and that is why he eventually becomes mad. Subconsciously he knows that to leave reality he cannot simply act in a irrational way he must also escape his own thoughts. The only way he can do this is to become the character he is acting out. Madness is not his problem it is his solution.


Bibliography:
All my own work, unlike you i can write!