In the play “Hamlet Prince of Denmark”, Shakespeare portrays many conflicts between characters.
To mention a few, both are educated, care about Ophelia, and lose their fathers. Hamlet also relates to Fortinbras with the lost their fathers and is considered royalty of their respective lands. In this short paper, I will focus more on how Shakespeare depicts Hamlet to Ophelia and how it provides contrast between the two principal characters. After King Hamlet first appears to his son in Act 1, it is apparent that Hamlet decided to put on madness as a calculated plot which he used while contemplating on how he should avenge Claudius for his fathers’ death; this strategy continues in the following acts. On the other hand during Act 4, we saw Ophelia transforming into a similar mental condition as Hamlet, after the death of her father, Polonius. Here, we see how Hamlet compares to Ophelia in terms of similarities.
However, there are numerous noticeable differences between them. For the most part, Hamlet’s madness is man-made. In contrast, not much can be said about Ophelia’s madness except ingenuity. In the preceding scenes before finally losing her mind, Ophelia is being belittled by Hamlet. Shortly after this scene, Polonius is quote unquote accidentally killed by Hamlet. Later, Ophelia commits suicide, thus affirming true insanity as being more materialized since the act indicates mental instability. Overall, dichotomy of insanity in the play is employed by Shakespeare to highlight more dimensions to both characters.
On one hand, Ophelia’s madness is genuinely the result of the tragic death of her father. On the other hand, more than what is visible to an outside point of view; Hamlet’s madness is the result of a rationalizing mind that in turn manipulates his behavior towards certain situations. There are certain critics who believe that Hamlet is mad, and his madness is very much real.
Nineteenth century critics often stated that the death of his father, the hasty marriage of his mother, and the over throw of his royal hopes were all factors changing his mental well-being for the worst? Dr. Raj, an author published in “The American Journal of insanity” made the statement: “The manner, of which Hamlet speaks of and to the ghost, while administrating the oath of secrecy to his friend, is something more than the reaction of a mind after experiencing extraordinary emotions.” According to critics there are definite signs of madness in the play. His actions and behavior after meeting ghost, his meeting with Ophelia, his pale face, his piteous look and eccentric behavior, his loss of mental balance after the success of Mouse Trap, his emotional behavior at the funeral of Ophelia, his conversation with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, after he has dictated them as spies of king, are the sure signs of his madness.
Prof. Nicoll says in his book: “It is quite natural that the shocks to Hamlet’s inner nature should tend to destroy his sanity.” On the other hand, there are extreme critics who hold the view that Hamlet is not mad at all and his madness is feigned. Sinder, a nineteen-century critic, says that Hamlet is not mad at all. He possesses the finest sides of character and intelligence.
He no doubt, has weakness, deficiency of will power, melancholic color in his feelings, unsound reasoning etc. All these are true but do not make out a case of madness. Lowell, another famous critic of Shakespeare, is of the view that if Shakespeare himself, without going mad, could so observe and remember all the abnormal symptoms as to able to produce, why should it be beyond the power of Hamlet to reproduce them in his self. If Hamlet is mad then what about Shakespeare?” Stopford Brooke in “On ten plays of Shakespeare” remarks, all men of genius are mad, genius itself is madness. If genius is madness Hamlet was mad.
” A German critic Visscher says: “Hamlet is just as insane as all men of genius are.” When we read the play, we feel that in peculiar circumstances Hamlet becomes subject to emotional outburst and abnormal behavior. After meeting the ghost, Hamlet utters the words which should put an end to the whole controversy. “As I perchance here after shall think meet.
To put an antic disposition on….” Here arises a question for what purpose he puts on an antic disposition. Whether he remains successful in his aim for which he adopts madness? Let us seek answer to these questions. Before going deep, it should be clear that feigning of madness was a part of the convention of the revenge plays. Hamlet may adopt madness to carry out his purpose- the execution of revenge, without alerting his enemies.
The king has never been convinced of his madness. Even Polonius, who sets Hamlet’s madness, confuses that: “Though this be madness, yet there is method in it.” Rosencrantz and Guildenstern who tackle with Hamlet also say: “Nor do we find him forward to be sounded, but with a crafty madness.” Only the two ladies, in the play, believe in his madness- Ophelia and his mother.
His mother believes in his madness even after she is told by Hamlet: “Ecstasy! My pulse as yours doth temperately keep time, and, makes as healthful music. It is not madness. That I have uttered.
Bring me to the test.” There can be no convincing proof of his sanity than these words to his mother. He is ever sane and good in his talk with Horatio.
His talk with players is sensible. A sure proof of his sanity is his plot for the death of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. A man out of his senses could not have plotted the death of two comrades. Some critics run away with the idea that Hamlet was not actually mad in the beginning.
He adopted madness in the beginning and went completely mad later. They refer to Hamlet’s emotional confession of love with Ophelia at her funeral. In fact, when he sees Ophelia dead, he gets an emotional shock. Suddenly he forgets his adopted madness and at once comes to his grounds.
He only expresses his true, deep and secret love for Ophelia, and nothing more. Thus, we can say that Hamlet adopts madness only to protect himself physically and mentally. He does not adopt madness to fulfill any plot, or evil design against anybody. Neither is it true that he adopts madness in the beginning and later goes completely mad.
Hence, we may say that actually he was not mad, and his madness was feigned.