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Madness and Insanity in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Hamlet – A Question of Madness

Hamlet’s public persona is a facade he has created to carry out his ulterior motives. The outside world’s perception of him as being mad is of his own design. Hamlet is deciding what he wants others to think about him. Polonius, a close confidant of the King, is the leading person responsible for the public’s knowledge of Hamlet’s madness. The idea that Hamlet is mad centers around the fact that he talks to the ghost of his dead father. He communicates with his dead father’s ghost twice, in the presence of his friends and again in the presence of his mother. By being in public when talking to the ghost, the rumor of his madness is given substance.

Polonius decides to go to Hamlet’s mother, the Queen, in Act II to tell her that her “noble son is mad” (105). Aware of what has been going on with Hamlet, the Queen questions Polonius. In his response, Polonius continues to proclaim “That he’s mad, ’tis true. ‘Tis true, ’tis pity, / And pity ’tis ’tis true – a foolish figure” (105). Although not believing it in her heart, the Queen later admits that Hamlet may be mad. After their conversation, Hamlet enters and has his own conversation with Polonius. During this conversation, Hamlet falsely labels Plonius as a fishmonger. Hamlet knows that Polonius will tell others of the mistaken identity; specifically, he knows Polonius will report it to the King. Polonius believes Hamlet’s insanity is related to sex; therefore, he is concerned with Hamlet’s relationship with his daughter, Ophelia.

Hamlet’s relationship and actions towards Ophelia are not exempt from his dual personalities. In private, he is deeply devoted to her; but in public, he humiliates and belittles her…

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… are dead at the end of the play. If Hamlet had not chosen to pretend to be mad, the outcome of the events would probably of been different. Hamlet’s quest of destroying the King is selfish, in that it affects the innocent as well as the guilty. Hamlet’s false madness finally brings about true madness at the end of the play that is inescapable.

Works Cited and Consulted:

Bloom, Harold. Introduction. Modern Critical Interpretations: Hamlet. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986.

Bradley, A.C.. Shakespearean Tragedy: Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth. New York: Penguin Books, 1991.

Mack, Maynard. “The World of Hamlet.” Yale Review. vol. 41 (1952) p. 502-23. Rpt. in Readings on The Tragedies. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996.

Oedipus Rex as Social Commentary

Oedipus Rex as Social Commentary

Oedipus Rex, written by the Poet Sophocles in the Golden Age of Greek Theatre, was described by Aristotle to be the greatest tragedy of all time. It encapsulates the very essence of the Greek cultural milieu, and it is these ideologies which are translated into the play. The very essence of Greek society; the political democracy, a moral belief in the power of the Gods and social recognition of hierarchy, are portrayed when the society is pictured in a state of chaos.

The Ancient Greeks formulated what they believed to be a true democracy. Everyone was to have a say in the political scene, every man had a vote and no one should be disadvantaged. At the same time, however, the society was very much a patriarchal one. Power resided with the male; the leader, the logical and strong enforcer. Women, viewed as emotionally erratic, illogical and weak, were marginalised. Men were given the most noble of duties surrounding the glory of war; women were faced with trying to raise a household.

This conflict is clearly portrayed in the text. In the opening scene all are equal. Servants, peasants and royals alike proclaim, “We are your suppliants.” All have an equal interest in the state of Thebes and the actions Oedipus must take. After this, however, the females of Thebes are represented in the characterization of Jocasta. It is here that the chorus, the most important element of Greek tragedy, comes to the fore. As the Theban elders they portray the views of the greater society. Jocasta’s actions characterize her as the stereotypical female. By ordering the death of her son, blaspheming the Gods and eventually killing herself, she shows the essential perceived frailty of w…

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…ssenger must talk to Oedipus through Jocasta. Eventually, Oedipus shows his respect that that this order exists by imploring him to ‘tell me yourself!’

A play represents society. By upsetting the societal order, the basic fundamentals of the societal group can be examined. In the case of Oedipus Rex, Sophocles portrays the basics of the Ancient Greek culture, the culture which existed in his time. He exposes a patriarchal society, one attempting to come to grips with democracy while at the mercy of the Gods. The social hierarchy is respect but forced to crumble, while the Gods rule it absolutely. All of this is exposed through the underlying conventions, mainly the chorus, dramatic action, dialogue, characterization and methods of social construction. It forms an in-depth exposition of the group and its formation of the beliefs and values.

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