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Madness and Insanity in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Hamlet and Insanity

William Shakespeare’s creation of the character of Hamlet within the tragedy of that name left open the question of whether the madness of the protagonist is entirely feigned or not. This essay will treat this aspect of the drama.

George Lyman Kittredge in the Introduction to The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, explains the lack of success with Hamlet’s pretended insanity, and in so doing he implies that the madness is entirely feigned and not real:

The necessity for some device like the play within the play is due to the failure of Hamlet’s assumed madness to achieve its purpose. [. . .] In Shakespeare’s drama, however, Hamlet’s motive for acting the madman is obvious. We speak unguardedly in the presence of children and madmen, for we take it for granted that they will not listen or will not understand; and so the King or the Queen (for Hamlet does not know that his mother is ignorant of her husband’s crime) may say something that will afford the evidence needed to confirm the testimony of the Ghost. The device is adopted on the spur of the moment (i.5, 169ff.), and, once adopted, it must be maintained. But it is unsuccessful. The King is always on his guard, and the Queen is not an accomplice. (xii)

The question arises: Is it truly possible to have a noble tragic hero who is indeed bereft of the proper use of his mental faculties? Doesn’t this “lack” compromise the very essence of a “noble” protagonist who is worthy of the tragic ending? A.C. Bradley in Shakespearean Tragedy staunchly adheres to the belief that Hamlet would cease to be a tragic character if he were really mad at any time in the play (30). On the other hand, W. Thomas MacCary in Hamlet: A Guide …

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….: Cambridge Univ. P., 1956.

Kittredge, George Lyman. Introduction. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. In Five Plays of Shakespeare. Ed. George Lyman Kittredge. New York: Ginn and Company, 1941.

MacCary, W. Thomas. Hamlet: A Guide to the Play. Westport, CN: Greenwood Press, 1998.

Mack, Maynard. “The World of Hamlet.” Twentieth Century Interpretations of Hamlet. Ed. David Bevington. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968.

Rosenberg, Marvin. “Laertes: An Impulsive but Earnest Young Aristocrat.” Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. from The Masks of Hamlet. Newark, NJ: Univ. of Delaware P., 1992.

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 1995. No line nos.

John Steinbeck’s East of Eden – Biblical Symbols and Symbolism

Biblical Symbolism in East of Eden

Throughout the novel East of Eden, Steinbeck uses many biblical references to illustrate clearly the conflict between the opposing forces of good and evil. Much of the plot of East of Eden is centered upon the two sets of brothers representing Cain and Abel. Both pairs are similar to Cain and Abel in the way they go about winning their fathers’ favors. All four give gifts to their fathers, and the fathers dismiss the gifts of Charles and Caleb, the Cain representations (Marks, Jay Lester. p.121). Caleb and Charles Trask are obviously the more malignant brothers. They are also the more loving towards their father. Steinbeck’s purpose in this is to illustrate the need of the Cain character in the story. Abel, Adam and Aron, is the opposite of his brother and naturally good and pure. The purpose of Adam and Aron in East of Eden is to clarify the belief that purity must know wickedness (Marks, Jay Lester. p.122). Steinbeck illustrates the need for both good and bad with the actions and beliefs of these supposed “good” characters. The representations of Abel, Adam and Aron are both described as unloving. Adam has not treated his children fairly and his treatment is caused by his innate goodness. Aron grows as an ignorant selfish person because he is naturally good (Fonterose, Joseph. p. 3382). Steinbeck uses Cain to illustrate the choice man has. In the case of Charles, Cain dies an unhappy man who did not live a worthwhile life, Caleb on the other hand, chose to realize his dark past, but chose to continue living his life with hope (Marks, Jay Lester. p. 122-123).

In Steinbeck’s East of Eden he is constantly using single characters to illustrate many differen…

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…. Because of man’s evil heritage, being descendent of Cain, he is naturally forgiven for any breach in purity (Levant, Howard. p. 244).

Steinbeck’s references and allusions to the bible are very obvious. Although they are most apparent when taking the story of Genesis: 4 into consideration, the more subtle devices are equally as useful to Steinbeck to prove his point. His beliefs of the relationship between good and evil are easily understood with the allusions that are exercised.

Works Cited

Fontenrose, Joseph. John Steinbeck: An Introduction and Interpretation. New York: Barnes

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