Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, begins with the appearance of a ghost, an apparition, possibly a hallucination. Thus, from the beginning, Shakespeare presents the air of uncertainty, of the unnatural, which drives the action of the play and develops in the protagonist as a struggle to clarify what only seems to be absolute and what is actually reality. Hamlet’s mind, therefore, becomes the central force of the play, choosing the direction of the conflict by his decisions regarding his revenge and defining the outcome.
Shakespeare begins Hamlet’s struggle with recognition of Hamlet’s sincere grief and anger following his father’s untimely death. A taste of the conflict is expressed in the dialogue between Hamlet and his mother, Gertrude. Here Hamlet forcefully declares his pain and adds a discerning remark that defines seems as “actions that a man might play.” (I.2 ln 84) By acknowledging Hamlet’s comprehension of the separation between appearances and truth, Shakespeare gives the audience a reasonable belief in Hamlet’s eventual success despite the obstacles he creates for himself.
Developing a convincing scheme by which to determine the goodness of the ghost and to achieve revenge is Hamlet’s first action. Hamlet asks his friend Horatio to refrain from commenting on any strange behavior he may exhibit in the future. (I.5 ln 170-179) Later in the play, Hamlet alludes to his actual sanity when conversing with his school friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. “I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw.” (II.2 ln 377-378) After adequately concealing his intentions, Hamlet begins to doubt his own character. He compares himself to an actor who…
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…struggle for revenge. Nevertheless, the central driving force of the play remains Hamlet’s mind. The new king, Fortinbras, assures the audience that Hamlet “was likely, had he been put on, to have proved most royal.” (V.2 ln 391-392)
Works Cited and Consulted:
Heilman, Robert B. “The Role We Give Shakespeare.” Essays on Shakespeare. Ed. Gerald Chapman. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1965.
Levin, Harry. General Introduction. The Riverside Shakespeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1974.
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.
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 1995. http://www.chemicool.com/Shakespeare/hamlet/full.html
Polonius’ Observations on Hamlet’s Madness
Polonius’ Observations on Hamlet’s Madness
The obedient Ophelia has followed her father’s injunctions and repelled Hamlets letters and denied him access to her. Polonius is certain that these rebuffs have driven Hamlet mad. His only action is to inform the king and queen, and to let them decide what the next move will be. In Polonius lengthy discussion with the king and queen he explain the situation:
Polonius: Your noble son is mad.
Mad call I it; for, to define true madness,
What is’t but to be nothing else but mad?
One of the most analyzed plays in existence today is the tragedy Hamlet, with its recurring question: “Is Hamlet’s ‘antic disposition’ feigned or real?” This question can only be answered by observing the thoughts of the main characters in relation to the cause of Hamlet’s real or feigned madness. In the tragedy Hamlet, each of the main characters explains Hamlets madness in their own unique way. To discover the cause behind the madness of Hamlet, each character used their own ambitions, emotions and interpretations of past events. Initially one of the most accepted causes for Hamlets instability is that of denied love, conjured by the self fulfilling Polonius.
In the very first scene of the second act, Ophelia rushes to tell her father, Polonius, disturbing news:
Ophelia: My lord, as I was sewing in my closet,
Lord Hamlet, with his doublet all unbrac’d,
No hat upon his head, his stockings foul’d,
Ungart’red, and down-gyved to his ankle;
Pale as his shirt, his knees knocking each other,
And with a look so piteous in purport
As if he had been loosed out of hell
To speak of horrors- he comes before me.
Polonius: Mad for thy love?
Ophelia: My lord, I do not know, But truly I do fear it.
(Act II scene I)
It is interesting to note that Ophelia does not tell her father that Hamlet is mad because of Ophelia denied love, but that Polonius automatically assumes this.
Polonius: This is the very ecstasy of love,
Whose violent property fordoes itself
And leads the will to desperate undertakings
As oft as any passion under heaven
That does afflict our natures.
What, have you given him any hard words of late?
Ophelia: No, my good lord; but, as you did command,
I did repel his letters and denied