College Papers

Madness. madness is a disguise for his motives,

Rarely has one small word developed such a complex meaning throughout history
and in the modern era. Madness is frequently viewed as a product of
manipulation, as a state of being mentally ill. The truth, however, is that
madness is an intricate mean of expression. It provides an escape from reality,
when one’s environment is the source of deep pain and confusion. In essence,
madness is not a disease, but rather a coping mechanism that exposes a person’s
demeanor and unconscious liberation. Throughout history, authors have used this
profound concept to enhance and complexify literature. It is especially prevalent
in classic revenge tragedies, including William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Shakespeare uses madness as a reoccurring theme in Hamlet, to develop the plot,
complexify characters and express what the natural discourse cannot. The complex meanings of the play are also
uncovered through the madness of some of the characters, especially that of
Hamlet and Ophelia. It is evident that both Hamlet and Ophelia show symptoms of
madness in the play, however; it the way Shakespeare utilizes this concept to
reveal the characters true personalities and truths in the play, that makes the
piece a dominant one throughout history. The antic disposition of Hamlet in the
play, is used to display how he uses madness to acquire truths and aid him in
achieving his goals, whereas Ophelia’s madness is used to reveal her true
identity and hidden desires. Therefore,
in Hamlet, Shakespeare uses the characters of Hamlet and Ophelia to masterfully
manipulate the motif of madness to reveal truths and deeper meanings within the
text. He skillfully expresses how Hamlet’s madness is a disguise for his
motives, whereas Ophelia’s madness is a last resort, which liberates her from a
life not worth living.   











Another character through which the theme of madness is
explored is that of Ophelia. Though Shakespeare explores madness as disguise
for Hamlet’s true strengths, Ophelia’s descent into madness on the other hand,
is a last resort. Unable to liberate herself form her prescribed role as a
daughter, and lover, she truly, and innocently, goes mad. First, Ophelia must
listen to her father, and must not see Hamlet regardless of her feelings for
him, and vice-versa. Her actions are controlled. Her complete submission to her
father’s rules and her tolerance towards Hamlet’s harsh words proves that she
is part of a patriarchy. Ophelia is burdened by the accusations hurled at her
by Hamlet. When she mentions that the prologue to The Murder of Gonzago is
‘brief,’ Hamlet remarks, “As woman’s love!” (Act 3, Scene 2, Line 154). He
refers to a woman’s love being brief describing how Ophelia left him despite
their irrevocable love, indirectly throwing his words towards his mother as
well. His harshness, and later murdering Polonius is a root cause of Ophelia’s descent into madness. Furthermore,
Hamlet’s antic disposition also contributes to Ophelia’s madness. When Hamlet
is accused of suffering from, “the very ecstasy of love”, Ophelia is told to
repel Hamlet. She is then informed that Hamlet’s denied access of her has
caused him to go insane. (citation) This shows how Ophelia is a tool, that no
one gives any thought to. She is constantly exploited by her own father and lover;
constantly kept in the dark, as she is unable to reveal her real feelings.
Polonius says, “Think yourself a baby/ That you have ta’en these tenders for
true pay, /Which are not sterling. Tender yourself more dearly, /Or—not to
crack the wind of the poor phrase, /Running it thus—you’ll tender me a fool
(1.3.105-109). This illustrates that Ophelia is accustomed to obey her father’s
commands, as she is never trusted to make her own decisions. This is also why
she is deemed to be dependent on the men in her life. Lastly, the death of her
father, Polonius is the final breaking point in Ophelia’s world. The death of
Polonius is overwhelming for an already distort Ophelia, as she has no one left
that can guide and care for her. She is now abandoned and helpless, as “The
death of Polonius, may well have been only the last in a series of
shocks to her basically weak personality.” (cite) Therefore, Ophelia adopts madness to
confront death and betrayal. In other words, madness provides her an escape
from a cruel reality.

It is evident that
Ophelia falls into madness to survive the oppression and grief she faces in her
life. However, Shakespeare uses this madness to reveal the true nature of
Ophelia’s situation. Shakespeare uses Ophelia’s drowning as a symbol of her inability
to take control of her own life. Allowing the water to consume her without any struggle
shows Ophelia’s lack of control she has over her own life and the dependence
she has developed on other people. Gertrude informs the audience that Ophelia
wears a dress into the water, and “her garments, heavy with their drink/
Pulled the poor wretch from her melodious lay/ To muddy death”
(4.7.181-183). Her dress wrenches her down into the depths of the river to
drown; much like the burden of life without purpose drives her to suicide.
suicide signifies a desire to take control of her life for once. (cite) In essence,
Ophelia’s inability to cope with grief and betrayal, lapses her into madness
and leads to her death. Shakespeare uses Ophelia to show can madness can be a release
from a life not worth living. Madness releases Ophelia from the enforced
repression of obedience, chastity, and patience, and therefore, liberates her
form a life where she is exploited by everyone around her.     


skillfully manipulates Hamlet’s madness as a disguise for his motives. After encountering
his father’s ghost, Hamlet’s sole purpose now revolves around uncovering the
truth behind the former King’s death, and avenging him accordingly. Hamlet fabricates
insanity to keep his investigation hidden, and to get rid of all other aspects
of his life that might interfere with his task. Those around Hamlet certainly
believe he is insane, because of the problematic situation he is in. For
instance, his mother believes Hamlet is truly insane: the ghost is not seen by
his Queen Gertrude, who, when Hamlet tries to point out the apparition,
believes that Hamlet is conversing with thin air. She even mentions to Claudius
that Hamlet is “Mad as the sea and wind when both contend, which is the
mightier” (4, 1, 7-8). Hamlet is able to use real feeling of hate and confusion
to deceive other’s and achieve his goals. For instance, when preparing for the
play, he tells Haratio that “I must be idle.” (III. ii. 85.) This
shows his intentions of acting foolish or “not working”, before his uncle
enters. This evidently shows that Hamlet is able to manipulate his feelings to
act a part in order achieve his goals. Also, Hamlet is able to manipulate his
feelings and remain sane throughout the play, as witnessed by him examining his
life in soliloquies. For instance, In the infamous ‘to be, or not to be’ soliloquy,
hamlet battles the concept of suicide and its ramifications. In other soliloquies
he explores the faults of his own character and his inability to take actions.
These soliloquies eloquently express Hamlet’s pain and confusion, but also show
how he is able to analyze these feelings and himself in a sane and logical
manner, and thus decide the best course of action. He even reassures his mother
in the play that he is not mad. In the Closet Scene, he assures her that he is
intentionally feigning insanity in order to attain truths: “I essentially
am not in madness, /But mad in craft.” (III. iv. 187-8.) Lastly, Hamlet’s
false persona also aids him in secure through his mission, as “acting insane,
acting plays, acting as a chorus— keeps him safe from harm while still feeding
his need for revenge” (cite double) Hence, Hamlet is able to manipulate his
feelings of pain and confusion, to feign insanity and achieve his sole purpose.