Hamlet, written between 1599-1601, continues posing the same question about Hamlet’s madness, is he really mad? And, as we know, the general speculations, have left not a verse undissected, so, I’m, therefore, going to add nothing new to an old debate, but will include, the most fundamental triggers contributing to his ‘supposed’ madness, offering, a my own summary analysis, and the reasons why – and why not, since it is a day in which to remember The Bard, who, after 400 years, still, walks the earth, by the virtue of his esteemed works. And, if Hamlet, who, is my favourite Shakespearean character, the most famous, and complex prince on the globe, is not careful deliberating his choices, he may linger his ‘spirit’, traversing the earth, long after his death, like his creator’s, except for, that, his creator’s, is immortalised in art, the other risks it to an eternity of damnation.
The triggers to Hamlet’s madness are linked to a succession of events:
1. The death of his father 2. Seeing the ghost of his father 3. The ‘hasty’ marriage of his mother to his uncle (father’s brother), and 4. His uncle’s move to the throne
Hamlet’s considerations following the visitation of his father’ ghost
Doubt – whether he saw the ghost of his father or the apparition of his own mind. The implications:Criminality v Moral Duty – The murder of his father, the ‘noble’ king of Denmark’s ‘perturbed spirit’, suggested to Hamlet, it’s damnation and foul play, according to the religious beliefs of the time of Hamlet’s writing. Hamlet, believing that the spirit was prone to wonder the face of earth, for an eternity, unless, he puts it to “Rest” by avenging his murder, if, and when, he establishes the fact.
Doubt – about his uncle’s possible ‘murderous’ actions, versus, Hamlet’s own possible future ‘villainy’, killing an innocent man, and, if he were mistaken about the ghost, then he too would be damned.
Hamlet’s state of mind – Grief, melancholy, despair, confusion, anger, anxiety, fear, doubt
Hamlet was forced to contemplate his uncle’s criminal action, versus, the redemption of his father’s soul, in the context of a spiritual framework, without room for error, lest both souls and that of an innocent man’s, be damned as well. In, investigating his father’s death, he needed to establish if a murder had, indeed, taken place, and if so, who was the murderer? Spurred on, by religious duty, to free his father’s spirit from the eternal torment, he perceived it in, deeming, that retributive duty and, the reinstatement of restoration rested solely on him. The process, created Hamlet’s living hell on earth, engendered him in solitude, completely wearied him in isolation and duty, and while disenchanting him, with life and it’s beauty, transformed his world into an emotional, psychological and spiritual vacuum, brilliantly personified in his stark visage of Denmark’s seething mass of corruption that was wringing his heart and dominating his mind. Ophelia, his beloved and betrothed, had suffered, the slings and arrows of Hamlet’s outright worldly rejections, repeated humiliation and cruelty, who, seemingly, was unrequiting her love. By which, shattering her mind and dimming her heart to the world that become absent of her beloved Hamlet, and facilitating her rapid descend into madness, she sought closure in a floral lake. And though, Hamlet dearly loved her he was powerless to save her, from himself and, or the existence he viewed, consumed by “rankness” and “corruption”, wherein, everything else, was subject to the same state – “get thee to a nunnery”, he tells her.
The action of the play begins, upon seeing his father’s ghost, at the beginning of the play, that marked Hamlet’s turning point and the inception of his torment, but realising, for the reader his deepest apprehensions, which, in an exclamation he made, when pondering the mystery matter of his father’s murder, had succinctly summed up his reluctance to the subsequent unfolding events that he obviously felt were thrust upon him,
“O cursèd spite, That ever I was born to set it right!” (Act5 Sc:1)
Describing himself as, “betwixt heaven and hell”, he felt compelled, by morality that was pointing him towards an obligatory, but tragic and fateful path, in the liberation of his father’s spirit and returning it to grace. It was, a heavy role, no wonder he viewed himself suspended between a material and spiritual realm. Depicted in the metaphor, illuminating Hamlet’s conflictual reality, in which, we see him torn between the worldly and the metaphysical, existing in neither one nor the other, a state “betwixt” the two – could you just imagine that for a moment – And, it is, this state, for me, which is the key to understanding Hamlet’s behaviour, and also the crux of his distress, which is, as distant from madness as we are from the truth. Considering that, Hamlet was grieving, and experiencing extreme spiritual and emotional turbulence, brought about by an uncertain knowledge of murder, linking to his father’s ‘unrested’ spirit, he, still, exercised, acute ‘reason’ by, his very reaction of ‘suspicion and doubt’, controlling his behaviour and instincts. Hamlet’s fuelled anxiety atop the stark, and painful awareness, that the King’s death had resulted from possible foul play, seems surely sufficient enough to fracture his mind, but it could also, have just simply caused it distress and stress, and hence, effecting with the, presumed, fleeting, emotional, and behavioural abberations that we saw, and which are usually derived from such crises?
Hamlet had to contend, at the same time, with the pain of, and his inability to forgive, his mother’s, hasty, and incestuous marriage to, the late King’s brother, who, not only, usurped the throne, but in effect, had stripped Denmark of its rightful kings. Such gravity and devastation linked to life changing events, are also, the conditions that temporarly alter personality, but not, necessarily sanity that some are so willing, quickly, casting Hamlet into madness. To whom, I emphasise, the horrid and treacherous events befalling Hamlet, in which he demonstrated, sharpened reason, mental dexterity and sound faculties, as well, perceptive clarity, that, should trigger a review and a rereading. Since we saw, the way, in which, he established, whether his father–in–law, was his father’s murderer – the mouse trap was a genius device, and process, needless to say – that, set the stage, exposed, and ensnared the villain then proceeding to the bloody denouement, the tragic peak. But prior that Hamlet determined the truth beyond ‘reasonable’ doubt’ and thus, the murderer, before enacting his moral obligation, displaying sanity not the loss of reason.
And of Hamlet’s death he said, “I am dead, Horatio” – I just love this line.
The concoction of the strands of this great tragedy, merges forth a narrative that seemingly appears to show Hamlet in the clutches of lunacy, but the subtext, and metaphors provide, a more accurate account by which to grasp, not only, Hamlet’s grieve, but also how he was effected by the circumstances and the loss of his highly revered, and beloved, noble father, coupled with the loathing of his mother’s actions, which, all together, having impacted his feelings presented the opportunity to “put an antic disposition on”, perhaps, it were, his way of handling a situation that came suddenly afflicted him.
What do you think?
NB: Tragedy – a distinction.
Hamlet is a Tragedy, a Revenge Tragedy, which is slightly different from the classical Greek Tragedy. Technically speaking, Hamlet’s circumstances were driven by choice, rather than destiny, which is the major difference between the two. The heros of Greek Tragedy and their circumstances, are usually determined by something larger than life, such as in, the prophecy of Oedipus, in which it ordained that he would kill his father and marry his mother.