Analyse the theme of madness in Shakespeare's Hamlet

One of the central controversies surrounding the play Hamlet is as to whether the main character's madness is 'forced' or genuine. With this in mind there are a number of approaches to this question, all of which are equally valid if structured with care:

Hamlet's Madness is a Crafty Plan: Hamlet at the beginning of the play informs Horatio 'I perchance hereafter shall think meet/ To put an antic disposition on'- in other words, he is warning them that, having been set the task of avenging his father, he must necessarily act mad to avoid suspicion. He later confirms this by telling his mother that he is 'essentially not in madness,/ But mad in craft'- even the skeptical Polonius admits 'Though this be madness, yet there is method in't'. You might compare the language used by the 'mad' Hamlet to that of the unquestionably mad Ophelia- whilst Hamlet's seemingly nonsensical jibes often contain some hidden wisdom (for example, the apparently nonsensical 'fish-monger' insult he directs towards Polonius has been interpreted by some scholars as teasing the Chamberlain's love of extravagant speeches), Ophelia's ramblings are spontaneous, with little relevance to the situation at hand (KING: 'How do you, pretty lady' OPHELIA: 'Well, God dild you! They say the owl was a baker's daughter') Therefore you might conclude by saying that whilst for some in Hamlet, so-called madness is a means of furthering your ambition, for the likes of Ophelia it represents a truthful response to frightening events

Some/All of Hamlet's madness is real: Though Hamlet outwardly suggests that he is feigning madness, as the play's plot unfolds his behaviour becomes increasingly questionable. You might suggest that this comes from the pressure he feels in avenging his father- he complains himself 'O cursed spite,/ That ever I was born to set it right!'. This anxiety manifests itself in violent, ill advised actions like the killing of Polonius, who the paranoid Hamlet kills without even seeing who he is, only suspecting him of being 'a rat'. Likewise, there is much evidence through his soliloquies throughout the play that his own worldview has become increasingly turbulent and confused. Despondent lines like 'How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable/ Seem to me all the uses of this world' suggest that he is melancholic, which in the context of Shakespeare's Renaissance era would suggest that he is approaching madness, or is at the very least developing its symptoms.Therefore another conclusion to this essay might be that although Hamlet might be trying to show that his madness is only designed to trick others, there is a deeper imbalance in his psyche which we can detect throughout his dialogue and actions.

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