Saturday, November 10, 2012

Is Hamlet Mad?



In light of Professor Mulready’s blog post, I too will attempt to break habit this week. Normally, I argue my view through direct evidence from the text itself, but I think that it would be interesting and maybe beneficial if I argued my point using the post’s that others have written on subjects related to my thesis. So in this post I will try to answer the question: “Is Hamlet Mad?” in this way.

We hear reference to Hamlet’s insanity from a multitude of characters throughout the play.  Polonius bluntly states to the king and queen that their “noble son is mad” (II.II, 93) and his daughter Ophelia exclaims her concerns three times over, consecutively: “O help him, you sweet heavens!” (III.I, 134), “O heavenly powers, restore him!” (III.I, 141) and “O what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!” (III.I, 149). Even Hamlet’s mother thinks he is insane, she thinks he’s so mad that he will murder her in the third act! If I were a character in the play I would probably be considered mad for even proposing the possibility that Hamlet were sane, but I do see some evidence that he is.

As Julian Mocha explicated in the last blog posting and as we also see through Ophelia’s lines above, Hamlet is obviously very intelligent, and to quote, another “master of words”.  So, maybe it’s his words that make him seem mad.  Hamlet is blunt yet contradictingly sneaky as he turns everything into a riddle of sorts and therefore seems nonsensical. His words twist and turn in the readers’ brain as they do in the characters’, so although I can see where the notion that he is mad would come from, I would say that he is not mad but that he is “different”, as Kaitlyn Schleicher states in her blog. It seems to me that he is just uninterested in the hierarchy of society, the social climbers and “acting proper”. From how Hamlet dresses  to his atypical relationship with the queen, actually slandering her in a way that some might consider treasonous, as Krystal Haight points out, the evidence does seem to show that this is the case.

After all, the person no one worried about, the person who represents “nothing”, namely Ophelia, is really the one who becomes mad. So, I would assume that the other characters’ opinions of who is mad are unreliable as it is.

As a final thought, it might be interesting to investigate this relationship i.e. why everyone thinks there’s something wrong with Hamlet, but nobody questions Ophelia’s sanity, even though she’s the one that goes mad.  


Barbara Gallagher said...

I beg to differ that "nobody questions Ophelia's sanity." At the very beginning of Act 4, Scene 5, Horatio says about Ophelia that when she speaks,her words "carry but half sense" (4.5.7). Later on after Ophelia has shown her odd behavior, Claudius asks, "How long hath she been thus?" and then he asks Horatio to keep a good eye on her (4.5.65). Furthermore, later, when Laertes is being given various flowers by Ophelia, he exclaims, "A document in madness--thoughts and remembrance fitted" and then after she sings her song of death, he lamentingly asks, "Do you see this, O God?" (4.5.197). It is obvious to all that Ophelia is losing her mind in grief for her father's death by her lover Hamlet who has said he would marry her and now will not.

Cyrus Mulready said...

First, let me say that I love the idea of weaving in quotations from other blog posts! This works very well here and it is something I would love to see more bloggers employ.

One of the questions your post nicely raises is why we focus so much critical attention on Hamlet's "madness," yet almost none on Ophelia. Part of the answer, I think, is that modern criticism has become so focused upon the psyche of Hamlet (thanks to Freud, et al.). The gap this reveals in the case of Ophelia is illuminating. I agree with Barbara (above) that other characters in the play note the change in her behavior. We as critics should follow that lead, and perhaps consider a little more the feigned madness of Hamlet in relation to the apparently "real" madness in Ophelia.