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The Representation of Madness in Shakespeare's Text, Hamlet

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In Shakespeare’s text, Hamlet, madness is represented as the inability to act. For instance, Hamlet is unable to act as Claudius takes his rights to the throne though Hamlet is the rightful heir. It seems that any time hamlet acts, he is obligated to do so. Madness in Shakespeare’s text is represented as an obligation to act, not for a self-fulfilling purpose.

Not acting can be interpreted as having passive mannerisms. The fact is Hamlet is truly mad because he simply does not want to act. Not to be confused with laziness, it is a blatant choice of his not to act that later leads to him being obligated to. In the presence of his father’s ghost, Hamlet is obligated to act. He does not want to but he feel he needs to do so, so his father can rest in peace. In Shakespeare’s text, the ghost exclaims that “[he is Hamlet’s] father’s spirit, doom’d for a certain term to walk the night, and for the day confined to fast in fires, till the foul crimes done in [his] days of nature are burnt and purged away. But that [he is] forbid to tell the secrets of [his] prison-house, [he] could a tale unfold whose lightest word would harrow up [Hamlet’s] soul, freeze [his] young blood, Make [his] two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres, [they are] knotted and combined locks to part and each particular hair to stand on end, like quills upon the fretful porpentine, but this eternal blazon must not be to ears of flesh and blood. List, list, O, list! If [he] didst ever thy dear father love—(…) revenge this foul and most unnatural murder” (I.V. 28-29). Here Hamlet’s father reminisces the wrong doings done to him by Claudius ad request for Hamlets action to avenge his death. Hamlet cannot refuse for it is his father’s wishes. Again, Hamlet is content with letting Claudius taking his position, but once approached by his father, he feels he must act.

In the altercation between Polonis and Hamlet where Polonius frightens Hamlet, “[Polonius] What, ho! Help! [Hamlet] How now? A rat? Dead for a Ducat, dead! [Polonius] O, I am slain!” (iii. iV. 87), he is trying to protect the queen because he is yet again obligated to do so. The irony is that he actually puts her in more danger by killing Polonius. He feels that it is his duty to serve the queen and protect her to help fulfill his father’s obligated request. One can interpret Hamlet’s sanity to be unstable because then leads people on a wild hunt to recover his body; it is like he proud of his actions, thus portraying his mad qualities.

Not only is Hamlet’s father obligating him to act, towards the conclusion of the text, time is a large factor in Hamlet’s role as an avenger. Shakespeare describes a seen where the Claudius exclaims, “No place indeed should murder sanctuarize; revenge should have no bounds. But, good Laertes, will you do this? Keep close within your chamber. Hamlet returned shall know you are come home. [They will] put on those put on [our] excellence and set a double varnish on the frame the Frenchman gave you, bring you in fine together.” (iV. Vii. 116). Here the king persuades Laertes to help kill Hamlet. In the scene where Hamlet is on if final minutes, he suggests “The potent poison quite O’ercrows [his] spirit, [he] cannot live to hear the news from England” (V. ii. 142). At the point where Hamlet is faced with death, he is forced to satisfy his father’s wishes under the pressure of time because he has been poisoned. He is forced to act because he is obligated by time in a now or never scenario. Once he finally slays Claudius, then Hamlet’s madness consumes him.

Hamlet is considered mad for inability to act. He has to be motivated by an external force to act though he does not want to. Throughout the text, he is obligated to do so ultimately to satisfy his father. In doing so, his sanity also suffers as he taunts and becomes more rebellious. This is in induced by the obligations placed on him throughout the text. This is mad in a sense that he acts strictly to please others and not satisfy himself.

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