A very controversial topic exists in regarding to Shakespeare's Hamlet. Many of those that read Hamlet argue that Prince Hamlet was mad, his actions guided by his ill feelings and weak emotions. Had William Shakespeare been around to answer the question "Was Hamlet mad," he would most likely answer that Hamlet, the product of his imagination and creativity, was portrayed in such light as to create this controversy on purpose.
However, Hamlet is perfectly sane, guided indeed by his emotions and feelings, which are, in fact, very healthy. Hamlet was not crazy, and this can be shown by the real madness of the one that he loved, or, at least, seemed to--Ophelia, whose craziness, especially in her final hours is unmistakably obvious. The actual reason as to why the audience is easily convinced that Hamlet was sane while Ophelia was mad, is simple: it is the brilliantly skillful way that Shakespeare portrays them that makes it clear, though not obvious, as to who is really the insane one.
Hamlet, the young, strong, full of revenge prince is constantly talked about as insane. Most of the characters in the play Hamlet, except for Hamlet's good friend Horatio and a few others believe that Hamlet has "lost his marbles." Yet, there is no real evidence which convinces the audience of this-- there's no facts, nothing other than the characters' opinion of him. Hamlet commits certain acts which seem irrational and unexplainable to the antagonists in the play, however, to the audience, all of these acts are perfectly explainable and rational. This is because the audience knows the situation that Hamlet is in, having had his father murdered and his mother marrying the murderer of his father.
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The voiced opinions of the characters are what really clouds the audience's judgement. There are many instances of that. Polonius, for example, attributes Hamlet's insanity to the disappointed love for Ophelia. His hypothesis, which he believes deeply and tries to convince the king and the queen of, is that Hamlet is insane without Ophelia. In fact, Polonius is the one who ordered his daughter to break off any relationship that she might have with Hamlet, believing that would drive Hamlet to frustration, anger, and eventually cause him to loose his wit. Polonius's idea coincided well with the common at the time idea that frustrated love causes melancholy, which is, in itself, fairly close to madness. Shakespeare expresses this idea in many of his works, an example being the frustrated Romeo in Romeo and Juliet.
Another instance where this occurs is when the king has a good reason to convince others of Hamlet's insanity: he suspects that Hamlet knows something about the murder of his father, and if Hamlet were to spread this around, people would believe him. However, if everyone was convinced of Hamlet's madness, no one would believe him. This, the king expresses in his speech to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Act 3, Scene 3, lines 1 and 2: "I like him not, nor stands it safe with us! To let his madness rangel."
The only act in the play that Hamlet performs that can be called irrational is when he is in the queen's chambers, having just killed Polonius. "Alas, he's mad!," says the queen in Act 3, Scene 4, line 105, seeing Hamlet talking to something that isn't even there.
However, Hamlet's rational, sane acts by far outweigh the things that he has said and done that make him look as if he's crazy. There are some plots that he has devised that a madman would never be able to figure out. How would a madman that is planning to assassinate the king ever comprehend that if he kills the king while the king is praying, the king will go to heaven? How would a madman ever have the sense to wait for the right moment? Not only is Hamlet perfectly sane, but his insanity scheme is ingenious.
Ophelia, on the other hand, performs certain acts which show the audience first hand that she is not in the right frame of mind. The audience is not told by any of the characters that Ophelia is mad. Shakespeare leaves it up to the audience to discover that her behavior is irrational. Thus, the audience is unmistakably convinced who is really "missing a few screws."
An example of Ophilia's irrational behaviors is the scene with the queen. Here, there's more to Ophilia's words and behavior than meets the eye. She thinks that she is delivering some kind of a message to the queen. Her speeches are long, making it seem like she is talking to the queen as one woman that has lost something special would to another. What she goes on to say, as the king enters, is of different subjects, hinting at different ideas, asking philosophical questions. She sings of flowers and of how cold her father's grave is, giving an unmistakable impression that her sanity has followed her father into his grave.
Ophelia was a pawn, nothing more, which was used by those that supposedly loved her for their own purposes. She was used by her father to drive Hamlet to madness, as he thought. Hamlet used her to convince Polonius and others that he was mad. Ophelia eventually looses both of these men, which is what drives her to insanity, possibly because the two biggest "influences" of her life have disappeared.
This is how Shakespeare used madness to show the differences between Ophelia and Hamlet. He showed brilliantly and skillfully true insanity and faking. Hamlet had a very brilliant plot of avenging his father, which certainly worked, though, surely, Hamlet wasn't planning on so many deaths. The careful, skillful setup of the plot of this play truly expresses Shakespeare's genius!
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