Hamlet tells Horatio that he is going to “feign madness,” and that if Horatio notices any strange behaviour from Hamlet, it is because he is putting on an act. [Act i, Scene v, lines 166-180] Hamlet’s madness only manifests itself when he is in the presence of certain characters. When Hamlet is around Polonius, Claudius, Gertrude, Ophelia, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, he behaves irrationally. When Hamlet is around Horatio, Bernardo, Francisco, The Players and the Gravediggers, he behaves rationally.
Claudius confesses that Hamlet’s “actions although strange, do not appear to stem from madness. ” [Act III, Scene i, lines 165-167] Polonius admits that Hamlet’s actions and words have a “method” to them; there appears to be a reason behind them, they are logical in nature. [Act II, Scene ii, lines 206-207] Hamlet’s madness in no way reflects Ophelia’s true madness, his actions contrast them. Hamlet tells his mother that he is not mad, “but mad in craft. ” [Act III, Scene iv, lines 188-199] Hamlet believes in his sanity at all times.
He never doubts his control over psyche. Method in the Madness: Hamlet’s Sanity Supported Through His Relation to Ophelia and Edgar’s Relation to Lear In both Hamlet and King Lear, Shakespeare incorporates a theme of madness with two characters: one truly mad, and one only acting mad to serve a motive. The madness of Hamlet is frequently disputed. This paper argues that the contrapuntal character in each play, namely Ophelia in Hamlet and Edgar in King Lear, acts as a balancing argument to the other character’s madness or sanity.
King Lear’s more decisive distinction between Lear’s frailty of mind and Edgar’s contrived madness works to better define the relationship between Ophelia’s breakdown and Hamlet’s “north-north-west” brand of insanity. Both plays offer a character on each side of sanity, but in Hamlet the distinction is not as clear as it is in King Lear. Using the more explicit relationship in King Lear, one finds a better understanding of the relationship in Hamlet.
While Shakespeare does not directly pit Ophelia’s insanity (or breakdown) against Hamlet’s madness, there is instead a clear definitiveness in Ophelia’s condition and lear uncertainty in Hamlet’s madness. Obviously, Hamlet’s character offers more evidence, while Ophelia’s breakdown is quick, but more conclusive in its precision. Shakespeare offers clear evidence pointing to Hamlet’s sanity beginning with the first scene of the play. Hamlet begins with guards whose main importance in the play is to give credibility to the ghost.
If Hamlet were to see his father’s ghost in private, the argument for his madness would greatly improve. Yet, not one, but three men together witness the ghost before even thinking to notify Hamlet. As Horatio says, being the only of the guards to play a significant role in the rest of the play, “Before my God, I might not this believe / Without the sensible and true avouch / Of mine own eyes. (I. i. 56-8)” Horatio, who appears frequently throughout the play, acts as an unquestionably sane alibi to Hamlet again when framing the King with his reaction to the play.
That Hamlet speaks to the ghost alone detracts somewhat from its credibility, but all the men are witness to the ghost demanding they speak alone. Horatio offers an insightful warning:What if it tempts you toward the flood, my lord, Or to the dreadful summit of the cliff That beetles o’er his base into the sea, And there assume some other horrible form Which might deprive your sovereignty of reason, And draw you into madness? Think of it. (I. iv. 69-74). Horatio’s comment may be where Hamlet gets the idea to use a plea of insanity to work out his plan.
The important fact is that the ghost does not change form, but rather remains as the King and speaks to Hamlet rationally. There is also good reason for the ghost not to want the guards to know what he tells Hamlet, as the play could not proceed as it does if the guards were to hear what Hamlet id. It is the ghost of Hamlet’s father who tells him, “but howsomever thou pursues this act, / Taint not thy mind. (I. v. 84-5)” Later, when Hamlet sees the ghost again in his mothers room, her amazement at his madness is quite convincing. Yet one must take into consideration the careful planning of the ghost’s credibility earlier in the play.