At I essentially am not in madness

Categories: Hamlet

"That I essentially am not in madness, But mad in Craft" Consider the importance of pretence and acting in Hamlet. Do you entirely agree with Hamlet's claim? The idea of a character feigning madness is commonplace in great literary works; many authors use it to show the sanity of a character. Shakespeare has used this idea throughout the play, Hamlet. In this masterpiece, there is much debate around the protagonist, Hamlet, and whether his madness was real or feigned: literary scholars have debated this for more than four hundred years.

Shakespeare uses a theme of madness in this play to illustrate how one must use deception in order to deceive others to reach the truth. Thus, in this play, the tragic hero contemplates his own moral judgements and in the process is considered mad. Hamlet claims to feign his madness, as he says to Horatio and Marcellus in Act 1 Scene 5, "How strange or odd some'er I bear myself- As I perchance hereafter shall think meet To Put an antic disposition on.

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" This quote illustrates how Hamlet intends to pretend to be mad in order to reach the truth within this court, which Hamlet describes as, "out of joint," which once again highlights the disordered state of affairs. However, society has an even greater effect on Hamlet because his madness could be a sign of his inability to determine between right and wrong and to make appropriate decisions in the context of his society. Towards the opening of the play, in Act 1 Scene 2, Hamlet says to his mother, Gertrude, "Nay it is.

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I know not what 'seems'.

" Thus, Hamlet is saying he does not what it is to pretend because he only knows what it is to be. This quotation is ironic because it is the crux of the scholarly dispute: if Hamlet only knows what it is to be, then his madness must be genuine. In Shakespearian society, it was commonly believed that when an individual told a lie they ended up believing it so strongly that they eventually started to live that lie. In this way, Hamlet is a young man who has suffered a series of unfortunate circumstances that could have propagated a descent into madness.

Initially his attempt to feign madness could be considered as a method by which he can camouflage his inability to find an emotional catalyst to thrust him into a frenzied state of revenge: his response to the ghost's revelation is relatively passive considering the repercussions it will have within the court. Thus, it would seem that perhaps his feigning of madness actually manifests itself in reality, as Hamlet struggles to distinguish between all the lies he is forced to tell and enters the spiralling mendacity within the court.

In contrast to Hamlet, Ophelia subsequently develops a certainly genuine sanity due to the death of her father. Throughout the play, Ophelia is manipulated by Shakespeare, as a symbol of innocence because she is not part of the scheming, manipulative court; thus, her madness illustrates the effect on the innocent by those manipulating power. Ophelia herself says, "I was the more deceived," talking with Hamlet of their love. Her madness may also be, to some degree, a product of her seemingly unrequited love for Hamlet.

In Act 3 Scene 1, the parted lovers each illustrate their frustrations with the world and their argument may be responsible for sending both further into madness. Ophelia says, "O, what a noble mind is here o'erthrown," which alludes to Hamlet's emotional unbalance that has been poignantly reflected via Shakespeare's change from his regular verse for Hamlet's preceding tirade. This could be demonstrative of a whirlwind within Hamlet's mind that causes him to abandon all rhyme and reason both mentally and in his expression of his thoughts.

His rudeness and the confused emotions, which he presents before Ophelia may also lead to her later insanity and therefore, Hamlet may feel some guilt that further enhances his own mental instability. Hamlet's claim in Act 3 Scene 4 to his mother, "That I essentially am not in madness, But mad in Craft," would suggest that Hamlet still retains his purpose and motivation and has not started to live his lie. However, it could also be the ramblings of a lost and confused man, caught up in a spiral of emotions.

The use of the word "craft" implies Hamlet's cunningness in his approach to revenge. He appears to think he has manipulated himself so that he retains the upper hand: this can be reinforced by Shakespeare's use of a play within a play in Act 3 Scene 2. The concept of a play within a play reinforces the idea of pretence and seeming. Hamlet's directions to the players serve to illustrate the subtle balance acting and being. Hamlet feels that the "purpose of playing" is "to hold as 'twere the mirror up to nature: to show virtue her feature.

" Therefore, acting in Hamlet's eyes would be replicating emotions exactly, as though they were real. This is where Shakespeare manipulates the audience because Hamlet's definition of successful playing may, also, therefore, be reflected in his pretence of madness. In order to feign madness, he must reflect nature exactly and it is here where the distinction becomes blurred because Hamlet himself is treading a fine line, as he attempts to sustain a pretence and thus, it becomes increasingly difficult to determine whether or not he is in fact still pretending as the play progresses.

Shakespeare's choice to make Hamlet conduct his own play is clearly an attempt to demonstrate Hamlet's manipulative abilities and to a certain degree to still suggests that he has retained his sanity because it allows him to gauge the response of King Claudius before engaging in revenge. Therefore, this would suggest that Hamlet is a sly and slightly devious character, perhaps as much so as the rest of the court: however, fundamentally, it might indicate that he is acting logically and methodically via the theatre as his chosen medium.

This innate subtly of his manipulation would suggest there is a certain "craft" to his revenge that is carefully calculated and thus, it is only his method which may seem extreme and it is not a reflection of his sanity. A defining scene that stimulates much scholarly dispute is Act 3 Scene 4, where the ghost reappears to Hamlet in the presence of his mother. The source of the dispute lies in whether on this occasion the ghost is real or simply a figment of Hamlet's imagination because it is evident that Gertrude cannot see the ghost, "This is the very coinage of your brain.

This bodiless creation ecstasy Is very cunning in. " Shakespeare could here be using Gertrude as a mouth piece, to lead the audience into believing Hamlet is now no longer feigning his madness. However, an important contrast with Ophelia's madness is that she rambles and appears to have no rhyme or reason in the words she utters, whereas Hamlet maintains purpose and retains his factors of motivation, such as his resentment towards his mother and women in general.

This scene is poignant in leading the audience towards their interpretation of Hamlet's mental disposition and it is important to recognise that this can also be manipulated by the actors themselves and the way they perform this scene. It is a very emotionally charged scene and the use of dramatics and theatrical stage devices will have a certain influence on how Hamlet's madness is perceived. In conclusion, Hamlet is an unbalanced individual thrown into a state of turmoil, as he has had his fears confirmed by the appearance of his father's ghost.

However, it would seem that Shakespeare, perhaps intentionally, has left a large degree of the interpretation of Hamlet's "antic disposition" to the audience and to the artistic licence of the actors. Whilst this may not have been Shakespeare's intention, as he is renowned for his perfectionism and influence on the performances of his plays, it has created a play that is still subject to much literary discussion and intense analysis, in order to settle one of literature's greatest disputes: one that is likely never to be settled.

However, by studying the text it seems that Hamlet is feigning his madness throughout the play but his exuberance and authenticity progresses along with the play. It is an insight in a mind filled with a whirlwind of emotions and Hamlet's use of a play would appear to simply reflect his preference to use words rather than actions, as can be seen my many of the play on words he uses in his speech. Hamlet himself says that acting must be an accurate reflection of nature and therefore, Ophelia's insanity may have provided inspiration, rather than sending him even further into his own madness.

The most influential aspect of the play that has lead to this personal response is the contrast between Hamlet and Ophelia's madness. Throughout the play he maintains a high level of thought and emotional complexity and responds to all the actions of those around him, which would suggest that he is not in a world of his own created by insanity. Instead he is continually able to refute allegations of insanity when he wants be listened and adhered to, "My pulse as yours doth temperately keep time, And makes as healthful music.

It is not madness That I have utter'd. " Thus, it is difficult to reach a resounding decision on his "antic disposition" due to Shakespeare's accurate portrayal of a complex web of emotions; however, ultimately, it would seem he desired to reflect the potential for confusion of emotions whilst maintaining the coherency of his tragic hero.


  1. "Hamlet" by Shakespeare, edited by Roma Gill, M. A. Cantab. , B. Litt. Oxon. Published by Oxford University Press, 2002. ?? ?? ?? ?? Aniela Baseley 13Fo English Coursework 2005/6.
Updated: Apr 19, 2023
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At I essentially am not in madness. (2017, Jul 28). Retrieved from

At I essentially am not in madness essay
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