Consider how Shakespeare presents madness Essay
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Consider how Shakespeare presents madness in the play and explain whether you think it does illustrate how, “something is rotten in the state of Denmark. ” One of the main themes in Hamlet is that of madness. Shakespeare conveys madness through not only Hamlet but through other characters as well, such as Ophelia, to covey that that the state of Denmark is rotten. At the beginning of the play, the first thing introduced are the night watchmen seeing the ghost.
This is at the beginning because it is the first event in the chain that eventually leads to Hamlet seeking revenge for his father’s death.
Although he was upset by his father’s death and his mother’s ‘o’erhasty marriage’, it was the revelation that his father was murdered that he thinks that he must take revenge. When Horatio first speaks to the ghost he recognises that it is unnatural for it to be there; “What art thou that unsurp’st this time of night”, illustrating that he feels that the ghost has ‘wrongfully seized’ the night.
The atmosphere is unsettling and the ghost’s unnatural appearance is a sign of the bad things going on in Denmark, especially the court; “This bodes some strange eruption to our state. ” During the times that the play was written, unusual things that happened were seen as a sign that something was not right in the courts; “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”. This could be referring either to the whole of Denmark, or just the courts.
It is after Hamlet sees the ghost that he decides that he will pretend to be mad; “put an antic disposition on”, but he does not want his friends to tell anyone what they have seen or that he is feigning madness; “Never make known what you have seen tonight”, as he believes that this way he can find means to exact his revenge on Claudius for killing his father; “And thy commandment all alone shall live within the book and volume of my brain”, meaning that all he shall have in his thoughts is how the ghost of his father told him to exact revenge on Claudius. This is the first step in the theme of madness for the play.
Although Hamlet clearly says that he will be putting on his madness, it is uncertain whether actually he does go mad during the play, as illustrated in his outbursts towards his mother and Ophelia, and the murder of Polonius. There is much deception during the play, such as Claudius trying to gloss over the fact that he knows that his marriage to Gertrude could be seen as incest by the Church and that Hamlet should have been the rightful heir to the throne; “Yet so far hath discretion fought with nature that we with wisest sorrow think on him together with remembrance of ourselves.
” He says that he is mourning and feels that mourning is appropriate for the old king, but he must think of himself, perhaps hinting at the fact that the death was convenient for him and he has had enough of mourning. This is characteristic of him throughout the play as all he has done and will do is for his own self interest, as when Hamlet asks if he can leave the castle, Claudius refuses, saying; “And we beseech you, bend you to remain here in the cheer and comfort of our eye”.
He appears to be asking him to stay for his comfort, but he actually wants to keep an eye on him because he knows that he is still a threat to him and the throne. He at first seemed to want Hamlet to become like a son to him, but that changes as soon as he realises he could be a threat to him. He also continually uses the words ‘we’, ‘our’ and ‘us’ to establish himself as the husband of Gertrude and the King of Denmark. Polonius comments; “with pious action we do sugar o’er the devil himself”.
To which Claudius replies as an aside; “The harlot’s cheek, beautied with plastering art, is not more ugly to the thing that helps it than is my deed to my most painted word. ” Claudius admits that he is covering up the truth, continuing the theme of deception, adding to the audience’s awareness of the rottenness of Denmark. As there becomes more deception and secrecy throughout the play, it seems that the imagery in the language reflects the deception, and images of disease are used; “For the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a good kissing carrion”.
This could be language to refer to how that state of Denmark is rotting, but also Hamlet’s language seems to reflect his turmoil as he tried to decide what to do about Claudius, and as he gets more frustrated with himself he becomes more abusive towards his mother and Ophelia; “You are keen my lord, you are keen. ” “It would cost you a groaning to take off mine edge. ” He is taunting Ophelia using double meaning. Hamlet is very good at creating double meanings, like when he says to Claudius; “I am to much i’th’sun”, which he says as if he is in too much sunshine but also he is saying that he feels too much like Claudius’s son.
Later in the play the text says; “It will but skin and film the ulcerous place, whiles rank corruption, mining all within, infects unseen. ” He is saying that corruption, like infection starts within, and the corruption of Denmark will begin with the court. This also links in with madness because madness also starts from within – within the mind, and perhaps it is saying that just one unstable mind could bring down all the state. Another way that Shakespeare presents madness in the play is through Ophelia. She goes mad after Hamlet kills her father, but also because of the way Hamlet treated her – cruelly.
He said to her that he loved her, and there were some hints that he had been intimate with her, but he treats her badly and even tells her that he does not love her. She has been a victim of a corrupt society – from Hamlet leaving her and from her father, such as using her as a pawn to spy on Hamlet. After she has become mad, she sings many songs. The first one that she sings is, ‘How should I you true love know’. This song could be her recalling the death of her father; “He is dead and gone lady, he is dead and gone.
” This is the first thing that comes into her mind to sing about, so it must be the thing that is foremost in her mind. It could also be that she is recalling how Hamlet is now lost to her, and she is still looking for her true love, because it seems obvious that she has not found him yet. However, the rest of the songs seem to be about Hamlet, as they are about lost love and some of them imply that Ophelia had been sexually intimate with Hamlet; “Quoth she, before you tumbled me you promised me to wed”.
It seems that both her father and Hamlet are responsible for Ophelia’s madness, and this is reiterated by what Ophelia sings about. Ophelia was controlled all the men in her life, and this was customary for the time, but it seems that they took too much of a hold on her, with none of them considering her feelings, for her father told her to no longer speak to Hamlet as it could affect his career, Laertes also told her to stay away from Hamlet and Hamlet was cruel to her.
She also says, after her first song; “They say the owl was a baker’s daughter. ” This could just be nonsense, but it could also be referring to her father, saying that once she was the daughter of a man in the court, but now she is just the daughter of a dead old man. Polonius did help the corruption in Denmark, such as spying and trying to make sure his own career was safe, and because of him Ophelia is mad.
Hamlet also said that he loved Ophelia, and whereas before he was tender, due to the corruption around him and his succumbing to it, he was a factor in Ophelia’s madness, which eventually led to her suicide. By the actions of people around her, Ophelia is tainted by the corruptness around, as Hamlet says in the beginning of the play says that she is pure, but later on says she is wanton like all women, and tells her; “to a nunnery go. ” This could be to send her to be protected, or it could be a sarcastic remark telling her to go to a brothel.