Madness and Insanity in Shakespeare's Hamlet - The Pretended Madness of Hamlet

Madness and Insanity in Shakespeare's Hamlet - The Pretended Madness of Hamlet
Hamlet, knowing that he will get into difficulty, needs to feign madness for the purpose of carrying out his mission. He rehearses his pretended madnesss first with Ophelia, for even if he should fail there in his act of simulation, that failure will not cause him any real harm. The manifestations of insanity that Hamlet will show become predictable ? a sure sign that it is a simulated and not a real insanity.When Hamlet is with a trustworthy friend, he is rational and symptom-free; as soon as those persons appear, however, whom he wants to convince that he is mad, he changes his behavior so as to implant different explanations in their minds for his noticeable irrational behavior. With Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, he makes believe that the reason for it is frustrated ambition; with the Queen and King, that it is their marriage that has upset him; and with Polonius and Ophelia, that it is frustrated love that has driven him mad. These rapid and clumsy changes from rational speech with those he trusts to irrational conversation with those whom he wishes to impress are strong evidence of fraud.

In a character profile which I read by Max Huhner who has published several literary essays, Huhner reduces the problem of Hamlet to one factor, of the sort that Freud conceptualized as ?secondary gain in mental disease.? Hamlet, says Huhner, ?could not hold his tongue or keep a secret, and was therefore entirely unfitted for diplomatic work. In a sense his feigning insanity was his sole avenue of safety.? It is along these same lines that I have tried to prove the reasonableness of Hamlet?s cruel dealings with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, justifying on grounds of practical necessity and the desire to avoid risks the fact Hamlet arranged their execution without heir having had a chance to receive the assistance of the Church.

I could summarize my own character analysis of Hamlet as essentially a picture of an impractical man, who has nevertheless proceeded with optimal effect under existing external and internal conditions. Since Hamlet?s initial character structure is taken as a matter of course, no psychological problem remains. All his enigmatic utterances, his crude and harsh behavior toward Ophelia, and other such passages are explained as being, in effect, part and parcel of his feigned madness, which in turn allegedly lives up to the requirements of reality-adequate behavior-that is to say behavior as is necessary under the prevailing conditions for the achievement of a specific goal.

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