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Was Hamlet Mad?

Was Hamlet Mad?

The Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmark, is one of Shakespeares most popular and most performed plays. The character of Hamlet has been interpeted and re-interpreted thousands of times since his creation. Deciding whether Hamlet is driven by clear headed cunning or methodical madness, profoundly changes the way one reads and performs the play.

 

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Julia Revzin

Julia Revzin

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So for example, Gertrude's remarriage is less important as an instrument of psychological damage than as what sets the seal on Hamlet's disinheritance. Similarly, Hamlet's delay and putative madness are representations of the behaviors of stock theatrical images of privation--the clown, madman, vice, and devil--rather than images of psychological disorder. In fact, de Grazia demonstrates there is a specific moment (again in the eighteenth century) when critics decide that Hamlet's insanity is real rather than feigned.

Article: Hamlet without Hamlet.(Bo...
Source: Renaissance Quarterly
Julia Revzin

Julia Revzin

7 Knowledge Cards 

This book points to a distinct change in scholarly interpretation of Hamlet, coinciding with the rise of Enlightenment ideas, and an increased focus on the complexity and importance that an individual's emotional make up has on their actions, instead of focusing on the more obvious, external sources of action. Was Hamlet upset at his mother's emotional betrayal, as a bereaved son, or was he more upset that she essentially prevented him from inheriting?

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That Hamlet has distinctively modern psychological problems has become a cliche since Ernest Jones's path-breaking essay on Hamlet and the Oedipus complex in 1910. Long before this, however, the critical consensus had been reached that Hamlet, more than any other character in the annals of world literature represents a model of human subjectivity that had, when Shakespeare wrote the play, not yet been instantiated by the Enlightenment and its aftermath.

Article: Hamlet without Hamlet.(Bo...
Source: Renaissance Quarterly
Julia Revzin

Julia Revzin

7 Knowledge Cards 

Essentially, Hamlet as a character is written with much more psychological depth then many other characters during the time period. Shakespeare in general tends to produce deeper, more multifaceted characters then his contemporaries, but Hamlet is one of the most psychologically complex, from a modern point of view.

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Branagh has resisted the notion that the melancholic prince is mad or even neurotic. "Excitable, volatile, impassioned," perhaps, or even "severely distressed," as long as nothing clinical is implied. According to the actor, he has tried to play a Hamlet on the verge of madness, "and it doesn't lead anywhere."

Article: To Film or Not to Film, T...
Source: Insight on the News
Julia Revzin

Julia Revzin

7 Knowledge Cards 

Kenneth Brannagh staged, directed and performed a very famous 4 hour long film of Hamlet, considered to be have of the defining characterizations of Hamlet.

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There need he no doubt, then, that Hamlet's madness was really feigned. He saw much to be gained by it, and to this end he did many things that the persons of the drama must construe as madness. His avowed intention was to throw them off the track. To understand the madness as real is to make of the play a mad-house tragedy that could have no meaning for the very sane Englishmen for whom Shakespeare wrote. There is dramatic value in such madness as Lear's, for the play traces the causes of his madness, and the influences that restore him. Lear's madness had its roots in his moral and spiritual defects, and the cure was his moral regeneration. But no such dramatic value can be assigned to Hamlet's madness.

Article: Hamlet's Antic Dispositio...
Source: Amanda Mabillard

The confounding of this ideal with the real has given rise to two divergent schools. The critics of the one, unmindful of the fact that Hamlet is wholly an ideal existence, are accustomed to look upon him as real and actual as the men they daily meet in social intercourse, and accordingly judge him as they would a man in ordinary life. The other school, ignoring the different impersonations of Hamlet upon the public stage, considers him only as an ideal existence, and places the solution of the problem in the discovery of the dramatist's intention in the creation of the character.

Article: The Real or Assumed Madne...
Source: Theatre History
Julia Revzin

Julia Revzin

7 Knowledge Cards 

Basically, the two schools mentioned are those that believe one should always and only view a work in it's given historical context, and that what the author intended for the work is an important way to intepret that work; and those that believe a work should be intepretted based soley on the text, regardless of the authors original intent.

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Laurence Olivier's black-and-white film version of Hamlet (1948), for which he won Academy Awards for both acting and directing, cuts Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Fortinbras out of the play and emphasizes Hamlet's inability to make up his mind and his oedipal fixation on his mother.

Article: Hamlet
Source: Shakespeare for Students,...

The character of Hamlet, meanwhile, achieved mythic status, especially after the 1949 publication of the work Hamlet and Oedipus, by Ernest Jones, an English Freudian psychoanalyst, who argued that Hamlet's tendency toward inactivity resulted from identification with his uncle, who had accomplished what Hamlet could have only wished for: to kill his father and marry his mother. Hamlet was also given life outside of his play, becoming a subject or an allusion in other works, like James Joyce's Ulysses and T. S...

Article: Hamlet
Source: Shakespeare for Students,...

Those who have studied Hamlet sometimes claim that he was both mad and not mad. A problem when trying to debate his mental state is that people typically assume that sanity is a consistent thing. This is not always true, as people can move in and out of periods of lucidity, such as during severe illness. It might be he had moments of clarity, such as when he plotted to catch his father’s murderer, but that he could not sustain that clarity and therefore did not always do sane things.

Another interpretation is that he begins the play sane but becomes mad by the end. The idea here is that, by acting crazy, he slowly lost his ability to discern good rationalization and proper behavior. A problem with this interpretation is that his troubles continue to increase over time. An increase in strange behavior might be a response to this increase in stress, not evidence of worsened craziness.

Article: Was Hamlet Really Crazy?
Source: Conjecture Corporation

People can interpret William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark, as being sane, insane or a bit of both. This is because points of contention such as murdering others, considering suicide and seeing ghosts all have rationalizations toward different conclusions. Cultural mandates and assumptions also change the definition of what sane even is, and the character’s mental state cannot be determined with certainty if the definition of lucidity is not static. As Shakespeare no longer can assert what he truly intended, the best modern actors and directors can do is work under their own analysis.

Article: Was Hamlet Really Crazy?
Source: Conjecture Corporation

Deception is an essential element of Shakespearean drama, whether it be tragedy, history, or comedy. The deception can be destructive or benign; it can be practiced on others or, just as likely, self-inflicted. On occasion deception becomes the very foundation of a play, as is the case with Twelfth Night, Othello, and, most notably, Hamlet.

Article: Deception in Shakespeare'...
Source: Amanda Mabillard
Julia Revzin

Julia Revzin

7 Knowledge Cards 

One of the key deceptions in Hamlet is his madness. Whether or not Hamlet's madness was fake, real or a bit of both is one the most hotly contested issues among Shakespeare scholars.

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