Good Example Of The Role Of Madness In Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” And “King Lear” Argumentative Essay
Like all of Shakespeare’s plays, there is a common element that connects each play. In the plays, “Hamlet” and “King Lear,” the matter of madness is a major theme. Shakespeare shows the characters as they ease into feigned and true madness. The characters Lear, Edgar, Hamlet, and Ophelia all display signs of madness in the two plays. Lear’s madness is gradual in its descent, while Hamlet feigns his madness. Ophelia represents female madness. The stages of madness that she experiences are similar to that of Lear and Hamlet. Ophelia is struck by the actions and behavior of the other characters in her life. Edgar feigns madness when he presumes the disguise of a madman and lives like a beggar. Shakespeare’s “King Lear” and “Hamlet,” portrays the psychological and emotional imbalances of the characters, Lear, Hamlet, Ophelia, and Edgar. Shakespeare shows that people are responsible for the madness that individuals face, but the way that the individuals fall into the madness depends largely on the way individuals accept the flaws of mankind.
Rocha shows that the story of King Lear presents the characters of Lear and Edgar as mad characters who add to the development of the plot. Lear becomes “truly and desperately mad” (Rocha, p. 2) by the end of the play. On the other hand, Edgar pretends to be insane like Hamlet who becomes truly mad by the end of the play even though at the onset he only pretends to be insane. Nonetheless, the fact that Shakespeare makes Edgar and Hamlet’s madness appears real shows that Shakespeare’s knowledge surfaces as dramatic genius. The audiences recognize that Edgar pretends to be mad as he acts as a beggar to hide and escape others. On the other hand, it is not clear that Hamlet crossed the line between sanity and insanity as there is evidence that three of the other characters in the play see the ghost that is responsible for Hamlet’s insanity. Still, Hamlet controls his actions on many occasions, and leaves the reader to believe that he is not mad.
The reality is that the causes of mental illness are based on the enigma that continues in the contemporary society. Ottilingam suggests that “possession by spirits, either unholy or holy, is the favored one of many attributed causes as the source of mental illness,” (Ottilingam, n.p). Shakespeare uses his character Tom to show the clear connection of Ottilingam theory when Edgar says: “Five fiends have been in poor Tom at once:/As Obidicut, of lust; hobbidedence, prince of darkness;/Mahu, of stealing; Modo, of murder,” (KL. Act III, scene V). Nonetheless, it is difficult to establish the exact point in “Hamlet” and King Lear” where both Hamlet and Lear truly become insane. Their abnormal behavior and the numerous outbursts form the foundation of what many psychiatrists today would call psychosis. Still, Shakespeare lead the reader into a world where madness overcomes even the strongest characters.
Despite the clear sanity in much of Hamlet’s actions, the reader sees him attempting to convince Polonius that he is totally insane, (Rocha, p. 4). During his supposed madness, Hamlet mocks the love that he has for Ophelia, and he is cruel towards her in the hopes that Polonius will believe that he is mad. Still, there is the case where Hamlet shows madness when he acts rashly, and shows a clear motivation of being angry and vengeful. While the evidence points to the fact that Hamlet pretends to be mad, the audience realizes that Shakespeare wants the readers to understand that one’s emotions can truly make one mad. His intentions to act strange lead him to "put an antic disposition on/That you, at such times seeing me, never shall,/With arms encumb'red thus, or this headshake,/Or by pronouncing of some doubtful phrase,” (H, Act I, Scene V). The "antic" is a synonym for "madcap," and stresses the playfulness of Hamlet’s actions throughout the play. Hamlet’s actions create doubt in the reader’s mind as Guildenstem suggests that Hamlet suggests that "his uncle-father and aunt-mother are deceived," and he is "mad north-north-west," (H, Act II Scene ii). Guildenstem suggests that Hamlet displays "a crafty madness," (H, Act III, Scene i) and he is not truly insane.
In the scene in the closet Hamlet clearly tells his mother that he is acting mad in order to gain his objective:"I essentially am not in madness/But mad in craft,” (H, Act III, Scene, iv). Throughout the play, the reader sees that the only individuals who see Hamlet as totally mad are the king and his court, and even these individuals have doubts about Hamlet’s madness. Polonius first pronounces Hamlet’s madness when he concludes that Hamlet becomes mad because of Ophelia’s rejection. Polonius says: "I will be brief, Your noble son is mad/Mad call I it; to define true madness," (Act II, Scene ii). But, he is the first to conclude that there is doubt and method to the madness that Hamlet shows. The king’s accepts Polonius statement, but he, too is not convinced of the madness. Instead, he acknowledges that the madness “though it lack'd form a little/ Was not like madness," (Act III, Scene i).
Arguably, Shakespeare’s “dramas are always elaborate attempts to get a meaning out of life, not attempts to show either its mystery, or its inconsequence, or its madness,” (Crawford, n.p). Hamlet’s actions show that his madness comes as a result of his father’s death and his need for revenge against his uncle. Clearly, if Hamlet were truly mad, then the exits and entrances that he makes show no connection to those who are sane. In fact, one learns that there is no true mystery to Hamlet’s madness as he openly displays his need for revenge. He states that he only pretends to be mad, but as the play progresses, it is clear that Hamlet’s madness is real.
Madness is one of the most important themes in King Lear. The characters in the play pretend that they are mad, but they are truly wiser than the sane characters. Edgar is not truly mad, but he pretends to be mad. It is the Old Man in Act II and Act IV who points to the madness in the play. But, Shakespeare uses insanity as a fundamental aspect of his of the play as it links the hidden wisdom and adds to the disorder in the play. The presence of the Fool in “King Lear” in the early scenes is important as he offers sound advice to King Lear through his mad chattering. Lear goes insane because of the treatment of his children towards him. It is this madness that forces Lear to appreciate his humanity and accept the pretenses that existed in the castle; as a result, Lear learns that humility is important. Clearly, this form of madness differs from the madness in “Hamlet.” Still, one can argue that the problems that Lear and Hamlet face are psychological factors. In fact, the tragedy of “King Lear” shows vivid descriptions of wandering and relentlessly mentally ill persons in the characters of Lear, (Ottilingam, n.p). Additionally, Ottilingam reinforces the common precept that “hearing imaginary voices is another hallmark of serious mental illness,” (Ottilingham, n.p).
In conclusion, Lear is troubled by the actions of his children and he cannot handle the fall of his kingdom and the poor choices he made in dividing his kingdom. While Hamlet suffers through the grief of losing his father and the fact that his mother remarries quickly after his father’s death. The actions of the individuals in the society impact these characters as they cannot handle the harsh treatment of their loved ones. Hamlet feigns his madness in much of the play, but there is no doubt that he leans towards the madness and embraces the madness in the end. Lear truly becomes mad when he realizes that he can no longer control the events in his life. What then does Shakespeare say about the ease in which one becomes mad? The answer is quite simple; Shakespeare reveals that madness can impact anyone and the emotional state of the individual will have an adverse effect on the way one handles stressful events.
Crawford, Alexander W. Hamlet, an ideal prince, and other essays in Shakespearean
Interpretation: Hamlet; Merchant of Venice; Othello; King Lear. Boston R.G. Badger,
1916. Shakespeare Online, 20 Aug. 2009. http://www.shakespeare-online.com
Kessler – Rocha, Ana Maria (1980) “Madness in Shakespeare's Major Tragedies: A Tentative
Analysis Towards” A Laingian Interpretation, Viewed at https://repositorio.ufsc.br
Accessed March 20, 2015
Feigned and real madness in King Lear (2013) ISSN 2107-7029 Viewed at http://cle.ens-lyon.fr
Accessed March 20, 2015
Ottilingam, Somasundaram. “The Psychiatry of King Lear.” Indian Journal of Psychiatry 49.1 (2007): 52–55. PMC. Web. 20 Mar. 2015.
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