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How does Shakespeare present forms of madness and how would this play with modern and Elizabethan audience perceptions? Free essay! Download now

Home > GCSE > English literature > How does Shakespeare present forms of madness and how would this play with modern and Elizabethan audience perceptions?

How does Shakespeare present forms of madness and how would this play with modern and Elizabethan audience perceptions?

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Downloads to date: N/A | Words: 1200 | Submitted: 14-May-2009
Spelling accuracy: N/A | Number of pages: | Filetype: Word .doc

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How does Shakespeare present forms of madness and how would this play with modern and Elizabethan audience perceptions?

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It is debatable whether Hamlet’s supposed madness is in fact genuine or whether it is merely a fabrication and feigned. This is clearly an important issue as Hamlet’s ‘madness’ gives him licence to act within the play in a way, which a character in control of his senses could not. His insanity throughout the play obviously affects and changes other characters perceptions of him and his role within society. If however Hamlet’s madness is a front and is simply a foil for a more elaborate deeper motive; then by gaining the acceptance of the King Claudius and other influential people within the court he can achieve his motives whilst still under a veil of supposed madness. It is clear that Shakespeare cleverly uses madness to revolve around and compliment the main themes of the play. For example Hamlet’s madness in Act 1 Scene 5 appears to compliment Shakespeare’s main theme. It seems that the soliloquy preceding the re entry of Horatio and Marcellus is clearly unbalanced. Within this passage whilst seemingly in a state of madness or confusion there appears to be a reference to incest, ‘most pernicious woman’. This insight into Hamlet’s thinking through his distracted state parallels a main role in the play, therefore acting as a reference to the relationship between Hamlet and his mother that later we find to be somewhat incestuous.

By doing this it allows Shakespeare to explore Hamlet’s personality and his relationship with characters such as Gertrude and Ophelia. This is apparent as throughout the play Hamlet has outbursts of anger which Shakespeare uses to provide insights in to Hamlet’s real feelings. A prime example of this is in the ‘nunnery’ scene where Hamlet maybe appears to feign madness but behind this there is a very real scene of anger. For example Hamlet on line 107 of Act 3 scene 1 is complimentary of Ophelia saying,

‘That if you be honest and fair, your honesty should admit no discourse to your
beauty’.

Although complimentary to start with, by the time we reach line 135 in Act 3 scene 1 Hamlet appears to have changed moods and after telling Ophelia,

‘Get thee to a nunnery’ says,

‘If thou dost marry, I’ll give thee this plague for thy dowry’.

Clearly Hamlet has flipped into a moment of madness, however this is again debatable I believe that Hamlet feigns his madness at this point as there are sufficient motives for this as we later find out. Shakespeare has mastered the art of suspense and madness. At the start of Hamlet’s interaction with Ophelia he is complimentary as mentioned before, however after their speech it is apparent that King Claudius and Polonius have been listening in on their conversation. This therefore begs the question, does Hamlet know? Again this is an example of Hamlet either being genuinely mad or insane, or knowing of the presence of the King and putting on a false act or image to throw the onlookers.

Although Hamlet’s apparent insanity is focused upon as the central figure of the situation, Ophelia offers a different style of insanity providing a foil and complimenting Hamlet as the ‘tragic heroine’ of the piece. Ophelia’s insanity is different to Hamlet’s; it is based more on depression than the Prince’s. An example of Ophelia’s madness can be seen with Gertrude and Leartes in Act 4 scene 4 lines 166 to 200. In this section Ophelia clearly enters a disturbed or ‘mad’ state, as she appears to start singing to Leartes before the court. Ophelia sings about the death of her father singing,
‘ And in his grave rained many a tear –
Fare you well, my dove!’
...

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