If Hamlet is mad, then there is no tragedy – Discuss Hamlet’s madness is feigned, faked and put on – period! If he was truly mad then how can there be a tragedy in the full Greek sense of the term? Macbeth may have shown shades of madness/desperation towards the end of his life – he was, after all corrupted by evil, but ‘Hamlet’ is a ‘Revenger’s Tragedy’ not a ‘let’s all go mad and kill everyone’, history play. The key lies in 2 quotations: “………
I will put on an antic disposition’ and: “.. I can tell a hawk from a handsaw” NB: This is a mistranslation. Shakespeare actually wrote – “… a hawk from a hernshaw” – a ‘hernshaw’ being ancient English for a heron! You can see how he is saying starkly – ‘I am not mad unless I want to be and you suckers can’t see it! ‘ So, even though he knew Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were in league with his avowed enemy, King Claudius, he was brave enough to tell them that he was sane.
So, he tells those he trusts that he is sane and will feign madness and with all the others – Ophelia, Polonius, Laertes, his mother, R&G, Claudius, he is a mad man. Even the mother who should know him best is convinced he is insane. Ophelia with her ‘ Oh what a noble mind is here o’erthrown’ line shows she believes the man she loves (who after all did come into her bedchamber with madness writ large over him) is mad. Perhaps the ‘shall I lie in your lap’ line was a bit too much in regal company.
One thing is for sure; Ophelia does go completely insane and is the perfect black to Hamlet’s white, throwing his fake lunacy into stark relief. The killing of Polonius – often held up as proof of madness is the opposite. Hamlet coldly runs the unknown man behind the arras, through. He believes it to be Claudius (after all it is Gertrude’s bedchamber) but he has no feelings for the old fool because he knows: a) Polonius is a spy b) He may have been in on the murder of King Hamlet (some evidence)
c) It fits with his pretence as madman The fact that Polonius has been described as a ‘fishmonger’ (or pimp) ties in with Hamlet’s cold order to Ophelia – ‘get thee to a nunnery’ (or brothel). Hamlet is so icily sane that he wants revenge at any and all costs. He won’t kill the King because he will go to Heaven and not Hell – the signs of massive control! He refuses to bend to anyone – especially those he loves – and we recognise him as a hero even though he prevaricates more than any other ‘hero’.
There is a sanity to the graveyard scene that is chilling. He is so aware of life and death at this point, having condemned R&G to death with abandon, that he realises that the suicide he was too saintly to contemplate due to the eternal consequences, is not necessary – death awaits him just as it does everyone. Hamlet is a tragic hero. Tragic heroes can’t be mad or there would be no tragedy He is not a mad fool he is a scholar and a ‘noble mind’, weak in war and the opposite of his father, but strong in scheming and accidental destruction.