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Madness in Hamlet and King Lear

The subject of madness is a major theme in two of Shakespeare’s most well-known tragedies, “Hamlet” and “King Lear”. In both of these plays, a character feigns insanity to carry out a motive - Hamlet and Edgar respectively. However, while it is made quite clear to the audience that Edgar is only pretending to be a mad beggar (“Whiles I may scape I will preserve myself, and am bethought to take the basest and most poorest shape that ever penury, in contempt of man brought near to beast”), it is somewhat less clear whether Hamlet has crossed the line and lost control of his “antic disposition”. Shakespeare gives evidence which suggests that Hamlet is sane by having three other men also witness the manifestation of the ghost of Hamlet’s father. If Hamlet were to have seen his father’s ghost by himself, there would be a greater argument for him being insane from the outset of the play. Hamlet also exerts control over his actions, which is the main reason why it could be argued that he is sane. He actively tries to convince Polonius that he has gone mad - mocking him when he would usually be respectful, acting cruelly towards Ophelia whom he was clearly affectionate to earlier in the play. He does this in the hope that Polonius will tell the court of his madness. Hamlet is often hesitant to do things, for example where he had the chance to kill Claudius in the chapel but couldn’t bring himself to do it, not because he would be killing another human but because he wanted Claudius to suffer and not go straight to Heaven. Although a case could be made that Hamlet’s actions are not moral or good, they are certainly not deranged or mad. There is only one moment where Hamlet acts rashly, motivated purely by anger and vengeance, and that is when he kills Claudius. On the other hand, Hamlet does appear to be deeply emotionally disturbed, which is perhaps understandable in the circumstances. The sensible, pragmati...

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Madness in Hamlet and King Lear. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 15:30, March 02, 2015, from