Every nation has its ideas about good and evil, its understanding of honor and power, guilt and redemption. There is no clear prescription in life. Therefore, everyone has one’s own path to goal, and fights in own way. Sometimes the “aim justifies the methods”, but is it possible to reach the clean ideal with dirty hands? The Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a play with this question as a leitmotiv. That is why it seems contemporary. The personality of the main character is clear and mysterious.
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The mystery for all generations is the madness of Hamlet. The reason lies on the surface. Hamlet wears a mask of the foolish clown in order to fight against the world full of evil. The Prince kills Polonius, who was watching him, reveals the betrayal of his university friends, rejects Ophelia, who could not resist the bad influence, and drawn into the intrigue against Hamlet. Hamlet intends to cause suspicions and anxiety of Claudius. It is like a validation of the ghost’s words. In news from the underworld, Hamlet looks for the real earthly evidences.
In the connection with the madness of Prince, it is necessary to remember the importance of a buffoon in Shakespeare’s plays. The fools, madmen are allowed to say the truth, to expose it in front of the faces of unjust people. They are the wisest justice. Thus, Hamlet’s madness paradoxically makes him the bearer of truth in the higher court. The whole plot of the play leads to believe that Hamlet’s madness is perfectly natural. To the crazy century and crazy state, the mad Prince suits most naturally. Such times and such moods repeat periodically in the history. Hamlet studied at WittenbergUniversity and thought about science, art, and the activities for the humanity benefit. However, he had to take a revenge, intrigue, pretending to kill. He does not attack and protect. His problem is in his high ideals and temper soul. He has doubts regarding his actions. Shakespeare has shown that people, who are ahead of the era, often become victims. However, without them mankind would be left in the darkness of the Middle Ages.
Hamlet is a man of thought. So, he decided to play the role of the madman. Hamlet calls the world the “unweeded garden” [Act I, Scene 2], which breeds a wild and evil seed. He claims to his arrived friends that Denmark is a prison and the whole world is a prison too. On one hand, he is completely mentally healthy. His cold mind helps him to act.
Hamlet meets the ghost of his murdered father. There is a question whether he is mad or does he really see the ghost? Once his friends also have seen the ghost, which is the proof that he is not mad, but later ghost comes again. This time, nobody sees him. This confuses the main character, as well as the reader. Perhaps, Hamlet went crazy, at least a little bit. It also may be the result of his imagination. He is not sure whether he acts right. He does not know exactly what to do and whether he should continue with his revenge. So, it can be that he believes strongly that the ghost of his father comes again to support and to give him a push. He begs for help:
“Save me, and hover o’er me with your wings,
You heavenly guards!” [Act III, Scene 4].
The other point which proves his madness is his attitude to the murder. He uses his “madness” as a same kind of “trap” that makes the other characters reveal. In addition to that, the madness of Hamlet is symbolic. However, without any doubts whether he is allowed to stab Polonius, the hypocritical minister, does not even feel any regret that he killed a human and also the father of his beloved. The reason was that he believed that behind the arras was Claudius. He is not sorry for his mistake:
“Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell!
I took thee for thy better: take thy fortune;
Thou find’st to be too busy is some danger” [Act III, Scene 4].
Moreover, Polonius is not the only person whom Hamlet kills. Considering the question of murder, he loses the feeling of sympathy and morality.
Hamlet tries to open his mother’s eyes on the events, but the Queen has chosen her husband and the throne. In such way she betrayed her own son. Hamlet also charges Claudius. The Prince’s beloved Ofelia went crazy after her father died. However, before that, she was also ready to betray him. She promised to retell Polonius each word of Hamlet. Two school friends with no hesitation drive Hamlet to the trap, to the certain death. Claudius says to the Hamlet’s friends about the recent events:
“Friends both, go join you with some further aid:
Hamlet in madness hath Polonius slain,
And from his mother’s closet hath he dragg’d him” [Act IV, Scene 1].
All of these betrayals make him act against his friends and close people. This is the next step to the real madness. He cannot trust anyone. This condition confuses him.
The Hamlet’s doubts about his revenge drive him crazy. His acts sometimes cannot be explained according to the clear mind. Hamlet in his monologue “To be or not to be?”, is in the moment of the highest disorder in his mind. “To be” of course, is not just to live but to resist circumstances. “Not to be” is to obey the “cruelness of fate”. To be, to fight, this is a conclusion to which Prince comes. However, this conclusion is difficult for him. He realizes that the fight will not give him a joy of life in the world. Hamlet sees clearly one of the possible outcomes of it – the death. It is obvious how difficult it is for Hamlet to make this choice. Not because he does not believe in his own strength and does not expect to stand against evil and win; it is because he knows that in order to protect the good, he should become cruel and merciless. His short life of a talented young man, philosopher, dreamer, which would be glad to create and build, turned to the path of the warrior with a sword in a hand, who has lost everything: father, mother, friends, beloved woman, even the life itself. Everything except the honor, dignity and faith has disappeared. “To be” for Hamlet is also to decide the fate of his country.
This is the moment of his desperate fluttering. His attitude to the suicide is the same as his attitude to the murder. He does not appreciate the life as a fact anymore. It shows that all of the previous circumstances and events were too complicated for his acceptation. He used to be so convenient in the truth of what he has done, so sometimes he forgot about the morality. Most of his actions were insane. This monologue is the evidence of his madness:
“To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ‘tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d” [Act III, Scene 1].
To be honest, he has lost the sense of reality, so he cannot clearly realize his condition, although, he directly says that he is not mad:
“That I essentially am not in madness,
But mad in craft” [Act III, Scene 4].
There are two variants of Hamlet: Hamlet of monologues and Hamlet of action, very different to each other. The inertness of his character seems to be stronger, but he cannot be judged because of his weak nature and since he chooses the path of revenge. This decision shows him as a strong personality. By his nature, Hamlet is not gutless or passive. He rushes boldly followed by the ghost of his father. He does not hesitate any time, shows remarkable ingenuity and courage during the voyage to England. It is not the real nature of Hamlet, but real Hamlet’s nature appears in certain situations.