The Representation of Madness and Revenge through the Characters in Hamlet

June 23, 2022 by Essay Writer

In the genre-defining play Hamlet, William Shakespeare creates a complex, and at times ludicrous representation of madness and revenge. One thing that is noticeable in the play is that madness spreads like a disease and affects the actions of all the characters, similar to the domino effect. One at a time, madness ravaged the main characters in Hamlet; the king, Polonius, Ophelia, Laertes, the queen, and Hamlet himself. Not only did madness tear through the characters, but each character’s life was also destroyed once they caught it. The biggest example of this point is Ophelia, Polonius’s daughter, and Laertes’ sister. As the audience begins unraveling and understanding this complex story of madness and revenge, one thing is clear: Ophelia exists as a tragic character in Hamlet thus her madness excusable because of the unfortunate circumstances that she has been put through.

Ophelia in the fourth act of Hamlet is demonstrably insane because all the men who were the sole reason she lived had been taken from her life in some sort of way. The love of her life, Hamlet, went mad and pushed her away, and her older brother Laertes goes away to France. The most important loss she faces is her father, Polonius. Once her father is dead, she loses a major part of herself. Horatio points out her obvious grief when he said “She speaks much of her father, says she hears / There’s tricks in the world, and hems, and beats her heart”.

Ophelia is portrayed as a weak character who is unable to think clearly for herself or to have any personality of her own. She proves this point earlier in the play saying to her father on the subject of hamlet’s love for her, “I do not know, my lord, what I should think”. This quote indicates that Ophelia is incapable of thinking on her own, and is incapable of having an identity of her own. Further references to Ophelia’s father, such as “I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died / They say a made a good end.” give more insight into Ophelia’s shattered mental state. Because Ophelia’s madness is driven by the loss of the male influences in her life, she cannot be expected to stay sane when they all leave.

In most cases, madness is taken out of context and falsely portrayed. It is often faked, as proved by Hamlet and sometimes it is nonsensical. However, that is not always the case. Ophelia’s madness in Shakespeare’s Hamlet is real and of great significance. When the context is applied to something, a whole outlook can be changed or shaped, Ophelia’s situation is no different. Ophelia’s madness is represented through her cryptic singing and the reactions of the people around her. This is seen in act four when prior to Ophelia’s entrance, the gentlemen tells Gertrude that “She is importunate”. Ophelia’s behavior has everyone concerned. When Ophelia leaves the first time, Claudius requests Horatio to “follow her closely”, which shows his worry about Ophelia’s instability. Ophelia’s death was not only the result of her madness, but her madness was a consequence of Hamlet’s relentless thirst for revenge against his uncle.

After Hamlet contemplates the nature of being and the uncertainties of death, Ophelia shows up to end relations with him as her father had wished. Ophelia listens to her father and breaks things off with Hamlet. This becomes an important scene in the play because of Hamlet says he never loved Ophelia, which causes her mental stability to waiver just like any other sixteen-year-old girl would. Hamlet has come to distrust all women and has come to think of them all as a temptation, Stating “Get thee to a nunnery”. This scene is commonly called the nunnery scene, the nunnery was a common slang term for a brothel, implying that Ophelia is a whore. Hamlet promised to marry her then broke his oath to her for no reason, given by the where He existed after saying “I say we will have no more marriages’’ Hamlet has broken both her heart and her poor mind. This is evident when she said, “You promised me to wed.’ / So would I ha’ done, by yonder sun, / An thou hadst not come to my bed.” This part of Ophelia’s song that is blaming Hamlet as the cause of her mental fracturing which causes him to fall deeper into his temporary state of madness. 


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