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Hamlet: Truly mad or acting mad

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” Hamlet at once invites and resists interrogation. He is, more than any theatrical character before and perhaps since, a figure constructed around an unseen or secret core. “

In this introduction to the play Stephan Greenblatt directly emphasises not only the depth but also the mystery about the main character of Hamlet. He points at the different impressions Hamlet makes on his co-characters and the spectator can only refer to these onstage interactions. A diverse character like Hamlet therefore leaves much space for interpretation.

Regarding his “played” madness for example the question arises whether Hamlet only plays this role in order to fool the others or whether the murder of his father had such an influence on the young character that he drifts into lunacy. On the one hand we have the direct references to his plan to conceal his thoughts and aims of revenge under the cover of lunacy,

“How strange or odd soe’er I bear myself- As I Perchance hereafter shall think meet to put an antic disposition on-” (1.5. 171 – 174), but on the other hand there are several remarks in the text that indicate his being truly psychologically harmed by the tragic events.

First of all Shakespeare describes him to be abnormally long in mourning over his father’s death, ” …but to persever in obstinate condolement is a course of impious stubbornness, ’tis unmanly grief, it shows a will most incorrect to heaven,…” (1.2.92 – 95), which points at the deep influence of the former deeds on Hamlet’s character. Additionally one gets the impression that Hamlet has lost all sense of time as he exclaims: ” But two months dead, nay not so much, not two-…and yet within a month-…a little month, …” (1.2.138 – 147) This confusion underlines his inability to remember clearly what has happened and when.

Going further into the aspect of time it becomes obvious that not only in reference to the past Hamlet seems in loss of a sense of time, but also in his pursuit of revenge and justice. Between the First and the Second Act we have a time gap of approximately 2 months in which no reference is made to any kind of action Hamlet undertakes. A last aspect indicating his lunacy are his repeated remarks concerning suicide. Directly in his first soliloquy he states: ” O! that this too too solid flesh would melt, …” (1.2.129 – 132). Not to forget the famous passage: ” To be or not to be, that is the question.” (3.1.58ff)

Throughout the entire play Hamlet seems to be caught between differing sides and a drift into lunacy might be very plausible regarding the enormous responsibility weighing on his shoulders. Within this aspect lies the fantastic influence this play has had on audiences all over the world. The diversity of the main character left so much space for interpretation, space for a great variety of productions and furthermore a great variety of interpretations of these productions.

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