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Whether if One Is Genuinely Crazy or Masqueraded Their Madness

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Many may believe that madness is when one lacks the ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy. One may be deemed mad when they speak and act blatantly or when they violate social norms. There is a negative connotation tied to the words madness and insanity as they often lead to undesired outcomes. In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, both Ophelia and Hamlet were deemed delusional; however, the definition of insanity is a malleable term thus making it difficult for one to differentiate between legitimate corruption of the mind or fabricated madness; the perception of insanity is modified through the lens of the observer.

Insanity is a broad term with a fluid definition. Just like how beauty exists in the eye of the beholder, it applies to madness as well. Where madness derives from is as fluid as its definition. In the play, Ophelia describes the strange encounter she has with Hamlet to Polonius. Polonius later insinuates and questions whether Ophelia is the reason that Hamlet was, “mad for thy love?” (2.1.85). Polonius assumes that Ophelia’s rejection is the reason that Hamlet has gone mad since she is not allowed to see him anymore. Although the time period is not precisely stated in the play, we can assume that it takes place in the late middle ages and early renaissance Europe. There is a popular belief in medieval times that love drives a person crazy and makes them act strangely. This also parallels with Romeo and Juliet since their love for each other drove them to suicide.

However, in the middle ages, many also believed that one is possessed by a demon when they act delusional. This is relevant in the play when Horatio warns Hamlet that the ghost they encounter led him to insanity, “assume some other horrible form, Which might deprive of your sovereignty of reason And draw you into madness” (1.4.75-78). Horatio is skeptical of the ghost being the late king Hamlet. He worries that if Hamlet does not getpossessed, the words said by the spirit can alter his behavior and lead him down the path of derangement. Both Polonius and Horatio have a different understanding of the meaning of “madness”. Polonius thinks it derives from love while Horatio thinks its the spirit, this concludes how different people have a different perception of the meaning of madness.

The difficulty in differentiating between authentic delusion and pretended madness results from the flexibility of the definition itself. There are many definitions for madness along with many factors that can contribute to the cause of it. During one of Hamlet and Horatio’s conversation Hamlet mentions to Horatio that he is going to fake his madness, “How strange or odd soe’er I bear myself, as I perchance hereafter shall think meet to put an antic disposition on” (1.5.171-173). Although Hamlet informs his friends on his plan of acting delusion, he does not explain why. This can lead his friends to question the authenticity of his madness and his intentions. Hamlet is already acting irrationally before he announces to his friends that he is faking his madness. His friends, who have no knowledge of his plot for revenge, will be confused about whether Hamlet’s faked madness is just an excuse and coverup for that he is actually delusional. To his friends, Hamlet has absolutely no reason to pretend to be crazy. We also see the same confusion on the authenticity of Hamlet’s madness with Polonius.

During a conversation between Polonius and Hamlet, Polonius disclose his newfound view on Hamlet’s behavior, “though this be madness, yet there is method in’t”(2.2.195). Polonius had previously asserted that Ophelia has driven Hamlet mad but now he has expressed his confusion but after the conversation he had with Hamlet, it seems to him that Hamlet speaks with logic even though Polonius had previously declared him a lunatic.

The lens one views the world and forms their reality is built upon their personal experiences. A great example of that is Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, the prisoners that were trapped inside the cave only know the cave and the shadows as their reality, however, the reality of the prisoner that escaped has extended to what he experienced outside of the cave. The prisoner that escaped and came back with more extensive knowledge is called crazy for telling them his new reality since the others are limited to only the cave. In Shakespeare’s play, Ophelia is observed as crazy for her excessive grief over Polonius. For Ophelia, her reality at that point in her life is built upon her father’s death and her perplex relationship with Hamlet. Others in the play who categorized her with being crazy simply do not comprehend what she has been through. Ophelia speaks her reality when she ran around giving out flowers to people in the castle, “There’s fennel for you and columbine.-There’s rue for you and here’s some for me. […] I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died”(4.5.145-153).

Columbine and fennel have a connotation of adultery, foolishness, ingratitude, faithlessness which is exactly what Hamlet’s mother is known for to the audience in the play. Ophelia’s actions are considered bold and crazy for that she is openly propping these insinuations onto Gertrude. Those flowers also contain the meaning of sorrow, since Ophelia is handing these flowers out she is implying that this group of people lacks empathy and sorrow. Ophelia mentioned that she would hand out violet but they withered when her father died. Violet symbolizes virtue and modesty, Ophelia is sane enough to recognize that she is slowly losing herself.

To many people, they identify those who act absurdly, delusional. Those who behave foolishly and disregard consequences are also presumed crazy. “madness” is a reoccurring theme in Hamlet, it is expressed through the behavior of Ophelia and Hamlet. In the play, both Ophelia and Hamlet were categorized as deranged; however, the perception of madness varies from observer to observer making it difficult to conclude a concrete interpretation of whether if one is genuinely crazy or masqueraded their madness; revealing to us that the perception of madness can be altered by the personal experiences of the observer.

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