All these indications scattered through the drama are intermittent flashes, which, amid the darkness of doubt, illumine the objective truth of Hamlet's feigned madness. But there is still another and independent truth which, though already alluded to by a few eminent critics, merits here a fuller consideration. This truth grows to supreme importance when viewed in relation to Shakespeare and his dramatic art. A little reflection on the nature and principles of art will engender a repugnance to any theory of Hamlet's real madness. Art is the expression of the beautiful, and dramatic poetry is a work of art, and like every other art it has its canons and its principles. If poetry be the language of passion of enlivened imagination; if its purpose be to afford intellectual pleasure by the excitement of agreeable and elevated, and pathetic emotions; this certainly is not accomplished by holding up to view the vagaries of a mind stricken with dementia. The prime object of tragic poetry is to expose some lofty and solemn theme so graphically that its very portrayal will awaken in our moral nature a love of virtue and a detestation of vice. This verily is not effected by delineating the mad antics of some unfortunate whose disordered mind leaves him helpless to the mercy of the shifting winds of circumstances, and irresponsible to the moral laws of human life. No spectator can discover in the portrayal of the irrational actions of a madman an expression of the beautiful. It gives no intellectual pleasure, stirs no pleasing emotion, and engenders no love of virtue and hatred of vice.
An objection to Hamlet's sanity is sometimes seen in his own alleged confessions of madness. He seeks pardon, they say, from Laertes for his violence against him on the plea of madness. This objection is rather an argument to the contrary; for insane persons are never known to plead insanity in self-exculpation. The objection, moreover, is not valid, because it is based upon a misinterpretation of the word . The madness of which Hamlet speaks in the present instance and which he pleads in excuse, is not a fixed mental malady, but what in common parlance is a madness synonymous with a sudden outburst of anger, in which self-control is lost for the moment. Such was the madness of Hamlet, when in sudden anger he slew Polonius, and again, when at Ophelia's grave, his mighty grief was roused to wrathful expression by the unseemly and exaggerated show of Laertes.
Again, Hamlet's instruction to the players, his cautious direction to Horatio, as well as his skillful intermittent play of madness when in the same scene he addresses Horatio, Ophelia, the King, and Polonius, display, not only a sane, but also a master mind, versatile in wit, and ready to meet cunning subterfuge with artifice at every point. If he were really mad, he could never have preserved such perfect consistency in word and action towards so many people under rapid change of circumstances; always sane in dealing with his friends, and always simulating madness in presence of those whom he mistrusted. Once he was obliged to raise his vizor in presence of his mother. It was in the formal interview, when she sought to shelter herself against his merciless moral onslaught by asserting his madness. But by unmasking himself he baffled her, and proceeded in a terrible but righteous wrath to lacerate her dormant conscience, till he awakened her to the shameful sense of her criminal state and to manifest contrition.
The first of these indications is the fact that the assumed madness of Hamlet is in conformity with the original story, as told in the old runic rhymes of the Norsemen. Considering moreover the exigencies of the plot and counterplots, the role of madman seems evidently forced upon him. As soon as he had recovered from the terrible and overpowering agitation of mind and feelings with which the ghostly revelation had afflicted him, he realized that the world had changed about him; that he himself had changed, and that he could no longer comport himself as before at the court of Claudius. This change, he feels he cannot fully conceal, and, therefore, welcomes the thought of hiding his real self behind the mask of a madman. But he must play his role, not indifferently, but with such perfection of truthful reality as to deceive the whole court, and above all, if possible, his arch-enemy, the astute and cunning King. With this in view, the dramatist had of necessity to portray the hero's madness with all the traits of a real affliction; for, if the court could discover Hamlet's madness to be unreal, his design and purpose would be thereby defeated.
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Had Shakespeare failed to shed this strong light upon Hamlet's purpose, he would certainly have left room for doubt; but not satisfied with this, he scatters through the drama other luminous marks, to guide our dubious path. A strong mark is found in the many soliloquies in which the Prince, giving way to the intensity of his feelings, expresses the inmost thoughts of his heart; in them were surely offered ample opportunities to expose, here and there, some trace of his supposed affliction. But it is remarkably strange that never, like the insane, does he lapse in his frequent monologues into irrelevant and incoherent speech, nor use incongruous and inane words. Another luminous index is Hamlet's intercourse with his school-fellow and sole bosom friend, the scholarly Horatio. The Prince throughout takes him into his confidence, and Horatio, therefore, surely knew his mental condition; yet in mutual converse, whether in public or in private, he always supposes his friend to be rational, and never, by any sign or word, does he manifest friendly sentiments of sorrow or of sympathy, as he naturally would, if ignorant of the feigned madness of Hamlet. Horatio is well aware that everyone assumes his friend to be demented, and, nevertheless, because true to him and to his sworn promise of secrecy, he does nothing to dispel, but rather lends himself to sustain the common delusion. Another striking indication is the Prince's treatment of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. After worming out their secret mission from the King, Hamlet partly lifts the veil for us in the words:
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Far otherwise is it with Edgar and with Hamlet. Hence, a comparison of the nature of their madness may be a flash of light in darkness. Both are pictured as feigning madness. If Edgar, the victim of a brother's treachery, enacts in his banishment the role of a fool with a perfection which eludes discovery; so does Hamlet, the victim of his uncle's treachery, deceive by his mimic madness all but the crafty King. Both, unlike Lear and Ophelia, enter upon their feigned madness for an expressed specific purpose, and both, far from revealing the real cause of their grief, are ever on the alert to conceal it; because its discovery would frustrate the object of their pursuit. As in the drama of Lear, the Poet has left no possible doubt of the real madness of the king, and of the feigned insanity of Edgar, so also we may reasonably expect to find in his , not only clear proofs of Ophelia's madness, but also, sufficient indications of the Prince's feigned dementia.
Since Hamlet then on the testimony of medical experts exhibits accurately all the symptoms of dementia, the question of his real or pretended madness can be solved only by ascertaining the intention of the Poet. We may safely assume that a dramatist so renowned in his art has not left us in darkness concerning a factor most important in this drama. In our doubt we may turn for light to other dramas wherein he portrays demented characters with equal skill. Nowhere can we find more striking elements of contrast and resemblance than in and Ophelia. The grandeur of Lear in his sublime outbursts of a mighty passion, differs surprisingly from the pathetic inanities of the gentle Ophelia; yet Shakespeare leaves no doubt of the genuine madness of the one and the other. In Lear, supreme ingratitude, blighting the affections of a fond and over-confiding parent, has wrecked his noble mind; in Ophelia, the loss of a father by the hand of a lover, whose "noble and most sovereign reason" she has seemingly blasted by rejecting his importunate suit, has over-powered her feelings, and left her "divided from herself and her fair judgment, without the which we're pictures, or mere beasts." Both Lear and Ophelia are portrayed as genuinely mad, and nevertheless, unlike Hamlet, they disclose no purpose nor design in their madness, nor seek to conceal the cause of their distress. On the contrary they always have on their lips utterances which directly or indirectly reveal the reason of their mental malady.
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Ophelia's madness is caused by the actions of other characters in the story. Her father tells her to stay away from Hamlet, whom she has much affection for. Hamlet lies to her, telling her that he does not intend to be with her. After all this, Her father, Laertes is murdered by her former lover, Hamlet. and then Hamlet is sent to England. The sum of all these actions result in her feeling such distress that she becomes mentally ill.