Hamlet: What Led To Insanity Of The Main Character?
Hamlet’s tragic story shows the Machiavellian world that Shakespeare has perfectly crafted. Now, this kind of world has been seen before in other stories like Macbeth, which also show betrayal, thirst for power, murder, and of course tragedy. Hamlet shows the decomposition of Hamlet’s mental state as he is later consumed by vengeance and thirst for more power. This affects him so much that he starts to see visions and quickly changes his personality from a timid and immature character into a man void of all emotion besides rage and greed.
In Hamlet, we see a variety of manipulation, temptation and eventually, redemption as the ends try to justify the means with the slaying of his uncle and Claudius. Hamlet sees the corruption in Denmark and shows us how it has seemingly cracked the social structure. Where manipulation and distrust reign rampant and purity is basically absent in this presence. After Hamlet’s father is poisoned and killed and is visited by his father’s spirit, he now learns he must abandon his previous ambitions and is consumed by madness and rage. Now with these new ambitions we the reader see how Hamlet is exposed and consumed by the corruption which leads to further madness. Hamlet explains the roots of corruption in his mind here, ‘Corruption is like a weed that grows and spreads, choking out the other plants surrounding it,(3.4.22 Ham)’.
Not only does corruption and manipulation ruin Hamlet’s state of mind but as well as the minds of others. For corruption as stated before is like weeds, they spread from one area to another, and soon enough the entire yard is riddled in weeds. These weeds of corruption drive Hamlet to murder Polonius without much thought. He then confirms these actions by stating, ‘How now! A rat? Dead for a ducat,(3.4.23 Ham).’ This murder then leaves Ophelia in a state of despair. Ophelia expresses this despair through various poems about Polonius’s death. An example of a poem. ‘They bore him barefac’d on the bier: Hey nonnonny, nonny, hey nonny: And in his grave rain’d many a tear.—Fare you well, my dove!(4.5.162-165 Ham). This poem expresses how her father’s death and Hamlet’s lying about him never loving her, causes her sorrow and despair.
Now the mere desire to fulfill the throne is connected to medieval times. In this period the well-being of a nation was directly linked to the legitimacy of the king. So the imagery of rot and corruption that is so rampant in Hamlet makes a lot of sense. After Polonius’s death, Hamlet knows he must still get revenge over Claudius who is now controlling Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. This is when Hamlet calls them out like a sponge soaking up the king’s
favor. After this instance, Hamlet runs off and Ophelia is left with the question of why hasn’t Hamlet been punished for Polonius’s murder. Which is explained by Claudius that he is loved by the population and such punishment would lead to a possible revolt. The corruption that looks the other way from such a crime even as terrible as murder. This of course upsets Ophelia to a degree, which is stumped by the news of Hamlet’s return. This return brings in the question of how to slay Hamlet. This devises a plan between the uncle and Claudius, the uncle will fill a cup with poison and Claudius will challenge Hamlet to a duel. Either way, their plan is sure to murder prince Hamlet.
This brilliant plan is all devised by the people of the government, people who are supposed to be truthful and righteous. Their corruption spreading like weeds suffocates Denmark as Hamlet comes to rightfully take the throne and exact revenge, killing two birds with one stone. Now obviously one may argue that these were just times full of corruption and betrayal, and for the most part, I would agree with them. However, one could just as easily argue that modern times are as corrupt as ever. The only difference is now government officials can simply deny and easily cover up anything they please. Power and greed are the keys in these times, however. Hamlet shows this by defeating Claudius and killing his uncle. This is before of course our protagonist slowly dies from being cut with the blade during the duel that had been dipped in poison. Hamlet’s ambitions were met but at a great cost to his own life. All of Hamlet’s previous intentions and dreams were thrown out of the window as corruption and sorrow consumed him and spread onto others. Shakespeare enjoyed looking into corruption and betrayal which is seeping through this piece as well as many others.
- Shakespeare, William. ‘Hamlet’, edited by George Richard Hibbard, Oxford UP, 2008.