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Shakespeare's Madness within Hamlet and King Lear

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Robyn Brown

on 15 March 2014

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Transcript of Shakespeare's Madness within Hamlet and King Lear

The Human Body contains several different elements: Blood, Phlegm, Yellow Bile, and Black Bile. If all of these substances are in an equilibrium, your in good health.
If one of these you are lacking in, or have an excess of your health or mental state is not good.
Blood=Cherry Disposition
Yellow Bile- Hot/Dry=Angry/Chloric Temper
Black Bile-Cold/Dry=Dark/Brooding Character

These characters with mental illnesses were viewed as having "divided" or having a "split mind" , or an excess of emotion ( 3)
Madness can be seen in two characters specifically, Ophelia ( representing Female Madness), and Hamlet ( representing feigned or false madness)
Hints of Oedipus Complex with Hamlet towards his mother Gertrude.
Hamlet struggles with two things that drive him through his Melancholic state
1.) Is the Ghost speaking the truth
2.) Did Claudius truly commit the crime of killing the former King of Denmark ?

Themes and Motifs of Madness

" The literary language of madness drawn from Classical drama came to the English stage through Old French and the literature of fools. ( The Word "Mad" comes from an Old Saxon root, meaning 'cut or damaged'.)
Shakespeare's Madness within Hamlet and King Lear
Themes and Motifs about Madness
Subject Of Madness in Hamlet
Subject of Madness in King Lear
Similar Elements in Plays
Differences in Plays
Humoural Language

Feigned Madness?? ( Madness that is Pretended or Assumed)
The scene where Hamlet projects the most Madness is Act 1, Scene 5, when he meets his fathers ghost.
Although, Hamlet best portrays the Melancholic character. Melancholic characters are portrayed in a depressive state. With the death of his father, and his mother remarriage, to his uncle, and then seeing the ghost all help the cause of his Melancholic chaos. Melancholic is classified as Depression. It can be the start of a Madness state , but not truly insane. Melancholic individuals can also have states of hallucinating within a disturbed state.

Polonius Questions Hamlet's Madness In Act two, Scene two "I will be brief: your noble son is mad. Mad call I it, for, to define true madness,What is ’t but to be nothing else but mad? But let that go.It is never explicitly implied that Hamlet is Mad, we can gather that he is in a stage of Melancholic, but doesn't cross lines to insanity.
In Act 3, Scene 1 We are told that Hamlet isn't Mad " Nor what he spake, though it lack form a little. Was not like Madness"
Ophelia is the common portrayal of a mad women in Shakespeare's Plays.
In madness, women find they are able to stake their claim to discourse Ophelia achieves a kind of feminine power, but also at the cost of madness. Ophelia's madness is seen in the play as sexual frustration and the social control that she is subjected to because she is a women. This condition is also known as "Hysteria" (52)
We can note Ophelia's madness within two elements
1.) The Language she uses
2.) Her Physical appearance
Ophelia throughout the play is a contained characters.
She is contained with her mind in expression, and her body both sexually and physically.

The Body and the Mind are two major elements in Madness.
Physical Appearance
Her Language

Ophelia's Suicide

Her Clothes spread wide and Mermaidlike a while they bore her up, which time she chanted snatches of old lauds, As one incapable of her own distress, Or like a creature native and induced Unto that Element But long it could not be Till that her garments, heavy their drink, Pulled the poor wretch from her melodious lay To muddy death ( Scene 4, Scene 7
Opehlias' suicide can be seen as involuntary act, because the madness drove her to death.
History Fact: In England in the time Period of
Hamlet, the most common type of Suicide at the time was Drowning (55) Madness would allow Ophelia to be innocent and suicide was forgivable.
" Through a series of contrasts, the plays( Hamlet and King Lear), displays the sorts of distinctions between men and women, body and mind, natural and supernatural, distraction and feigned madness that were being demanded at other cultural sites. (46)

( Act 4, Scene 5) When Ophelia madness is visualized by others, Claudius says:" Poor Ophelia Divided from herself and her fair judgment "
Ophelia's also uses the flowers she gives to people of the court to symbolize different meanings.
They're several different kinds of Madness in Hamlet. The main three are:
- Female Madness
- Feigned Madness
- Melancholy
King Lear (1605)
King Lear also deals with three different elements of Madness including:
- Feigned demonic Possession
- Natural Madness
- Guilt-caused Despair
Her Speech is nothing, Yet the unshaped use of it doth move The hearers to collection; they yawn at it, And botch the words up fit to their own thoughts, Which would make one think there might be thought , Though nothing sure, yet much unhappily ( Act 4, Scene 5)
Ophelia's character language is the key in how we associate with knowing her madness. She is never portrayed as having any of the humoural language, or any supernatural afflictions. (52)
Gertrude Speaks of Ophelia's Death as Poetically Tragic:

Do you think that Ophelia's Death was accidental or suicidal? Can you think of any Examples.
Lear from natural madness
Lear Gradually loses control, his kingdom, soldiers, children his house, clothing that represents his authority ( cause of madness multiple lines )

In Act 1, Scene 1, Kent retorts to Lear saying " Do, kill thy physician, and the fee bestow Upon thy foul disease. Revoke thy gift,Or whilst I can vent clamor from my throat, I’ll tell thee thou dost evil." Both the mention of a medical doctor, and patient persona contribute to the theory of Lear's Madness.
Lear's Language is also essential to his madness. Goneril and Regan speak of Lear's Outbursts " 'Tis the infirmity of his age. Yet he hath ever but slenderly known himself.." She continues " Such unconstant starts are we like to have from him as this of Kent’s banishment." ( Act 1, Scene 1)
Lear's Madness Continued
ear's madness is slow and progressive throughout the play.
We first see the play portray his Madness in Act 3, Scene 1 when Kent asks the gentlemen who is out in the storm he replies with, " One minded like the weather, most unquietly." This explanations says that Lear's mind is clearly not in the right. Kent's speech to justify his madness behavior concludes with "Some that will thank you, making just report Of how unnatural and bemadding sorrow The king hath cause to plain. I am a gentleman of blood and breeding, And from some knowledge and assurance offer This office to you."
During the Moch trial Scene Kent acknowledges Lear's behavior and says " O pity! Sir, where is he patience now,That thou so oft have boasted to retain?" ( Act 3, Scene 6). Kent speaks of the Kings lack of Self-control for his logical reasoning.
Throughout the Play, people are constantly telling Lear he is mad. King Lear's loved one and friends are perpetuating his madness by telling he's mad. When you are at a low point you lose your sense of reality and believe what people say. You have lost your sense of self.


Like Hamlet, Edgar's
supernatural possession is
feigned, as his disguise of "Poor Tom"
- We see Edgar's feigned representation of Demonic Possession , ( Act 3, Scene 4) " Away! The foul fiend follows me!" ( Foul Fiend Symbolizing the Devil. He is hiding his true identity to escape capture from his brother Edmund and higher authorities. Therefore he uses the language and appearance of a madman." Carol Neely explains " His role also functions dramatically to trigger, mark, and counterpoint the specific moment of Lear's own break with sanity, which occurs decisively at his emotionally apt but logically groundless identification with Poor Tom" ( Act 3, Scene four)

1.)Physiological- administrated BY DOCTOR ( Medicine)
Spiritual Guides
Lear portrays what happens when the body and mind deteriorate so does the spirit of the Soul.
Ophelia Mirrors Lear in portraying actually Madness, Edgar Mirrors Hamlet by portraying Feigned "fake" Madness
In the Play Edgar and Hamlets inner thoughts are portrayed
because they are able to see logical reason. In contrast to
Ophelia's and Lear's speeches are spoken out of Madness.
Ophelia and Lear's image shadows are translucent, they have no feelings, it can represent the person going into madness , or the shadow can represent the true self of not being " mad" and being free.
In both plays when someone is thought to commit suicide or die they are asked to follow, this happens with both Ophelia and Gonreil. Ophelia's Death was forgiven because it was out of "Madness", where as Goneriel and Regans was spoken of by Albany in Act 5, Scene 3 "Produce their bodies, be they alive or dead. This judgment of the heavens that makes us tremble Touches us not with pity. "
In both plays the mind, the body, and spirit are one. When madness overrides the mind, body, spirit you are left with nothing. You can't function on nothing. "Nothing ", is a concept seen in both King Lear and Hamlet, through Lear's and Opehlia's nonsense speeches.
Madness is accepted in the community of this time, which is seen in both plays.
Both Ophelia and Lear's Madness is like an Oxy-Moron where the "Madness" portrays the most truth. But its usually to late , in insanity you must do something and that usually leads to "Death".
Both Lear and Hamlet have a desire for revenge, and use "justice" as means to achieve it.
Additional Key Elements of
Madness in Key Lear

- Gloucester also symbolizes someone of "Mad" or "Madness" Qualities
-Goneril portrays the true demonic possession
How do we know Edgar is not

Edgar produces inner speech, and therefore his
language portrays both logical reasoning of his own and the play on of "Madness"
Act 4 Scene 1 "(aside) And worse I may be yet. The worst is not So long as we can say “This is the worst"
"(aside)     How should this be?
Bad is the trade that must play fool to sorrow,
Angering itself and others.—Bless thee, master! "
Here Edgar implicitly states that he is pretending
In Act 1, Scene four , both Lear's Daughter's believe that Lear rants and Raves. When speaking with the fool he chants wise men have gone foolish, and do not know how to use their brains. This is a depiction of the brain. Concept of reasoning, Lear cannot reason.

Hamlet's Physical Appearance

Ophelia describes Hamlet's Physical Appearance " My lord, as I was sewing in my closet,Lord Hamlet, with his doublet all unbraced;No hat upon his head; his stockings fouled, gartered, and down-gyvèd to his ankle;Pale as his shirt; his knees knocking each other;And with a look so piteous in purport
As if he had been loosèd out of hell .To speak of horrors—he comes before me." ( Act 2, Scene 1) Hamlet is portraying the Physical Appearance of Melancholic character.
How do we know Hamlet does not fully achieve Madness?
He says In Act 1, Scene 5 that hes is pretending to be mad as a disguise. " And therefore as a stranger give it welcome. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. But come, Here, as before, never, so help you mercy,How strange or odd soe'er I bear myself(As I perchance hereafter shall think meet To put an antic disposition on),That you, at such times seeing me, never shall—With arms encumbered thus, or this headshake,Or by pronouncing of some doubtful phrase, As “Well, well, we know,” or “We could an if we would,”
Hamlet also justify his strange behavior to his mother stating " Ecstasy?
My pulse as yours doth temperately keep time And makes as healthful music. It is not madness That I have uttered. Bring me to the test, And I the matter will reword, which madness Would gambol from. " ( Act 3, Scene 4) He speaks that he sees logical reasoning.

Neely, Carol Thomas.
Distracted Subjects.
New York: Cornell University Press. 2004. Book.

Salkeld, Duncan. Madness and Drama in the age of Shakespeare.New York: Manchester University Press.1993.Book.
Lear's Madness

In Act 4, Scene 4 Cordillea has come back to aide her father and says " Alack, ’tis he. Why, he was met even now As mad as the vexed sea, singing aloud,
Crowned with rank fumiter and furrow-weeds,
With burdocks, hemlock, nettles, cuckoo-flowers,
Darnel, and all the idle weeds that grow
In our sustaining corn.—A century send forth.
Search every acre in the high-grown field,
And bring him to our eye." Here she conveys that he is dressed in Flowers, and weeds which is symbolized with his Maddening character.

-King Lear's Madness has more personal
choice in his Madness. Lear's Madness is more self-inflicted
- Ophelia is more alone than Lear. Lear has more people who are trying to help him. Which makes Ophelia Dependent versus Lear.
- Female Insanity versus Male Insanity


The End
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