AP English Literature
5 February 2016
Hamlet Close Passage Analysis
This passage from Shakespeare’s Hamlet is spoken by Hamlet when he first speaks to Laertes after Ophelia’s funeral, during Act V, Scene II. In the scene, Laertes and Hamlet are about to have a sword fight, which has been set up by Claudius. Hamlet has killed Laertes’ father, Polonius, and is also indirectly responsible for the death of Laertes sister, Ophelia. In this speech, Hamlet is attempting to apologize to Laertes. He starts asking for his forgiveness, and proceeds to explain to Laertes that Hamlet himself did not wrong him, rather his madness did. In this speech, Shakespeare expresses one of the main themes of the play: madness is a separate entity from oneself, and you can be a victim of your own madness. This theme is the central focus of the rest of the passage, and is paralleled throughout the play.
While Hamlet starts by asking Laertes for his forgiveness for the pain he has caused him, “Give me your pardon, sir. I have done you wrong”, he later begins to explain that it wasn’t him who caused Laertes this pain, rather, it was his madness that wronged Laertes. The difference between Hamlet and his madness can first be seen in lines (), “...What I have done/
That might your nature, honour, and exception/ Roughly awake, I here proclaim was madness.” In these lines, Hamlet explains that not he, but his madness is to blame for his actions.
Hamlet then continues to explain the idea that one can be a victim of their own madness; that madness is separate from oneself. He explains that “If Hamlet from himself be taken away,/ And when he's not himself does wrong Laertes,/ Then Hamlet does it not, Hamlet denies it” (). In these lines, Hamlet explains that he is not to be responsible for his own actions, that he was taken away from himself. Who is to blame for the murder of Polonius then? Hamlet explains “Who does it, then? His madness.” In these lines, Shakespeare introduces the idea that madness is a separate entity, that can be responsible for committing crimes in and of itself.
Not only does Hamlet express that his madness is a separate entity from himself, but he also explains that he has become a victim of his own madness in lines(). The prince says, “Hamlet is of the faction that is wrong'd; His madness is poor Hamlet's enemy.”. Not only is Hamlet not responsible for murdering Polonius, but he believes he is actually a victim in the scenario. After explaining that he had no premeditated intent to kill Polonius, “Let my disclaiming from a purpos'd evil” () Hamlet then goes on to ask for Laertes’ forgiveness, which he says he will accept in heart, but not in honor. In this passage, the idea that one can be a victim of their own madness is clearly expressed by the Prince.
The idea that one can be a victim to their own madness is paralleled throughout the play. For example, Ophelia, once a witty, steady-minded young woman succumbs to madness after her lover, Hamlet, kills her father, Polonius. After suffering this horrible tragedy, madness overtakes her; she becomes inconsolable, and later she drowns herself in a pond. This idea can also be seen in the character development of Hamlet. In the first three acts, Hamlet’s madness is a strategic act, however, his mental health rapidly deteriorates. By the end of the play he has become at least mentally disturbed, if not legitimately insane.While both fall to insanity, it is important to note the contrast between the different types of madness Ophelia and Hamlet succumb to. Ophelia’s madness is characterized by a lack of understanding about the world around her, manic fits, and singing songs about flowers. On the other hand, Hamlet’s madness is characterized by an increasing lack of reverence for human life, paranoia, and intense mood swings. By contrasting these different types of madness, Shakespeare shows that madness is always dangerous, but in different ways.
This passage expresses the idea that madness is separate from oneself; that you can become victim to your own madness. When one thinks about this in the context of the play as a whole, it is clear to see this idea is central to our understanding of the story. Throughout the play we see examples of characters becoming victims of their own madness.
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