by Janet Roberts (Circle 2)
When I first started reading this play, something started kind of niggling at the back of my mind, especially when I came to the scene in Act 3 when Hamlet is confronting his mother about remarrying so quickly and then is (or pretends to be) accosted by his father’s ghost. Up until this point, it’s pretty believable to the audience that Hamlet’s madness is feigned, and we have no reason to believe otherwise because his reasons, as they are revealed to us, seem as logical as they can be. Yet here, we see (or, rather, I saw) a very different side to Hamlet than the calculating decisions made in Acts 1-2 and the clearly disjointed actions and words in Act 4. Here, Hamlet appears to be very deeply disturbed–cutting off his address to his mother completely when simply acknowledging the presence of the ghost would have probably been good enough evidence for madness–beyond the behavior he displays elsewhere. This, of course, is speculation–it’s also entirely possible that the encounter with the ghost is something staged by Hamlet to further his façade from confusion of mind to violent psychosis, thus rationalizing the eventual murder of the King–but nevertheless, it stood out to me as being a deeper kind of breakdown than the rest.
This revelation got me thinking about children from broken homes (that is, from families whose parents are divorced or separated). One of the damaging side effects of divorce to children is the tendency of parents to pit their children against each other, so that the child is forced to choose sides in a fight that is not his or her own. This also sometimes occurs after parents remarry–the child is caught between the mother and Dad’s new girlfriend, etc, etc. Hamlet, despite coming to his dilemma through different circumstances, seems to be similarly plagued. Like the child caught between two parents, Hamlet is caught between the wishes of his dead father and the combined authority of his mother and the new King. To preserve his own freedom by refusing to do away with his uncle would be a direct betrayal to his father–damaging his own legitimacy as his father’s son and failing his father personally. Yet to murder the new king will not only hurt his mother, but also likely send Hamlet to his captivity and eventual demise–the murder will, if all goes as planned, affix to him a label of madness and brand him for captivity; if his feigned madness fails, it will send him immediately to execution as a murderer and traitor to Denmark. In this light, it doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch to read Hamlet’s accosting of his mother as a manifestation of the psychological turmoil of being placed in this position, and by extension, his hatred of her quick marriage to her brother-in-law as (partially) coming from the fact that his lose-lose situation is kind of their fault. I’m interested to see how the rest of the play works out in terms of how Hamlet deals with his challenge.