Hamlet's Conflict Between Play and Reality

In Shakespeare's Hamlet, Polonius puts forth a simple explanation of insanity, stating that "to define true madness, what is it to be nothing else but mad?" Such a diagnosis is necessary in the court of Denmark, in which the perspective of reality shared by the courtiers cannot accommodate Hamlet's reactions to a distinctly different reality. The entire world is caught up in a massive charade of nobility and honor created to shield its players from the cruel realities of their circumstance and protect them from the schism between emotion and expectation. It is Hamlet's inability to act and his intolerance for actors that cause him to be labeled as mad. Similarly, he is unable to avenge his father's murder because he knows that to do so would be merely to act out his role in a meaningless drama in which the players lie about their parts. Not only is the society in which he lives artificial, but the terrible sins that he knows have occurred has caused his view of reality to be one utterly void of justice and salvation. While madness is usually thought of as an inability for the individual to accept reality or society, Hamlet's madness is instead the reaction of an acutely sane mind to a society that...

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