Madness DefinedAccording to http://www.dictionary.com/, madness is defined as:
1. The state of being mad; insanity.
2. Senseless folly
3. Frenzy; rage
4. Intense excitement or enthusiasm.
As you can tell by the definition, madness fits the description when talking about characters in this play such as Hamlet and Ophelia. At some points in the play both characters are seen as being in frenzied rages (Such as in several scenes for Hamlet) or in an intense form of excitement or enthusiasm (Ophelia in some scenes also).
Why Madness?One of the main questions everyone is probably asking at this point is; why all this talk of madness concerning the play Hamlet? Why did Shakespeare choose to incorporate this theme into two of his characters in this play? What purpose does it have?
One of the theories that I had about this is that madness is important to the overall plot of the play because it keeps the readers entertained. Seeing madness in Shakesperian literature might make the reader more inclined to read it because it is entertaining to see other people acting in a silly, spontaneously immature manner. However, once you think about it, there's got to be a better reason than that for Shakespeare to use madness in an otherwise seriously-natured tragedy.
Another theory that can be presented on the subject as to the importance of madness to the plot of Shakespeare can depend on the character. Take Hamlet for example. Why is Hamlet's madness important to the plot? Well firstly, we know that his original plan at the beginning of the play was to "pretend" to be mentally insane and present this as such to others such as Claudius. Why? So that he wouldn't appear to be a genuine threat to Cladius' ruling as king. However, he tells other characters such as Guildenstern, Rozencrantz, and Gertude that his madness is fake, which somewhat ruins his plans to kill Cladius and avenge his father's murder. However, in an ironic plot twist, Hamlet succumbs to being overly passionate about Ophelia, another mad character in the play, and turns to true madness in the end. Madness is key to the play's plot overall because it is caused by Hamlet's tragic flaw (of course he IS the tragic hero of this story) that causes his tragic downfall and eventual death in the end.
Insane Plot LinesAs I mentioned earlier, madness relates to the plot of this Shakesperian tragedy in several ways. It relates to Hamlet because in the end his tragic flaw leads him from acting mad to actually becoming mad. On the other hand, Ophelia's madness is driven by the murder of her father Polonious. In the end, what both characters have in common regarding this theme is that they both are overcome by passions that cause them madness and this passion-driven madness leads to both characters eventual death in the play. Below I will attempt to illustrate how madness relates to the play with a diagram:
Character being blinded by passion = Loss of ability to reason = Driven to madness = Eventual death
As you can see, this sequence is very specific to both Hamlet and Ophelia, who both share common traits and both eventually wind up dying the same way in the end. Shakespeare's reason for making both these characters mad is to demonstrate to his readers that being overly passionate can make one lose their ability to make rational decisions and therefore it will eat away at them and lead them to their downfall. In fact, ironically enough, Hamlet himself once said of Horatio, another character in the play, that he was a perfect mixture of passion and reason, and that the description of a "great man" was someone who could balance both passion and reason. This is a tad ironic because, although he states this, this very flaw becomes Hamlet's achille's heel in the end when he winds up dying.