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Hamlet’s and Titus’s “Madness” and Its Function

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Madness in its function as a theme in both the works of Hamlet and Titus is a major theme. Madness itself by definition is a mental incapacity that could have been caused by an unmentionable injury. Most of the injuries are internal within the mind of the subject and do not reveal themselves until put in the right set of circumstances such as instances of stress. The Titus and Hamlet stories have been replayed in the form of film as well as in paperback. Their stories are having similar themes of madness that have been expressed in different ways.

Perception of Titus

The movie version of Titus Andronicus sees him as the protagonist. He is the great general quite similar to Maximus Aurelius in the gladiator film, full of dignity and chivalry just returned from war. The people revere and admire their great general and request that he become their king in their time of chaos. He is quite an honorable person, and a loving father. He is the type that sticks to tradition and this is where his weakness lies where he fails to read and adapt to the changing emotional climate around him.

According to the religious ritual, he mercilessly sacrifices the son of the Goth queen. This is the first act that helps tip the dominoes in the order of events. The rest of the events proceed to fall into place after this act. He falls into a madness that rivals that of the great king Lear. The armor that surrounded the world around him and gave him protection is shattered and, thus, he cannot maintain a steady view of the world that he currently is in.

In other words, he became acutely aware of how the world worked and this shatters the confidence he once had in the way that it works. This is the injury that we cannot see and yet manifests itself in the stressful situations that he faces. He once acknowledges in a scene, which would be bittersweet and a bit absurd that the goddess of justice had fled the world. In this respect, he finds a solution in writing letters and strapping them around arrows and shooting them at the heavens in a bid to solicit attention from the gods on the wrongs he experiences.

This leads him to transform his madness into vengeance and he embarks on a path that sees him as a mystery chef. Here, he ends up serving up his enemies in pies and their mother eats these.

Perception of Hamlet in the play

The plot for Hamlet follows a similar path of madness whereby, the death of his father sees the young prince Hamlet return home from studies in Wittenberg to the Danish court. At this time, less than two months had passed since the passing of the king and yet the older brother had taken over things in many ways.

He became the ruler of Denmark and the second husband to Gertrude who is the mother of Hamlet. The prince is quite disturbed by the new turn of events. On the one hand, he is grieving for the death of his father, and on the other, his brother has insulted his memory by marrying his mother. His brother has also taken leadership of the empire. He needed to make sense of the new world he lived in at that time.

Element of madness

The ghost of the dead king appears to Hamlet and tells him that Claudius, Hamlet’s brother, killed him. It tells him to resort to kill him in revenge and avenge the death of the king. In response to this, Hamlet vows not to think of anything else in view of these events. Unfortunately, Hamlet has a wide intellect and this serves to rile his conscience into working against him. He begins to question the righteousness of what he plans to do. On the other hand, he has sworn allegiance to the ghost of the king to execute his revenge.

Thus, he is torn between the two, he decides to feign madness to his brother in order to conceal the true intentions of what he plans to do, and this while he seeks to attain the concrete proof of his guilt. On the other hand, Hamlet shows a romantic interest for Ophelia who is the daughter of Polonius. He advises his daughter to reject the advances of the prince. When he observes the subsequent odd behavior of Hamlet after pursuing Ophelia and this leads him to claim the prince has been turned mad by his love for the woman.

The king distrusts his stepson and in resorts to send two of his friends to Wittenberg in order to discern the true state of mind of Hamlet (Maraden 2). Hamlet is guilt ridden and doubts himself about why he did not execute the agreement that he made with the ghost of his dead father. This leads him to ask a band of thespians to re-enact the death of his old father in front of the new father. Claudius reacts violently and reaffirms the intentions of Hamlet that now willingly plots to assassinate him.

The theme of madness in Hamlet is such that he does not know about it and his mind pulls a veil in front of his eyes thus, he views his actions as quite rational. However, to an objective eye, Hamlet is just reacting as expected to a world that has gone mad. His mother has remarried, but with his older brother. His father is dead, but no one wants to acknowledge that he was alive. It is only rational that he starts hearing voices in the form of the ghost of his dead father and acts in accordance with his consultations with what he sees and hears.

It seems that he has another world that he conceals to himself, one of which is his property and which relates to his suffering from grieving the death of his father. The other thing is that he retains a mild amount of control within this world. At least, in a world where his father’s ghost exists, the feelings brought out are his innermost desires and suspicions about his father’s death. He cannot say all of this within the presence of his elder brother because the real world would not tolerate these notions.



Comparisons between Titus and Hamlet

These notions only had space in his mind where they would thrive undisturbed. Titus is in a similar position by default. It seems that Shakespeare used a similar character trait while plotting out the stories of these two people. They were both of noble character they had been away from their home and were nostalgic of the way things were at their respective homes. It is here where they share their madness as from a similar source.

They both relate in the manner that they both were used to a particular system of change. They were both rigid and slow to adapt which is a defining element in both of their personalities. Suddenly an event happened in both of their worlds that changed everything for them. Their inability to adapt to the situation caused the break from reality because they were not able to deal with it. In response to this, they created their own separate realities where they were able to control events or at the least have their desires receive an audience and all of this happened without their knowledge.

 In the case of Titus, he goes about his duties with the best interest of his loved ones at heart in a way that he feels the world ought to work. The public wants him to rule, but he forfeits the power to give it to Saturninus. He even throws his daughter to be his wife as part of the bargain and in the end, the emperor goes on to marry the prisoner or war, Tamora, whose son he killed (Koumakpai, 75). In the first place, she was the only one in opposition when Titus took it upon himself to slay her son in accordance with the tradition.

She swore revenge and when she got married to the emperor, she was promoted to a very senior position in Rome. It was one of the things, which spelt the end for Titus. At the same time, it was one of the tiny things, which would be termed as extreme changes to his world. Thus, explaining the earlier thesis of this paper.

The inability to change to suit their environment in the characters of Hamlet and Titus was their downfall and led to their madness. If a person who cannot respond to their surroundings with the appropriate adaptation, then when a situation arises that causes great stress, they get mental abuse. This may translate to a break from reality. Some writings of Titus attribute his madness to grief and sorrow that he went through (Davis 44). This sorrow comes from the fate of his sons who died while in battle.

Justification for Titus madness

Their losses to him pierce his heart and soul and remain wounds that remain unseen, but haunt him nonetheless. This punishment is more than which he can take, but he continues to sacrifice for the good of Rome. He experiences further hardships targeting his body and especially his family. His daughter is raped and mutilated and his own hand is cut off (Skubal 130). Not to mention, that his two sons were beheaded and one was banished. Therefore, he has to struggle with feelings of betrayal and shame.

His sons either are dead or considered not a part of the society. On the other hand, his daughter who is the remaining child he has around is defiled and probably will not retain her dignity ever. His family name has been soiled in the process. This is a man that gave so much for the glory of Rome including risking his life in battle and sacrificing one of his sons. In return, Rome made his enemy the wife of the emperor and allowed the defiling of his daughter.

Any person would understand, his break from reality, it was warranted and necessary for his survival in the bottom line. In the film version of the movie Hamlets portrayal by the actor Branagh is quite interesting because Hamlet is indeed mad though he does not see it through his own eyes and his own minds fools him into pretending he was mad to keep him from discovery, which was rather brilliant. In this way, he has to conceal the fact from himself that he was truly mad; however, he was a genuine intellect in the film.

Distinguishing Hamlet from Titus and the theme of tragedy

He still had quite a few wits about him and he probably would not have brought himself to kill himself for the purpose of revenge yet his madness was driving him steadily to a point of self-destruction. The root of his madness seems to stem specifically from his father. Most people would attribute it from the love of the mother, as previous tales would follow. Hamlet does not seem to be overtly oedipal (Anderegg 132). In this case, he would seek out her honor and try to avenge it. Her husband is also her son, which is a major violation and disgrace, which would probably cause shame to her in the first place.

However, he does not do it for her love or he does not show it. He approaches the problem from the angle of the son wanting revenge for his father. Having a little of his wits about him, he collects himself to create a pretense of his madness to divert suspicion away from himself and present himself as harmless. Titus uses the same ploy. The ploy works well for a while to serve the two protagonists purposes. However, it is not as successful in the case of Hamlet.


He only manages to eliminate one of his enemies, the father of Ophelia, Polonius who was against his courtship of Ophelia. He misses his target who was Claudius. On the other hand, Titus experiences some extent of success. He feigns madness by ordering the shooting of arrows into the sky to the Gods to petition their negligence. In response, Tamora arrives at his home with her two sons and they are disguised as the Gods of revenge rape and murder. When he sees this, he begs Tamora to leave him alone with the Gods of rape and murder who were her sons.

He proceeds to have them tied up and gagged. Then he has their throats slit and his daughter collects their blood, which is spilt. He prepares a pastry with their blood, crushed bones, and prepares a pie by baking their heads. This goes on to culminate to the climax. He invites the emperor, his wife Tamora, as well as Lucius and Marcus. He serves Tamora with the flesh of her two sons and kills his daughter to put her put of her misery. He then explains to Tamora what he did and goes on to stab her (Shakespeare Theatre 10).

In response, her husband turns and kills him as a reaction; however, Lucius kill Satarninus himself. Therefore, Lucius assumes the throne. It seems that Titus goal was that of self-destruction like a kamikaze pilot even if he himself was not aware of his plot. His plot for revenge got fuel from his madness and directed toward Tamora and her family for destroying his image of the world. One could say it was his remaining reason to live from all of the tragic happenings in his life.

His want for revenge became tragic because it consumed him completely until there was nothing left. Everything that he would term as part of himself was destroyed in the plot to kill his enemies. Hamlet is much like Titus and is consumed by his need to avenge the death of his father. At the same time, everything he does has a way of coming back to haunt him just as Titus. This includes the killing the father of his love interest even if it was by accident.  The daughter is haunted by the actions that she drowns herself.


Her brother, Laertes sees what she has done, sees the involvement of Hamlet, and plots revenge against him with the help of the king Claudius. In this way, Hamlet differs from Titus because he does not become self destructive to the point that he would knowingly cause his own suicide/ murder. He dies at the hands of another, although, they planned his death the whole time. He is an intellectual rather than a fanatic that wants to play out his revenge at any cost. In this case, the tragedy is that so many people had to die because of feigned or actual madness (Mercer 6).

There is no ghost in Hamlet and so that could be considered as evidence for madness on the part of Hamlet. However, other than that he does not exhibit any signs of insanity. This situation mixed with the hostile environment and paranoia that exists in his brother is enough to set events in motion to end in the deaths of almost everyone involved just as in the tale of Titus Andronicus. Both tales show the effects of their revenge plots as having sad and tragic endings with the deaths of the protagonists as well as their loved ones. 

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