Something that stood out to me in Hamlet was the interplay between madness and death. I think there is an obsession with death and mortality in this play, more notably than other works we’ve read. This death obsession is scene most significantly, but not exclusively, in Hamlet and Ophelia.
Hamlet is burdened by his father’s death for a number of reasons, but I think one reason that shouldn’t be overlooked is the realization of his own mortality. He feels as though his father was forgotten, and maybe he worries that he will be forgotten too. I think this existential crisis leads to a lot of the events of the play, and maybe even Hamlet’s performance of madness. During his play, Hamlet says “O heavens, die two months ago and not forgotten yet! Then there’s hope a great man’s memory may outlive his life half a year.” (3.2.18) I think this reflects this obsession that Hamlet has with being the only one still mourning his father, and it suggests that maybe this obsession is larger than grief and has developed into a fear of his own mortality. I see this burden as fear even more than grief, because Hamlet never truly seems sad. He never expresses sadness for his loss, as much as anger at Claudius and his mother, and this obsessive fear of death. Even in his early monologue in 2.2, when Gertrude tells Hamlet to “cast thy nightly colour off,” it seems as though she isn’t aware he is still grieving and just thinks it’s weird that he wears so much black. This to me suggests that Hamlet isn’t truly grieving less than it suggests his mother’s awareness of her son’s feelings. He wears black for show.
Ophelia’s madness shows the view of death and suicide in Shakespearean times. The gravediggers discuss the nature of Ophelia’s death, and the strangeness that she receives a Christian burial, despite drowning herself. I think this raises the question of mental sanity, and whether it would have been viewed in relation to morality. Ophelia is an extremely tragic character, and her madness is really unsettling. I think the question is raised in the play of the nature of this madness, and whether or not she can be accountable for her actions.