Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a play about a tragedy that invokes many different ideologies about the meaning of loss and how it goes hand in hand with both madness and grief. Hamlet, throughout the play, portrays the underlying theme of madness and the loss of his father triggers his insanity and he quickly starts to stray farther and farther from reality causing him to ponder suicide and seek revenge, which then sparks concerns from the people around him. It is evident that Hamlet loses his sanity in the play because of the loss of his father and the grief he felt for him, causing him to have delusions and see the ghost of his father, which drives Hamlet to avenge him by killing his uncle, Claudius. Although the theme of loss is clearly depicted in Hamlet, the character, many other characters in the play have experienced a loss of either madness or grief, characters like Laertes, Gertrude, and Claudius. All in all, it is seen that the theme of loss is prominent in the tragic play, and it causes many internal dilemmas within the characters, most notably, Hamlet. It is made abundantly clear that Hamlet was going mad since the beginning of the play when he allegedly saw his father’s ghost and after that, his madness seemed to progress to the point where he cannot distinguish appearance vs. reality. Although, in the beginning, Hamlet had a plan to act insane, so that he could confirm the ghost’s claims about Claudius being the one to murder his father, King Hamlet, it ended with him going crazy and eventually led to his death.
The first indication of Hamlet’s madness was when he was talking to the ghost he says, “haste me to know’t, that I, with wings as swift, as meditation or the thoughts of love, May sweep to my revenge,” (Shakespeare, 1.5.62) which indicates he is in a hurry to find out and seek revenge rather than ask questions like a rational person would, which informs us that this is all in his head because his delusions are forms of his subconscious tasking him with a deed and fulfilling his suspicions. Later on, it is clear he is growing mad and unstable because of his indecisiveness to act on killing Claudius, we see this when he watches Claudius confess, he says,” Now might I do it pat. Now he is a-praying, And now ill do’t. And so he goes to heaven. And so I am revenged, That would be scanned,” (Shakespeare, 3.3.190) which shows just how confused and dazed he is and how his indecisiveness matches the uncertainty of sanity inside Hamlet’s head. As time passes by in the play we see Hamlet kill Polonius and not express any grief towards the murder and Gertrude says, “Mad as the sea and the wind when both contend Which is the mightier. In his lawless fit, Behind the arras hearing something stir, Whips out his rapier, cries, A rat, a rat. And in this brainish apprehension kills The unseen good old man,” (Shakespeare, 4.1.212) when talking to Claudius about the death of Polonius, she says he is gone mad and the fact that Hamlet feels no grief indicates his mind is lost and he has become obsessive with revenge that his mind sees no grief. At this moment we see that he is truly mad and that will be one of his fatal flaws that leads to his downfalls and the downfall of many other characters, like Ophelia and the tragic deaths of the others at the end of the play.
Among the loss of his sanity, Hamlet has also witnessed the loss of the loved ones around him and the theme of death goes hand in hand with the theme of loss. Death is a prominent feature in the whole play, it is seen when Ophelia and Polonius die, it is seen when many of the characters conspire to kill another, Hamlet with Claudius, Claudius with Hamlet, Hamlet with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and the death of King Hamlet by Claudius was the beginning of the end and what set the motion for the events to come that quickly lead Hamlet to insanity and madness. After Claudius’ coronation, Hamlet still seems to be mourning his father’s death and when Gertrude asked him why he is mourning, we got to see how King Hamlet’s death affect Hamlet. ” Seems, madam? Nay it is. I know not seems. Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother, Nor customary suits of solemn black, Nor windy suspiration of forced breath, No, nor the fruitful river in the eye, Nor the dejected havior of the visage, Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief. That can denote me truly. These indeed seem For they are actions that a man might play. But I have that within which passeth show, These but the trappings and the suits of woe,” (Shakespeare, 1.2.24) is the perfect example of the last time Hamlet felt pure sadness, which is indicated by his black clothing that is ridiculed by his mother, Gertrude, that he is upset and he clearly states how his clothes are just a hint at the grief he is truly feeling, we don’t see this type of grief again because he has lost that part of him by being obsessed with murdering his uncle, Claudius, this is proven when he stabs Polonius and does not feel any remorse or guilt and all he says is, “Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell. I took thee for thy better. Take thy fortune. Thou find’st to be too busy is some danger. Leave wringing of your hands. Peace. Sit you down. And let me wring your heart. For so I shall. If it be made of penetrable stuff, If damned custom have not brassed it so. That it is proof and bulwark against sense,” (Shakespeare, 3.4.198) he mistook Polonius for somebody else who may have been important and he does not care at all that he stabbed him.
In conclusion, it is evident how the theme of loss can mean loss of sanity, could mean loss of a loved one and could also be intertwined with other themes such as death, madness, and appearance vs. reality and the impacts they had on Hamlet and the rest of the cast causing them to all tragically die in the end and for Fortinbras to take the kingdom, which had been one of the reasons Claudius killed Hamlet’s father, King Hamlet, in the beginning, which, in turn, was the reason why Hamlet went mad and like a domino effect they all came tumbling down one by one after that one death (that started with King Hamlet). This can be considered quite ironic because the reason Claudius wanted to kill King Hamlet was so that he could take his throne and his wife and have everything his brother had and in the end they all tragically died and Fortinbras descended the throne. This proves the detrimental effects that the theme of loss can have on a person, how it makes you mad and sparks other themes of the play.