Hamlet Insane No





"I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw" (II.ii.376-7). This is a classic example of the "wild and whirling words" (I.v.134) with which Hamlet hopes to persuade people to believe that he is mad. These words, however, prove that beneath his "antic disposition," Hamlet is very sane indeed. Beneath his strange choice of imagery involving points of the compass, the weather, and hunting birds, he is announcing that he is calculatedly choosing the times when to appear mad. Hamlet is saying that he knows a hunting hawk from a hunted "handsaw" or heron, in other words, that, very far form being mad, he is perfectly capable of recognizing his enemies. Hamlet\'s madness was faked for a purpose. He warned his friends he intended to fake madness, but Gertrude as well as Claudius saw through it, and even the slightly dull-witted Polonius was suspicious. His public face is one of insanity but, in his private moments of soliloquy, through his confidences to Horatio, and in his careful plans of action, we see that his madness is assumed.

After the Ghost\'s first appearance to Hamlet, Hamlet decides that when he finds it suitable or advantageous to him, he will put on a mask of madness so to speak. He confides to Horatio that when he finds the occasion appropriate, he will "put an antic disposition on" (I.v.173). This strategy gives Hamlet a chance to find proof of Claudius\'s guilt and to contemplate his revenge tactic. Although he has sworn to avenge his father\'s murder, he is not sure of the Ghost\'s origins: "The spirit that I have seen / May be the devil" (II.ii.596-7). He uses his apparent madness as a delaying tactic to buy time in which to discover whether the Ghost\'s tale of murder is true and to decide how to handle the situation. At the same time, he wants to appear unthreatening and harmless so that people will divulge information to him, much in the same way that an adult will talk about an important secret in the presence of a young child. To convince everyone of his madness, Hamlet spends many hours walking back and forth alone in the lobby, speaking those "wild and whirling words" which make little sense on the surface but in fact carry a meaningful subtext. When asked if he recognizes Polonius, Hamlet promptly replies, "Excellent well; you are a fishmonger" (II.ii.172). Although the response seems crazy since a fish-seller would look completely unlike the expensively dressed lord Polonius, Hamlet is actually criticizing Polonius for his management of Ophelia, since "fishmonger" is Elizabethan slang for "pimp." He plays mind-games with Polonius, getting him in crazy talk to agree first that a cloud looks like a camel, then a weasel and finally a whale, and in a very sane aside, he then comments that "[t]hey fool me to the top of my bent" (III.ii.375). Although he appears to have lost touch with reality, he keeps reminding us that he is not at all "far gone, far gone" (II.ii.187) as Polonius claims, but is in fact very much in command of himself and the situation.

With his rantings and ravings and his seemingly useless pacing of the lobby, Hamlet manages to appear quite mad. The naïve and trusting Ophelia believes in and is devastated by what she sees as his downfall: " O, what a noble mind is here o\'erthrown! / . . . The expectancy and rose of the fair state / . . . quite, quite down!" (III.i.152,4,6). Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are also fully convinced. They are Hamlet\'s equals in age but are far inferior in intellect and therefore don\'t understand that he is faking. However, although Hamlet manages to convince these simple friends and Ophelia of his insanity, other characters in the play such as Claudius, Gertrude and even Polonius eventually see through his behavior. Claudius is constantly on his guard because of his guilty conscience and he therefore recognizes that Hamlet is faking. The king is suspicious of Hamlet from the very beginning. He denies Hamlet permission to return to university so that he can keep an eye on him close by. When Hamlet starts acting strangely, Claudius gets all the more suspicious