Hamlets Madness





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Chris Williams
Mrs. Percy/Mr. Kinnie
ENG-OA1-01
20 October 2000
Is Hamlet Mad? Not Likely
Madness is a condition of the mind which eliminates all rational thought leaving an
individual with no proper conception of what is happening around him/her. Madness
typically occurs in the minds of individuals that have experienced an event or series of
events that their mind simply cannot cope with and, thus, to avoid their harsh reality, they
fall into a state of madness. In William Shakespeare’s masterpiece Hamlet, there is much
debate around the protagonist, Hamlet, and whether or not his madness in the play was
real or feigned. It was a disastrous time in the prince, Hamlet’s life as his father had just
passed away, his uncle then took the kingship and wed Hamlet’s mother, then the ghost of
his deceased father appeared to him with instructions for revenge and, finally, the love of
his life was no longer permitted to see the prince by order of the lady’s father. This would
seem to many to be reason enough for an individual to lose touch with reality and fall into
madness, but this was not the case with the brilliant strong-minded Hamlet. Though the
prince displayed numerous signs of madness during the play, Hamlet never lost touch with
reality as he continued acting rational both in his thoughts as well as while speaking with
certain individuals. If Hamlet were truthfully insane, he would not have been able to
suddenly stop displaying his insanity as he did in the play after his altercation with Laertes
in the graveyard. He also had motive for putting on the contrivance as it would disguise
his investigation of his father’s strange death and his plans for revenge against his uncle
Claudius if he found him to be guilty.
After Hamlet witnessed the appearance of his dead father’s ghost and heard what
the spirit had to say, Hamlet’s sole mission in life was to uncover the truth behind his
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father’s death and avenge it accordingly. By putting on this scheme it would serve him
better on his quest as opposed to going about his business in a sane and rational manner.
Firstly, it allowed Hamlet to confuse those around him about what the cause of his
troubled mind was and, also, about what his true intentions are behind any of his actions.
This thought is portrayed through Hamlet deceiving Polonius into believing that his love
for Ophelia was the root of his madness. Consequently, Polonius went immediately to the
king and queen who remark: “Do you think ‘tis this? / It may be; very like” (2.2.151-52).
After Hamlet’s encounter with the ghost, he obtains a great distrust and distaste for
women. His feigned madness permitted Hamlet to express these emotions freely towards
Ophelia: “...Get thee to a nunnery, / farewell. Or if thou wilt needs marry, marry a / fool;
for wise men know well enough what monsters / you make of them...” (3.1.138-41). It
was also important for Hamlet to be so vulgar towards Ophelia because it would not have
been possible for him to continue being a caring loving boyfriend while attempting to
avenge his father’s death. Lastly, by pretending to be mentally disturbed, it provided
Hamlet with an excuse for any sinful deeds he would commit on his pursuit of revenge.
Hamlet exemplifies this conception as he seeks for Laertes forgiveness for murdering his
father Polonius: “If Hamlet from himself be ta’en away, / And when he’s not himself does
wrong Laertes, / Then Hamlet does it not, Hamlet denies it. / Who does it then? His
madness...” (5.2.230-33). Hamlet’s pursuit of the truth and revenge was much better
accompanied by madness rather than sanity which gave Hamlet a clear motive to fabricate
insanity in the play.
In the midst of Hamlet’s supposed madness, the prince continues to speak
rationally with certain individuals as well as maintain sensible and logical thoughts. This
idea is depicted through his conversations with his good friend Horatio who is assisting
Hamlet in his search for the truth behind Old Hamlet’s death. For example, before the
performance of the play Hamlet explains to Horatio, “There is a play tonight before the
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king: / One scene of it comes near the circumstance / Which I have told thee of my
father’s death. / I prithee, when thou seest that act afoot, / Even with the very comment of
thy soul / Observe my uncle. If his occulted guilt / Do not itself unkennel in one speech, /
It is a damned