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Hamlet: Was He Mad? Essay, Research Paper

Hamlet: Was He Mad?

For centuries, scholars have been debating the issue on whether Hamlet – the

prince of William Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet – was mad. This question is not

as easy as it sounds to answer; this is due to the fact that there are numerous

arguments to support both sides of the issue. For many reasons, it is easy to

believe that Hamlet was indeed mad. After all, Hamlet’s behavior throughout most

of the play is extremely erratic and violent. However, there is another way to

look at his actions; there are indications within the play that there was

actually a method in his madness, suggesting that he was not mad at all.

One of the major arguments that Hamlet was mad, was his erratic and violent

behavior in many parts of the play. His erratic behavior is especially evident

in his conversation with Ophelia:

Hamlet: …I could accuse me of such things that it were better

my mother had not borne me: I am very proud,

revengeful, ambitious, with more offenses at my beck

than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to

give them shape, or time to act them in. What should

such fellows as I do crawling between heaven and

earth! We are arrant knaves, all; believe none of us…

* Act 3 Scene 1

One minute Hamlet tells Ophelia that ?I did love you once.?1 Then in his next

line he says ?I loved you not.?2 This quick change in moods suggests that he

was mad.

Hamlet: Nay, but to live

In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed,

Stew’d in corruption, honeying and making love

Over the nasty sty-

1 – Act 3, Scene 1

2 – Act 3, Scene 1

Queen: O, speak to me no more;

These words like daggers enter in my ears.

No more, sweet Hamlet.

*Act 3 Scene 4

This excerpt is from Hamlet’s conversation with his mother after he lays his

trap down on Claudius. He speaks with such anger and wrath that his own mother

fears him and screams for help. Consequently, Polonius who is hiding behind the

curtains screams for help, and Hamlet stabs him thinking that he had caught

Claudius spying on him.

Hamlet: 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…

*Act 3 Scene 4

Throughout this whole scene Hamlet seems mad: the rage he expresses towards his

mother, he killed Polonius in a ?fit of madness’, and also when Hamlet seniors

ghost appears to him. This is the point in the play when Hamlet seems the most

mad. In all of the other instances, everyone was able to see the ghost; but in

this scene the ghost can only be seen by Hamlet. When Hamlet starts speaking to

the ghost even his mother thinks that he is mad: ?This is the very coinage of

your brain: This bodiless creation ecstasy is very cunning in.?1 When the queen

reports this deed to Claudius, she sates the he was: ?Mad as the sea and


When Hamlet goes before Claudius to confess for the murder of Polonius, he

refuses to tell where the body went, and seems to make a joke out of the whole


Claudius: Now, Hamlet, where’s Polonius?

Hamlet: At supper.

Claudius:At supper! Where?

Hamlet: Not where he eats, but where he is eaten: a certain

convocation of politic worms are e’en at him…

Hamlet: A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a

king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.

*Act 4 Scene 3

1 – Act 3 Scene 4 2 – Act 4 Scene 1

Even when telling Claudius where the body was, he seemed to take the whole

incident as a joke. ?…You shall nose him as you go up the stairs into the

lobby.?1 ?He will stay till you come.?1

Hamlet’s madness is not only evident in his actions and words, but

sometimes in his thoughts. During Hamlet’s first soliloquy, he expresses deep

anger and resentment against his father’s death and his mother’s hasty

remarriage to his uncle.

Hamlet:O, that this too too-solid flesh would melt,

Thaw, and resolve itself into dew!

Or that the Everlasting had not fix’d

His cannon ?gainst self-slaughter! God! O God!

How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable profitable

Seem to me all the uses of this world!…

*Act 1 Scene 2

All of the incidents outlined above are indications that Hamlet was indeed

mad. However, there are also many occasions in which Hamlet’s behavior was

completely sane, and infact show there was a method to his madness. Near the

beginning of the play, after Hamlet sees the ghost of his father, he even tells

his only friend and confident, Horatio, that he is going to put an act of

madness on.

Hamlet: Here, as before, never, so help you mercy,

How strange or odd soe’er I bear myself,

As I perchance hereafter shall think meet

To put antic disposition on,…

*Act 1 Scene 5

Polonius recognizes that his madness seems to be some sort of act after speaking

to Hamlet in Act Polonius: Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.

How pregnant sometimes his replies are! a happiness

that often madness hits on, which reason and sanity could not so

prosperously be delivered of.

*Act 2 Scene 2

1 – Act 4 Scene 3

In the same seen Hamlet finds out that his two friends Rosencrantz and

Guildenstern are spying on him for the king and queen. In this passage he tells

them: ?You are welcome: but my uncle-father and aunt-mother are decieved.?1 Here

he is hinting to them that he is deceiving the king and queen into believing

that he is mad. He then admits to them that his madness is just an act: ?I am

but mad north-north-west: when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a

handsaw.?1 However, Claudius is not so easily deceived. When Polonius and

Claudius spy on Hamlet when he is talking to Ophelia, Claudius admits that

Hamlet’s words, although strange do not stem from madness: ?Love! his affections

do not that way tend; Nor what he spake, though it lack’d form a little, was not

like madness.? Another instance where Hamlet admits his sanity is when he is

speaking with his mother in Act 3 Scene 4. After Hamlet sees the ghost, the

queen proclaims that he must be mad, because she could not see the ghost. But

after the ghost leaves, Hamlet confesses to his mother that he is indeed sane,

but he convinces her to tell Claudius otherwise.

Hamlet: My pulse, as yours, does temperately keep time,

And makes as healthful music: it is not madness

That I have utter’d: bring me to the test,

And I the matter will re-word, which madness

Would gambol from…

…That I essentially am not in madness,

But mad in craft…

*Act 3 Scene 4

Each of the incidents mentioned before are good evidence of Hamlet’s sanity.

On several occasions, he himself admitted that his madness was only a mask.

Polonius and Claudius even recognized that there seemed to be method in his

actions. Notice, when you read this play, that Hamlet’s behavior changes

abruptly when he is around different characters as well. He appears only to act

insane around characters like Claudius, Polonius, Gertrude, Ophelia, Rosencrantz,

Guildenstern, and Laertes. When by himself, Hamlet appeared very depressed and

angry, but in no sense mad. His behavior was also quite normal when he was

around characters such as Horatio, Bernardo, Francisco, the actors, and the

grave-diggers. All of this evidence suggests that Hamlet was not mad.

Now, to answer the question: Was Hamlet mad? As you can see, this question

is not so easily answered. There are almost equally good points for both sides

of the question. After reading Hamlet the first time, I concluded that he must

have been mad. After all, his behavior through a good part of the play is very

erratic and violent, and generally the actions of a mad-man. However, I found

after digging deeper into Hamlet’s psyche, that he was perfectly sane and very

intelligent. This is evident on several occasions where Hamlet admits to others

that his madness was just a fascaute. More evidence that he was sane, was the

fact that Polonius and Claudius both noticed that there was more to Hamlet’s

words and action than meet the eye. Sure, Hamlet’s actions throughout the play

make him seem mad, but in reality, this madness was just a tactic of his in his

plan to get revenge for his father’s wrongful death. So, to answer the question

Hamlet – the prince of William Shakespeare’s tragedy, Hamlet – mad? No.


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