English 30 Shakespeare
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 wind...."2
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 thing.
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
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.
1 - Act 2 Scene 2
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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