Is Hamlet Mad Essay Research Paper Is

Is Hamlet Mad? Essay, Research Paper Is Hamlet Mad? Perhaps the world’s most famous mental patient, Hamlet’s sanity has been argued over by countless learned scholars for hundreds of years. As a mere

Is Hamlet Mad? Essay, Research Paper

Is Hamlet Mad?

Perhaps the world’s most famous mental patient, Hamlet’s sanity has been

argued over by countless learned scholars for hundreds of years. As a mere

student of advanced-level English Literature, I doubt I can add anything new to

the debate in 2000 words, but I can look at the evidence supporting or

dispelling each argument and come to my own conclusion.

Hamlet is obviously experiencing grief and despair right from the beginning of

the novel, with the death of his father and his uncle’s seizure of the throne

and rapid weddign of Hamlet’s mother, and we can observe his great grief

bordering on irrational suicidal tendencies as early as Act II Sc I, where he

gives his first soliloquy. He cries:

“O that this too too solid flesh would melt,

Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!

Or that the Everlasting had not fixed

His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter!”

Macbeth wants his flesh to dissolve into a dew (”solid” contrasting with “melt”

in the first line), and wishes that God had not forbade suicides from going to

heaven. This is also the first glimpse of another recurring theme in the play,

that of Hamlet’s unhealthy obsession with the afterlife. This is one of the

reasons that the ghost of his father has such an effect on him, which is a

trigger for all the subsequent events in the play.

Moving on to the fourth scene, the next interesting speech is on l. 23. It is a

long and complicated speech, but its general gist is that if a person has one

fault, no matter how virtuous they may be in other ways, they are soiled by “the

stamp of one defect”. This speech is quite ironic, because it is Hamlet’s “one

defect” (his hesitancy and inability to take action), regardless of his other

qualities (such as honour and integrity), will be the main reason why the play

ends so tragically.

Although we are supposed to suspect that “something is rotten in the state of

Denmark”, as Horatio puts it, from the start of the play, it is only when Hamlet

talks with the ghost of his father in Act I Sc V that we realise the full extent

of his uncle’s treachery. When he first sees the ghost, Horatio and Marcellus

try to restrain him, Horatio saying:

“What if it tempt you toward the flood, my lord,

Or to the dreadful summit of the cliff

That beetles o’er his base into the sea,

And there assume some other horrible form,

Which might deprive your sovereignty of reason,

And draw you into madness?”

Horatio is afraid that the ghost will get Hamlet to follow him to a cliff

hanging over the sea, and then change into some other apparition, making Hamlet

lose his mind and his sovereign power of reason. These words are very ironic,

for as a result of seeing the ghost and hearing the dreadful truth about his

father’s murder and mother’s adultery Hamlet says he will put on an “antic

disposition”, telling the others that he will act oddly, but that they musn’t

tell anyone why he is doing so. Hamlet has already told us that he is a man of

thought rather than action (earlier in the play he says that Claudius is as

different to his father “as I to Hercules”), and he is going to act oddly so

that the King doesn’t suspect Hamlet is plotting his downfall. However, Horatio

and Marcellus even now think that Hamlet is acting rather strangely, saying

“These are wild and whirling words, my lord”, and “this is wondrous strange”.

The next passage of interest is in Act II Sc II, when Claudius says to his

Rozencrantz and Guildenstern:

“… Something have you heard

Of Hamlet’s transformation; so call it,

Since nor th’ exterior nor the inward man

Resembles that it was.”

Claudius is keen to talk of Hamlet’s rumoured madness, because he thinks Hamlet

might know something about his treachery and wants to deflect his guilt and

detract from Hamlet’s credibility. To the audience, who have already heard the

ghost’s speech, Claudius seems to be going over the top, saying that he can’t

imagine what has rendered Hamlet mad and going back to childhood reminisces.

This is similar to one of Shakespeare’s other tragedies, Macbeth, where Macbeth

goes weaves all sorts of flowery expressions of grief over a king he himself


In this act, we do not see Hamlet much but are gradually introduced by others to

the notion that he is mad. Different people give different reasons – Polonius

says “… I have found // the very cause of Hamlet’s lunacy”. The Queen thinks

that the only reason is “His father’s death, and our o’erhasty marriage”,

whereas Polonius thinks it is because his daughter rejected Hamlet, after he

himself ordered her to: “I will be brief :Thy noble son is mad. // Mad I call

it.” But by the end of the act, a hint of doubt over Hamlet’s sanity will be

ingrained in the audience’s mind.

The first time we see Hamlet after he decides to put on his “antic disposition”

is later in the scene, when Polonius is sent to find out what he can about him.

Hamlet comes on, and, using his antic disposition as cover, ridicules him:

Polonius: Do you know me, my lord?

Hamlet: Excellent well; you are a fishmonger.

Poloniuse: Not I, my lord.

Hamlet: Then I would you were so honest a man.

Polonius: Honest, my lord?

Hamlet: Ay, sir; to be honest, as this world

goes, is to be one man picked out of ten thousand.

Polonius: That’s very true, my lord.

Hamlet: For if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog,

being a good kissing carrion…Have you a daughter?

Polonius: I have, my lord.

Hamlet: Let her not walk i’ th’ sun. Conception is a

blessing, but not as your daughter can concieve. -

Friend, look to’t.

Even so, there is a purpose behind his ridicule – in this passage he refers to

Polonius’ daughter, and later he mocks Polonius’ age. Polonius realises this:

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t”. But Hamlet has confirmed

Polonius’ suspicions about his daughter being responsible for Hamlet’s descent

into madness for him. Immediately afterwards, when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern

come to talk to him, he mocks them also, and tells them that “I am but mad

north-north-west; when the wind is southernly I know a hawk from a handsaw”,

making sure they go back to the King reporting that he is mad – however, it

should be noted that he is perceptive enough to realise that they are merely the

King’s puppets, and has told them just what they wanted to hear.

The next scene to look at is Act III Sc I. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are

reporting back to the King. He asks:

“And can you, by no drift of circumstance,

Get from him why he puts on this confusion,

Grating so harshly all his days of quiet

With turbulent and dangerous lunacy?

Claudius is desperate to find out why Hamlet is mad, for he is afraid that

Hamlet might have discovered his regicide. Rozencrantz and Guildenstern say

that Hamlet was eager to ask questions, but not so eager to reply. “This is a

crafty madness,” said Guildenstern: they seem to realise that Hamlet has some

purpose to his madness, but they can’t figure out what it is.

Later in the scene, when Ophelia speaks with Hamlet as Claudius and Polonius

listen from behind the arras, Hamlet repeatedly commands her to go to a nunnery,

where she will never be able to marry. I think that this is partially to try

and protect her from the carnage that Hamlet must suspect will ensue when he

eventually takes his revenge, but it is of course interpreted as the ravings of

a madman. Ophelia says “O, what a noble mind is here o’erthrown! // The

courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s eye, tongue, sword… Blasted with ecstasy”,

showing that Hamlet has convinced her about his madness. However, Claudius now

regognises Hamlet’s method (”…what he spake, though it lacked form a little,

// Was not like madness.”). He recognises the danger and orders that Hamlet be

despatched to England, safely out of the way. He ends the scene by saying “It

shall be so; // Madness in great ones must not unwatched go”. Especially if you

happened to have killed their fathers and committed adultery with their wives

The next scene is the play’s performance. Hamlet has asked the players to alter

The Murder Of Gonzago slightly so it reflects the circumstances of his father’s

murder, to see Claudius’ reaction. Hamlet, true to form, acts oddly, this time

making suggestive comments to Ophelia. Both Hamlet and Horatio see the King’s

shocked reaction to the spoken play, and Hamlet at last decides he must take


Polonius tries the same trick as he did with Ophelia in the next scene, but this

time using Gertrude as bait. Hamlet comes to speak with her and scolds her

terribly, then hears Polonius behind the arras and kills him, thinking he was

Claudius. He then is angry that he didn’t kill the King, and he is so frenzied

that the ghost comes in to remind him not to harm his mother. When he starts

talking to the ghost his mother is finally convinced that he has lost his sanity,

and says “alas, he’s mad.” She must be quite frightened by this stage, with

Hamlet adamant that he saw a ghost. “This is the very coinage of your

brain;//This bodiless creation ecstasy // is very cunning in.” (madness is very

good at creating these apparitions), says his mother, who was the last person to

believe that Hamlet is mad. Hamlet replies:

“… It is not madness

That I have uttered; bring me to the test,

And I the matter will re-word which madness

Would gambol from.”

He retorts that he cannot be mad, for he can repeat the substance of what has

taken place which madness would not. “…I essentially am not in madness, // but

mad in craft.” He tells Gertrude there about the antic disposition he has been

putting on, and she seems to believe him. However, when she reports back to the

King she says that “Hamlet in madness hath Polonius slain”, and that he is “mad

as the sea and wind”, although it could well be that she is just trying to

excuse him from his action and doesn’t really believe that he is mad. We then

learn of Ophelia’s descent into madness, then suicide.

The last evidence to consider is Hamlet and Laertes fight in Ophelia’s grave.

All the onlookers are shocked by the spectacle – “This is mere madness; // and

thus awhile the fit will work on him” His mother says, trying to protect him.

So is Hamlet mad? I think if you consider all the evidence, the only conclusion

one can safely come to is that he could not have been mad. Claudius was eager

to prove that Hamlet was mad in order to cast a shadow on any accusations of

foul play Hamlet might make, and Hamlet was eager to act as if he was mad in

order to get closer to Claudius so he could take his revenge for his father’s

murder, although he was not eager enough to take revenge when Claudius was

praying, which probably would have prevented all the carnage at the end, because

of his fascination with the afterlife and belief that Claudius would go straight

to heaven. But although Hamlet was full of grief for his father and anger

towards his uncle and mother, it was not enough to drive him to madness.

Hamlet’s is a thoughtful, calculating personality, not prone to rash acts, and I

think that this was the case here – he could not have been mad.