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Hamlet’s Noble Performance

Madness is a condition of the mind, which eliminates all rational thought, leaving the mind without accurate conception of events surrounding it. In William Shakespeare’s masterpiece Hamlet, there are many debates surrounding the protagonist character, Hamlet, and whether or not his madness is real or feigned. Many aspects of Hamlet’s demeanor support the loss of control in his actions, while other parts uphold his mental ability. The issue can be discussed both ways and can collectively provide significant support to either theory. Throughout the play, there are indications shown through Hamlet’s words and actions that question his mind’s well being.

It was a disastrous and overwhelming time for Hamlet. His father had just passed away, his uncle had taken his kingship by wedding his mother, and then the ghost of his deceased father appears to Hamlet with the news that Claudius had murdered him and that he wanted Hamlet to avenge his death. Furthermore, the love of his life, Ophelia, is instructed by her father, Polonius, to never see Hamlet again. “Do not believe his vows; for they are brokers” are the words that Polonius uses to persuade Ophelia that Hamlet is not true to his words (Act I, Scene III, line 17). This would seem to be reason enough for anyone to turn mad, but this was not the case for a brilliant and strong-minded individual like Hamlet.

Hamlet’s mood is altered throughout the play. Hamlet appears to act mad when his is informed that his father was murdered, by speaking “wild and whirling” words when he says, “Why, right, you are in the right. And so, without more circumstance at all, I hold it fit that we shake hands and part…” (Act 1, Scene V, lines 17-1). It seems as if there are two Hamlets present throughout the play, one that is sensitive and an ideal prince, and quite opposite, one that appears to be an insane madman, who from an explosion of rage slays Polonius with no feeling of regret. Then after Hamlet murders Polonius, he refuses to tell anyone where his body is. Instead, he assumes his contradictory state, which most everyone around him perceives as madness. “Not where he eats, but where ‘a is eaten. A certain convocation of political worms a e’en at him” (Act IV, Scene III, lines 0-1). Furthermore, Hamlet proceeds to tell Larates that he killed his father in a fit of madness. “That might our nature, honour and exception, Roughly awake, I here proclaim was madness” (Act V, Scene II, lines 0-04).


Hamlet’s erratic behavior toward Ophelia is inconsistent throughout the play. He jumps into Ophelia’s grave, where he ends up in a fight with Laertes. During the fight with Laertes, Hamlet professes how much he loves Ophelia when he proclaims that, “Forty thousand brothers could not, with all their quality of love, make up my sum” (Act V, Scene I, lines 7-8). This proclamation seems quite odd considering he told Ophelia that he never loved her when she returns his letters and gifts.

Hamlet has a violent outburst toward his mother when he sees his father’s ghost and his mother does not. During this scene Hamlet appears to be irrational and silly. “On him, on him! Look you how pale he glares! His form and cause conjoined, preaching to stones would make them capable” (Act III, Scene IV, lines 16-18). Perhaps he feels insane given that every other time he had seen his father’s ghost, someone else had seen it too.

Persistent supporting factors that argue Hamlet’s sanity are shown throughout the play, which all seem to compromise his madness. Hamlet tells Horatio that he is going to feign madness and that if Horatio notices any strange behavior from him, it is because he is putting on an act. Hamlet also tells his mother that he is not mad, “but mad in craft” (Act III, Scene IV, line18).

More contradicting evidence about Hamlet’s sanity is that his madness only surfaces when he is in the presence of certain characters. When he is around Polonius, Claudius, Gertrude, Ophelia, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, he acts irrational and mad. However, when Hamlet is in the presence of Horatio, Bernardo, Francisco, the Players, and the Gravediggers, he behaves normal.

Other characters confess that Hamlet’s actions are still strange, and debate whether his insanity is authentic or not. Claudius confesses that Hamlet’s actions “though it lack’d form a little, was not like madness” (Act III, Scene I, lines 154-155). Claudius then proceeds to tell Polonius that

There’s something in his soul, O’er which his melancholy sits on brood; and I do doubt the hatch and the disclose will be some danger which for to prevent, I have quick determination. (Act III, Scene I, lines 156-160)

Polonius admits that he feels that Hamlet’s actions and words have a method to them and that they appear to have a reason behind them which is logical in nature. “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t” (Act II, Scene II, line 00).

Whether Hamlet was sane or insane is answered nonchalantly throughout the play. Since it is somewhat agreeable that Ophelia was crazy, it is possible to use her character to validate my argument that Hamlet was sane. Hamlet and Ophelia both shared premeditated thought patterns, such as Ophelia’s singing and Hamlet’s verbal attacks. Quite interestingly enough, Hamlet did not shout harsh remarks before he died, while Ophelia had, on the other hand, sung floating down the river! They both seemed to share the same calmness before both of their deaths. If Hamlet were mad, like Ophelia seemed to be, he would have remained hectic and violent in words up until the time and after the duel. In fact, Hamlet even reasoned with what death was for him, finishing his question of whether life was worth living. Hamlet can truly be seen as reasonably sane when he speaks the ever so profound question “To be or not to be” (Act III, Scene I, line 56). The fact that Hamlet was smart and swift in thinking and that Hamlet’s emotions reversed from the death of Polinous to the end only points to the truth that Hamlet was a great performer.


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