Was Hamlet mad? This is the most asked question regarding The Tragedy of Hamlet. There are many valid reasons to justify that Hamlet was insane, but more examples of Hamlet’s sanity could be found. Therefore, Hamlet was mad, but only in contemporary terms. Of the numerous examples of rationality, there were three most convincing; the reasoning of Hamlet’s crazy appearance, Hamlet’s alternating soundness around the different characters, and Hamlet’s madness compared to true madness. Surprisingly, the novel displays Hamlet as one of the most sensible characters.
From the start of the play, Hamlet could be perceived as a maverick. The reasoning to this was due to an incident involving his mother, Queen Gertrude, and his uncle, King Claudius. During the play’s opening, an apparition of Hamlet’s father, Old Hamlet, confronted Prince Hamlet with a description of its death as a mortal. In its explanation, the newly appointed King Claudius, Old Hamlet’s brother, had assassinated Old Hamlet in order to marry Queen Gertrude and become the new king. This had set forth a goal for Hamlet, to avenge his father’s death. But he did not want to directly approach this conclusion without any substantiation. Consequently, Hamlet decides that the best way to learn the truth, without being fully criticized by others, would be by acting illogically while announcing statements that would confirm King Claudius’s actions. Evidence of this in the novel is when Hamlet states to his friends Horatio and Marcellus, “I perchance hereafter shall think meet / to put an antic disposition on” (1.5.171-172). In the course of swearing them to secrecy about the Ghost, Hamlet adds that they cannot so much as hint that they know anything, even if he should act strange or odd. Other characters could sometimes notice that this madness was artificial. Polonius was one of these characters, as observed when he says, “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t” (2.2.205-206). Polonius revealed this to himself when he was in the midst seeing for himself whether the Prince really was crazy, or if there was reasoning to his erratic behavior. Towards the end of the play, King Claudius even confesses that Hamlet’s “actions although strange, do not appear to stem from madness” (3.1.165-167). For those reasons, Hamlet can immediately be recognized to have a normal mental condition.
Madness cannot be performed, or displayed at certain times; to be mad, one must always be mad. Hamlet’s madness only manifests itself when he is in the presence of certain characters. When Hamlet is around Polonius, Claudius, Gertrude, Ophelia, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern, he behaves irrationally. This is, in all likelihood, because these characters would be the most critical of the Princes accusations, so he wanted to have insurance by acting illogically. When Hamlet is around Horatio, Bernardo, Francisco, The Players, and the Gravediggers, he behaves rationally. This is due to the fact that these characters either knew the reasoning to his feigned madness, or they had not the slightest idea of the Prince’s actions towards anyone else but themselves. This evidence is the most persuasive determinate of the truth in Hamlet’s madness.
A comparison of Hamlet’s presented madness to genuine madness also helps distinguish his rationality. The manner in which Hamlet displays madness is in no way related to that of Ophelia, who, near the end of the play, has an uncontrollable idiocy. First of all, Hamlet possesses a normal physical appearance during the play and had been able to control his urges. While on the other hand, Ophelia’s face had become flushed and her body movement harmful. She eventually needed to be constricted by a straightjacket. All in all, Hamlet’s madness in no way reflects Ophelia’s true madness, his actions actually contrast them. Also, Hamlet believes in his sanity at all times. He never doubts his control over psyche.
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