Hamlet: Madman or Misunderstood
Shakespeare’s tragic hero, Hamlet, and his sanity can arguably be discussed. Many aspects of the play support his loss of control in his actions, while other parts uphold his ability of dramatic art. The issue can be discussed both ways and altogether provide significant support to either theory. Throughout the play, there are indications from Hamlet that question his mind’s well being.
Hamlet’s mood changes abruptly throughout the play. Hamlet appears to act mad when he hears of his father’s murder. At the time he speaks “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 I, scene V, lines 132-139). It seems as if there are two Hamlets in the play, one that is a “sensitive and ideal prince, and insane madman, who from an outburst of passion and rage slays Polonius with no feeling of remorse (Wallace). After Hamlet kills Polonius he will not tell anyone where the body is. Instead, he assumes his ironic state, which others perceive 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 20-21)
jumps into Ophelia’s grave, and fights with Laertes in her grave. During the fight with Laertes in Ophelia’s grave, Hamlet professed how much he loved her when he said, “Forty thousand brothers could not, with all their quantity of love, make up my sum” [Act V, scene I, lines 272- 274). However, Hamlet told her that he never loved her when she returned his letters and gifts while she was still alive. Hamlet subtly hints his awareness of his dissolving sanity as he tells Laertes that he killed Polonius in a fit of rage.
Hamlet had violent outbursts towards his mother. They seemed to be out of jealousy as a result to the Oedipus complex. He alone saw his father’s ghost in his mother’s chambers. Every other time the ghost appeared, someone else had seen it. During this scene he finally shows his insanity when his mother does not see the ghost. “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 129-131).
Throughout the play, there are also supporting factors to argue Hamlet’s sanity. As these details compromise his madness, they in turn balance out his mental state. Hamlet tells Horatio that he is going to assume madness, and that if Horatio notices any strange behavior from Hamlet, it is because he is putting on an act.
Hamlet’s madness in no way reflects Ophelia’s true madness. Instead, his actions contrast them. Hamlet’s madness is only apparent when he is in the presence of certain characters. When Hamlet is around Polonius, Claudius, Gertrude, Ophelia, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, he behaves unreasonably. When Hamlet is in the presence of Horatio, Bernado, Francisco, The Players, and Grave diggers, his actions are sensible.
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, although out of character, do not appear to stem from madness. “And I do doubt the hatch and the disclose will be some danger; which for to prevent, I have in quick determination” (Act III, scene I, lines 165-167). Polonius admits that Hamlet’s actions and words have a method to them. They appear to have a reason behind them and are logical in nature. “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t” (Act II, scene II, line 206).
Hamlet tells his mother “That I essentially am not in madness, but mad in craft” (Act III, scene IV, lines 194-195). Hamlet believes in his sanity at all times. He never doubts his control over his sanity. “Hamlet realizes his flaw as a man of thoughts, rather than a man of actions. His cold act of Polonius’ murder is out of rage and furious temper. He is sorry for it because he has no great compassion towards Polonius, since he already has enough grief over his father’s death”
Hamlet, a tragic hero, did not meet his end because he was sane or insane. He died because of his own tragic flaw of procrastination and grief. Whether he was sane or just lost control of his actions, both theories have sensible support. Hamlet, as seen from the beginning to the end, a prince that was grieve stricken, until a prince of rage and passion, has developed through the stages by his own sanity and madness. Whether or not Hamlet was sane, he still portrayed the role of a mad man when he lost control of his actions.