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Is Hamlet Really Insane?

Is a person really ever mad? Or are their minds so sane it almost seems unreal? The human mind works in many ways; it is full of wonders and abilities not common to men themselves. Shakespeare’s Hamlet portrays Hamlet’s main character to be an insane individual in certain parts of the play. When his father’s ghost appears, forcing Hamlet to avenge his death against his uncle Claudius, he brings forth a plan to make it seem like he has gone mad, liberating him from public questioning and giving him time to seek revenge. However, it is questioned that within all the plotting and pretending to be insane; Hamlet really does indeed go mad. Hamlet’s focus on seeking revenge makes him a good actor because he really makes others believe he has gone mad. However, he is completely sane throughout the entire play.

His intelligence to convince others he is crazy, his will to keep going, and his obsession with getting revenge on Claudius make Hamlet such a convincing character; it triggers the thought of his actual state. Intelligence can be measured in a variety of different ways. Some individuals use their intelligence to help people, and others use it against people. Hamlet, being a brilliant man, uses his intelligence for his benefit to go against others, such as his uncle Claudius. At the beginning of the play, Hamlet plans to act insane to distract Claudius, making him believe he has gone mad. Doing this liberates Hamlet from questionings and interruptions from others in the castle, for they will ignore him and his insanity. “As I perchance hereafter shall think to meet/ To put an antic disposition on” (1.5.189-190). This quote describes Hamlet’s plan to act crazy; only Horatio and Marcellus know this because they were with him when the late king (Hamlet’s father) appears.

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This proves his intelligence by stating he will only be play-acting his madness and ensuring he has someone who knows the truth for security matters. Although Hamlet might seem very much insane, it is enough to make someone believe he has indeed gone mad. However, he plays the act very well. For example, when he argues with Gertrude (His Mother) about her remarriage to Claudius, he sees the ghost and quickly returns to his sanity state. “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.” (3.4.159-162). Here Hamlet is telling Gertrude to believe him when he says he is not crazy. This proves Hamlet’s intelligence because he can quickly go from an insane to a normal state, which a mentally challenged mind could not do.

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Will power is what keeps the mind going and focused on one’s goal. In Hamlet, the protagonist’s only goal is to kill the current king, his uncle Claudius. Throughout the play, Hamlet sets out to find proof that Claudius did indeed poison his father. He sets various traps throughout the scenes to see if he can get Claudius to confess. For example, he arranges a play for the king and queen’s entertainment; furthermore, he adds a scene in the play, re-enacting the murder. However, after he attempts to kill Claudius backfire, he decides to give up and go back to England. Along the way, he runs into Fortinbras (prince of Norway), who is on his way to Denmark to fight over a small plot of land that isn’t worth much. “Go to their graves like beds, fight for a plot/ Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause, / Which is not tombed enough and continent/ To hide the slain? O, from this time forth/ My thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth!” (4.4.64-68). This brings back Hamlet’s will to keep going and seek his revenge.

Hamlet’s state of mind is sane throughout this scene, and he shows he can think clearly, which is something an insane person could not do. Rather than going back to fight, an insane individual would lose concentration on their past struggles and focus on the coming events, which would be England. This benefits Hamlet because he gets a second chance to kill Claudius, who he, later on, discovers sent him to be executed upon his arrival in England. Lastly, an obsession can be dangerous because it can negatively change an individual. Hamlet’s obsession with revenge tends to go overboard, reaching and going into the climax of the play.” Thou wretched rash, intruding fool, farewell!” (3.4.38); when he kills Polonius, Hamlet shows no signs of remorse for what he has done. Instead, he states that Polonius was a snitch and bids him farewell, thus stating he is too focused on his plan to worry about anyone else. Although Hamlet might not be mad, he does show an overdose of focus on killing Claudius and forgets about reality.

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This can also support why everyone finds him insane; he keeps to himself and treats everyone disrespectfully. Unfortunately, there comes the point during his plan where he realizes how much his obsession has affected him. “ I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers/ Could not with all their quantity of love/ Make up my sum. What wilt thou do for her?” (5.1.280-282). In this quote, Hamlet is stating his love for Ophelia at her grave. Ophelia shows Hamlet love and compassion; however, Hamlet turns her down due to his plan and act of insanity. When Hamlet phrases his love towards her, he portrays his regret for not loving her back sooner. This does not benefit him all that much. However, it does persuade him to fight Laertes, kill Claudius and die himself in the end, showing the final part of his plan and his dying as a tragic hero. Hamlet’s “so-called” insanity is a product of his obsession, making him seem mad. However, he is very much sane, manipulating the scenario to get his way in the end and showing his skilled acting.

In conclusion, Hamlet is not insane. He knows exactly what he is doing the whole time and successfully gets revenge on Claudius for his father’s murder. His intelligence helps him set up a plan to start his revenge, makes it seem like he is mad, yet shows that he is not too certain people he trusts (Horatio, Gertrude). He has the will to keep proceeding with his plan until the end, knowing he can die, seeing the results of his obsession and regretting certain decisions he may have made; For example, turning down Ophelia’s love. An insane person cannot think the way Hamlet does, making decisions and preceding his goals calmly and with clarity. Hamlet play-acts his insanity throughout the playmaking him a good actor and being completely sane.

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  • Saliani, Dom, Chris Ferguson, and Dr.Tim Scott, eds. The Global Shakespeare Series: The Tragedy of Hamlet with Related Readings. Toronto: International Thomson Publishing, 1997. 11-140. Print.

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Is Hamlet Really Insane?. (2021, Aug 25). Retrieved December 1, 2022, from