Thursday, November 13, 2014

Is There a Method to Hamlet's Madness?

by Sanchez C.

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in 't – Hamlet. Act 2, scene 2.

Throughout Hamlet, many characters question if Hamlet is going insane. The suspicion of Hamlet's insanity starts in act 2 scene 1, when Ophelia talk to her father Polonius, describing what a scare Hamlet gave her, when he ran into her room, pale and messy-looking “And with a look so piteous in purport/As if he had been loosed out of hell”(act 2 scene 1, line 82-83). She describes. Polonius, being a concerned father to a teenage girl, comes up with a very plausible conclusion: “Mad for thy love?”( act 2 scene 1, line 85), he questions Ophelia. As readers, we know this to be incorrect. Hamlet just saw a ghost, he's probably not going to worried about his romantic troubles with Ophelia. Polonius, of course, doesn't know this and decides to bring this to the attention of Claudius, the king.

In act 2 scene 2, Claudius, the king and Hamlet's “father-uncle” has been informed of the matter, and thinks that Hamlet's “madness” is being caused from his father's recent death. So Claudius sends for Hamlet's two old friends, Guildenstern and Rosencrantz to try and cheer Hamlet up. After they leave, Polonius comes to Claudius and states his theory about Hamlet's insanity: he tells Claudius that he told Ophelia to dump Hamlet because she was out of his league, “Lord Hamlet is a prince out thy star/ This must not be”(act 2 scene 2, line 142-143) and that's why he thinks Hamlet is depressed and therefore acting mad.

So in order to test this theory, Claudius and Polonius arrange a “chance” meeting between Ophelia and Hamlet. And of course, their theory proves to be incorrect. Hamlet approaches Ophelia, telling her that he didn't love her and hypocritically blames her for being promiscuous. After Hamlet leaves Ophelia, Claudius comes to the conclusion that “Love? His affections do not that way tend.../There's something in his soul/O'er which his melancholy sits on brood” (act 3 scene 1, line 162 and 164-165). Polonius disagrees, and still sticks to what he thought before. 

Throughout Hamlet, Hamlet seems to get more and more insane. At first we see that he is dealing with the grief and frustration of losing his father and having his mother have that relationship with his uncle. “He was a man. Take him for all in all./I shall not look upon his like again”(act 1 scene 2, line 186-187). But after Hamlet sees his father's ghost, he starts becoming paranoid and progressively insane.  When Hamlet puts on the play for his father-uncle Claudius, you can see just how out of it he really is. He insults his mother, and then pretends that everything is jolly and great when his play is shut down, after Claudius leaves in fear and probably anger. Also when he goes to his mother's bedroom and coerces her to face her wrongdoings.“Come, come and sit you down. You shall not/ budge./You go not till I set you up a glass/Where you may see the inmost part of you” (act 3 scene 4, line 18-21). Of course, the argument could be made that Hamlet's insanity is feigned, due to the fact that he tells his mother in the same scene, that he is “...essentially am not in madness/But mad in craft” (act 3 scene 4, line 187-188). What is the correct opinion? You decide.


  1. Hamlet definitely acts like a crazy person... I personally think he is too calculated to be insane. I think that he is just not a nice person who is obsessed with vengeance. Maybe obsession is a form of insanity...

  2. Hamlet was NOT crazy. He just wanted revenge on his uncle after seeing the ghost.

    But he was procrastinating so then he was killed by Laertes (for false reasons Claudius made up) and Hamlet killed Laertes. Before Hamlet died, he killed Claudius, but stopped Horatio from doing the same, for Horatio to live and tell this tale. That was very sane in my opinion.

    --Jonathan Knocks