In the Shakespeare play, Hamlet, there is the question concerning the madness of the main character, Hamlet. There is no real answer to the question, “Is Hamlet mad”? It is merely based on ones own opinion and interpretation of the play. Although, Hamlet might display qualities of someone mad, is there enough proof to make the statement factual? First, we should look at the definition of what mad really means; According to Dictonary.com, Mad means to be mentally disturbed, deranged, insane, or demented. Considering there is evidence that it is possible Hamlet could actually be mentally disturbed, there is definitely proof that he is just pretending. Hamlet openly admits that he pretends to be deranged, but why is he pretending? There also is proof that he is still logical and reasonable with his decisions, which doesn’t fit the description of the word mad. There are many characters in the play who seem to have evidence that Hamlet is mad, that is just his master plan working. Losing your father and learning that your new father, your uncle, is a murderer would definitely make one lose their reasoning to stay sane. Hamlet had a game plan to seek revenge for his father and it started with having society fooled by making them believe he was a mad man.
Starting from the beginning, Hamlet showed anger towards the events that had taken place. Hamlets first solilioquy is where he expresses his feelings and thoughts for the first time about the events. As Hamlet says,
O that this too too sullied flesh would melt,/ Thaw, and resolve
Itself into a dew,/Or that the Everlasting had not fixed/ His
Canon ‘gainst self- slaughter (1.2.129-132).
Clearly his thoughts here are unlike normal thoughts, but that does not mean he is mad. He talks of suicide and wanting to disappear, but looking at what is happening in the play, anyone of a sane mind wouldn’t want to be around to witness such events. When someone is angry they vent and say stuff that they don’t mean, and that is just what Hamlet is doing. If he wanted to commit suicide, that is just what he would have done.
Throughout the play, a presence of a ghost keeps appearing. Does seeing this ghost make Hamlet a mad man? As Horatio says,
Two nights together had these gentlemen,/ Marcellus and Barnardo, on
Their watch/ In the dead waste and middle of the night/ Been thus
Encountered. A figure like your father,/ Armed at point exactly,
Cap-a-pie,/ Appears before them and with solemn march/ Goes
slow and stately by them (1.2.196-202).
Well considering that Horatio, Reynaldo, Barnardo, Francisco and Marcellus all saw the ghost along with Hamlet, they would all have to be mad men as well. This is not valid proof that Hamlet is a mad man. It wasn’t a figment of his imagination, the ghost had to be seen in order for all the men to witness the same thing.
After seeing the ghost he fills Hamlet in with all the details of his death, Hamlet begins to lay out his plan with steps. He warns his friends of his antic disposition. Hamlet says, “As I perchance hereafter shall think meet / To put an antic disposition on” (1.5.174-175). “Antic” actually means clown, which means he’s going to put on a show from now on and pretend is he insane. Why would Hamlet pretend to be insane one might want to ask? Well Hamlet wants to show weakness to King Claudius so that he won’t take him as a threat. Hamlet wants to distract the people of Denmark from his real intentions and that is to seek revenge for his father. If it weren’t for Hamlet pretending his madness, King Claudius would have known that something was wrong with his nephew, and surely he would have him killed. If Hamlet didn’t act the way he was, then the King would have seen it in Hamlets eyes that he knew the truth about his father’s death. If you really think about it, today if someone claims they are crazy, the majority will get away with it. If you are believed to be mad, than you can pretty much get away with anything. It was a well thought out plan that only a genius could have thought of.
His plan seems to work as he has convinced Polonius that he is a mad man. A conversation between Hamlet and Polonius starts and he ask Hamlet if he knew him. Hamlet responds with, “Excellent Well. You are a fishmonger” (2.2.174). Considering that Polonius is the Kings pet spy, he pretends he doesn’t know who Polonius is. At the same time, he almost makes fun of him. A “fishmonger” is slang for pimp, which is just what Polonius is to his daughter, Ophelia. Readers may assume that Hamlet is mad, because it is not obvious that Hamlet is pretending, because he does not remind us of his plan of antic disposition
The scene of the play where Hamlet shows a perfect example that he still makes logical and reasonable decisions is when he sets up a play to catch the King red handed. In a conversation with Horatio, he tells him to watch the Kings expressions.
There is a play tonight before the king. / One scene of it comes near
the circumstance / Which I have told thee, of my father’s death. / I
Prithee, when thou seest that act afoot, / Even with the very comment
of thy soul / Observe my uncle. If his occulted guilt / Do not itself
unkennel in one speech,/ It is a damned ghost that we have seen, /
And my imaginations are as foul / As Vulcan’s stithy. Give him
heedful note, / For I mine eyes will rivet to his face, /And after
we will both our judgments join / In censure of his seeming. He simply made a scene in the play that is the exact way his father was killed. From doing this, he hopes to see some sort of reaction out of the King. If he does that, what the ghost had told him is true. Hamlet had great ideas to catch the King. Anyone who is mentally unstable, insane, or demented couldn’t have came up with such a logical way to catch the King red handed.
There is just too much evidence in the play that Hamlet is pretending his madness. He simply states his plan of “antic disposition” and his plan works. So much so that even the readers that know the dramatic irony of his plan still believe that there is a possibility that he is mad. Such events that happened through out the story can definitely leave someone with their reasons, but not Hamlet. He holds to his plan, making sure the King truly indeed did do it and making everyone believe his “antic disposition.” Even though the killing of the King was not the type that Hamlet probably wished for, revenge was seeked.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Penguin Group (USA) Inc: Penguin Group. 2001
"mad." Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 12 Sep. 2012. .