In Shakespeare's Hamlet, it is the desire for revenge that lies behind the motives of young Hamlet. His moral struggle towards revenge becomes an obsession leading to a change in character. His actions strongly imply that madness has overcome him. However, there are hints present in the text that implies his madness was feigned in order to achieve his revenge.
Immediately following the appearance of old King Hamlet's ghost, Hamlet warns Horatio that he may act mad, which foreshadows a change in Hamlet's character. The reader is prepared that any abnormal acts may be a result from Hamlet's acting. As the play continues, more questions are raised that involve his sanity.
Ophelia, who was the first to witness his madness, offered an insight as she described Hamlet's actions to her father. Hamlet, who was described as being mad, was speechless and only stared into Ophelia's eyes. The bizarre actions of Hamlet are presumed to be an act, but the strong visualization of the scene can create doubt in a reader's mind. If Hamlet was feigning his madness, then why would he want to frighten his girlfriend that he cared for so much?
As more events led to the questioning of Hamlet's sanity, the reader was given a glimpse into the mind of Hamlet in the famous "To be or not to be" soliloquy. Hamlet's questions of life and contemplation of suicide revealed his emotions of depression, which derived mainly from his family conflicts. His build up of stress, depression, and inability to cope with these emotions could have easily affected him. His constant reminder of the evil in King Claudius and his vow to seek revenge also added to his burden. His struggles against these emotions weakened him, and ultimately led him to actual madness. As it become more evident that Hamlet's acting could have become a reality, his desire for revenge becomes stronger. He becomes more focus on achieving his revenge, but does not rush for the opportunity. When Hamlet approached King Claudius praying in act 3 scene 3, he does not react immediately. He thinks about his actions and decides not to harm the King. This thought out decision would lead one to believe that Hamlet is not crazy due to his ability to rationalize, but Hamlet's decision not to kill the King was because he did not want to kill him after he had confessed his sins to God. Thus, the fact that Hamlet thinks to the extent of whether or not the King's soul will go to heaven or hell shows that his intentions were rooted from his madness. Before Hamlet's madness became an issue, he would often try to rationalize his actions. When Hamlet first saw the ghost of his father, he questioned the intentions of the ghost and the validity of the ghost's story of murder. However, later in the play, as Hamlet is looked upon by others as mad, he confronts his mother in a way the reader has not seen before. He is brutally honest with her, yelling at her for being with King Claudius and admits to her that Claudius has murdered old King Hamlet. In the same scene, Hamlet fatally stabs Polonius who was hiding. Hamlet, who was not sure of the identity of the person, acted without thought. After learning the identity of Polonius, Hamlet does not seem shocked that he murdered his girlfriend's father, in fact he continued talking to his mother. His spontaneous reaction can be showed as evidence of his madness due to his lack of thinking, which was out of the norm for Hamlet.
Following the death of Polonius, Hamlet continues to commit murder. He left Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to travel alone to England, where they would be met by an execution. He continues then with Laertes, and finally King Claudius. His ultimate revenge was the last achieved, only after his mother died. Although Hamlet was filled with madness, he never seemed to have enough courage to confront King Claudius until his mother died. Perhaps losing both parents was the final straw for Hamlet, or perhaps he cared too much for his mother that he did not want to murder his mother's husband. Nevertheless, Hamlet's revenge was attained through his madness, which unfortunately led to his own death.