When the audience first meets Hamlet, he is dressed in black. He is in mourning over the death of his father. When questioned by Gertrude about his attire and his disposition, Hamlet replies “But I have that within which passeth show—these are but the trappings and the suits of woe.” (Act 1, Scene 2). Hamlet is incensed over his mother’s hasty remarriage to Claudius by stating “She married. O most wicked speed, to post With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!” He comments that he would commit suicide if his religious beliefs allowed it. To add to Hamlets problems, his girlfriend Ophelia refuses to see him anymore. She “did repel his letters and denied His access…”. No explanation is given to Hamlet about her actions. The audience knows that Polonius is responsible however Hamlet does not know this. Hamlet is an angry, depressed man due to life altering events. His faith in humanity is at an all time low.
It is in this depressed state of mind that Hamlet meets the ghost of his father. Hamlet’s friends find him ranting after his meeting with the ghost “Hillo, ho, ho, boy! Come, bird, come” (Act 1, Scene 5). Naturally, this supernatural experience has sent Hamlet’s mind reeling but he quickly recovers and apologizes to his friends “I’m sorry they offend you, heartily—“. Furthermore, he is unwilling to reveal what the ghost has said to Horatio and Marcellus and informs them that “How strange or odd soe’er I bear myself—As I perchance herafter shall think meet To put an antic disposition on—“. This indicates that Hamlet has hatched plan to exact his revenge on Claudius. An unbalanced mind would be incapable of quick resolutions.
It is interesting to note that Hamlet only puts his “madness” performance on for the characters he is suspicious of such as Claudius, Polonius, Gertrude, and Ophelia. When Hamlet is around Horatio, Marcellus, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the Players and the Grave-Diggers, he acts rationally. He changes his disposition with ease and speed. During Act 2, Scene 2, Hamlet is speaking with Polonius. When Polonius asks if Hamlet recognizes him, Hamlet replies that “You are a fishmonger.” He goes on to insult Polonius further and calls daughter Ophelia a “good kissing carrion”. When Rosencrantz and Guildenstern appear, Hamlet begins to behave cordially again. He warmly greets his friends and engages them in light philosophical humor. Hamlet’s violence against his mother in Act 3, Scene 4 is due to the fact that he is very angry with Gertrude for marrying Claudius. Hamlet adds to the proof that he is not unbalanced when he says:
My pulse, as yours, does temperately keep time,
And makes as healthful music. 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.”
This means that Hamlet is willing to repeat everything he said; something a mad person is incapable of. Everything he says to Gertrude after the above lines indicates rational thinking. Hamlet only wants Gertrude to look into her soul to realize that her hasty marriage to Claudius is a wretched sin. While he is extremely angry with Gertrude, he truly loves her and wants her to change her ways.
Hamlet kills Polonius in Gertrude’s sitting room. He thinks that the person hiding behind the tapestry is actually Claudius when he says, “Nay I know not, is it the King?” He also addresses Polonius’s corpse, saying “I took thee for thy better.” Hamlet believes that he is acting upon his revenge. He is not on a senseless slaughtering rampage.
Hamlet treats Polonius’s body with contempt as insurance. He makes sure that Claudius will be so ill at ease that he sends Hamlet away. Hamlet tells his mother in this scene, “I must to England, you know that.” Hamlet knows he needs to remove himself from Denmark to regroup his thoughts. He knows that Claudius may attempt to kill him. When confronted, Claudius states “So it is, if thou knew’st our purposes.” Hamlet’s actions indicate that he is clever, not crazy.
The audience learns that before the events of the play, Hamlet had been a model citizen. In Act 3, Scene 1, Ophelia states:
O, what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!
The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s eye, tongue, sword; Th’ expectancy and rose of the fair state,
The glass of fashion and the mould of form,
Th’ observed of all observers—quite, quite down!
Hamlet is a good soldier and skilled with a sword. Denmark’s public seems to like their prince. Ophelia’s statement indicates that Hamlet is intelligent therefore he is quite capable of cooking up a complicated plan to carry out his ghost-father’s request. Insanity is just an instrument to assist Hamlet in his quest.
Hamlet had serious inner demons to deal with while he liberated Denmark from Claudius the Corrupt however he was not insane. He merely used the madness ruse to his advantage. It is unfortunate that Hamlet did not survive to prove himself as the worthy king.