Was Hamlet Melancholic or Crazy?

Essay by msloss@sasweb.orgHigh School, 12th grade September 2006

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In Shakespeare's "Tragedy of Hamlet", Prince of Denmark the protagonist, Hamlet, must deal with what critics presume to be melancholy. In the earlier acts of Hamlet it seems apparent enough that Hamlet's madness is merely feigned. However, as the play progresses it becomes clear that Hamlet's emotional environment may actually have affected his mental state driving him into melancholy and, perhaps, even madness. The real question would then be is Hamlet actually mad or melancholic rather, or is it all a feigned guise? Ironically, Hamlet's name is derived from an Old Norse Amlođi meaning "fool, ninny and idiot," also, more interestingly, it comes from a Juttish trickster who feigned stupidity.1 Hamlet's madness is derived from intentional and unintentional sources: Hamlet determines that he is feigning an "antic disposition,"2 while at the same time he is deeply affected by melancholy.

In the discussion of Hamlet's mental state, whether it is melancholy of madness, it must be noted that some of Hamlet's actions and dialogue are intentional.

Although it is highly likely that Hamlet was suffering from melancholy, or perhaps madness, it cannot account for all of his irrational behavior and diction. Hamlet lets the audience know when he chooses to mask himself again, either by directly telling them or through his actions. Even though at times it seems that Hamlet could not possibly be sane, it seems impossible for an insane person to con and deceit so many characters at once. Many critics think Hamlet was melancholic, but at the same time competent and sane, having very precisely guided actions and diction.

After encountering the Ghost and hearing the true tale of his father's death, Hamlet deems it necessary to forge himself a guise to cope with the new burdens in his life, hence the melancholic demeanor. It seems evident...