Madness and Sanity in Hamlet

Essay by big_orange_bballCollege, UndergraduateA+, March 2004

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William Shakespeare is one of the greatest playwrights of all time. His writing is famous still today. One of his greatest works is a very controversal, yet intelectually-stimulating play entitled Hamlet. This play is about a prince (Hamlet) whose father, who was king, was killed by his uncle, Claudius, who then took the throne. To complicate the situation further, his mother, Gertrude, married Claudius shortly after the death of his father. His father comes back as a ghost, and when Hamlet confronts him, the ghost tells him about the murder and asks him to seek revenge on Claudius. This is when a great controversy arises that is debatable to this day. Hamlet begins to act mad to set up his murder. This is the defining characteristic that classifies him as one of the most complicated characters in English literature. The question is, does Hamlet still truly possess his sanity, or is he really mad?

When the ghost first asked him to seek revenge, Hamlet said "I purchase here after shall think meet to put an antic disposition on (1, 5, 191-192)."

Hamlet's plan is to pretend to be mad and eventually kill Claudius. No one really knows if he was indeed faking his madness, though that is what he claimed to Horatio. Hamlet could seek revenge as a result of madness, or he could be indeed faking insane behavior as a result of his plan to seek revenge. Of course, with all that has happened to him with his family, Hamlet could truly be, in a sense, insane.

Polonius is one of the first people to pick up on the odd behavior of Hamlet. He believes Hamlet's madness is directly related to his love for Polonius's daughter, Ophelia. While Hamlet does truly love Ophelia, his love for her is...