Friday, 16 August 2013

Hamlet's Madness


His Madness Appearing To Be Real

The manner in which Hamlet speaks to Polonius, his conversation with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern on the honesty of the world, his talk with Ophelia in the nunnery scene, and to the king—all are taken to prove him to be a man who has lost reason.

Then there is the incident of Hamlet’s murder of Polonius. It is true that, when he makes a pass with his sword through the arras, he does not know who is hiding there. He takes that person to be Claudius, and kills him. He does not feel the least remorse on finding that he has killed an innocent man. That is what he says on discovering that his victim is Polonius:

                        Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell
                        I took thee for thy better. Take thy fortune,
                        Thou find’st to be too busy is some danger.

Had he been in his real sense, he would not have acted in this heart-less manner.

Another piece of evidence that supports the theory of Hamlet’s madness is his strange behaviour at Ophelia’s funeral. Hamlet warns Laertes that he will kill him and then makes a speech in which he challenges Laertes to compete with him in expressing grief over Ophelia’s death. Hamlet’s speech here makes the Queen say, ‘this is mere madness’.

His Madness Appearing To Be Feigned

All this evidence is however inadequate to convince us that Hamlet is really mad. All the soliloquies of Hamlet are not only perfectly coherent and logical but have a depth of thought, which reveals Hamlet as a profound thinker. His reasoning in these soliloquies shows him as a scholar and a philosopher.

Likewise, the manner in which he speaks to Horatio is perfectly logical and coherent, and Horatio does not on any occasion have the least suspicion that Hamlet’s mind is crazed.  Even Rosencrantz and Guildenstern do not him to be mad. Guildenstern describes Hamlet’s condition as a ‘crafty madness’ which means Hamlet is merely trying to create an impression of madness.

In act III, scene IV, Hamlet condemns his mother for her hasty marriage to Claudius is such an effective and convincing manner that she feels compelled to say:
O Hamlet, speaks no more;
                        Thou turn’st my eyes into my very soul.

No madman’s words could have wrought this change in the Queen.

Hamlet’s comments on the art of acting in act III, scene II, are so sound that they could not have come from the lips of an insane person. Hamlet’s remarks and observations in the grave-digger’s scene are yet another example of perfectly sane thinking and sane talk. Then there is the evidence of Polonius himself. In act I, scene II, Polonius comments, in an aside, on Hamlet’s strange manner of talking
Though this be madness, yet there is method in it.

To solve this controversy we have to resort t o Bradley and T.S. Eliot. Eliot is of the opinion that Hamlet’s madness is less than madness, and more than feigned ….. By pretending to be mad, Hamlet kept open the safety valve and could speak anything, and do anything, could insult and accuse anybody in order to relieve the pressure of his mind.

Bradley opines that Hamlet is not mad; he is fully responsible for his actions. But he suffers from melancholia, a pathological state which may well develop into lunacy. His disgust with life can easily assume the form of an irresistible urge for self-destruction. His feelings and will are already disordered, and the disorder might extend to sense and intellect. 


  1. First of all, thank you, Sir for helping us in our studies. I want to know something. As it is difficult for me to read the text of the play 'Hamlet' completely, can you please tell me which passages should I prepare for my exams so that I can solve my paper easily?

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