The following is a question about Shakespeare's Hamlet:The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark by William Shakepeare is a revenge tragedy.  Hamlet seeks revenge against his Uncle Claudius for the...

The following is a question about Shakespeare's Hamlet:

The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark by William Shakepeare is a revenge tragedy.  Hamlet seeks revenge against his Uncle Claudius for the death of his father.  Hamlet is "mad" with the needfor revenge.  Do you think Hamlet is psychologically unstable, pretending to be unstable, or did the events of his life gradually drive him "mad"?

Expert Answers
Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Well, it's clear Hamlet starts out intending to act mad.  He makes his friends swear, after he's seen his father (the Ghost), not to let on by word or look or deed when he shall "put an antic disposition on" (Iv). It's part of his plan for revenge.

He seems to still be acting mad when he tells his "friends," Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, that  "I am but mad north-northwest" (IIii).  He also confesses to his mother that he is "essentially...not in madness, but mad in craft" (IIIiv).

When he has the chance to kill Claudius and doesn't, Hamlet seeems perfectly reasonable and sane when he could have gone crazy with his revenge in this private setting.

Where the lines may get a little blurrier for me is when he reacts so outraguously to Ophelia's death--jumping into her grave, figuratively chest-bumping with Laertes to see who can be most excessive in their grief.

After that, there is a rather new aura surrounding Hamlet, a kind of fatalism which is accepting of the fact that Claudius may win. Is this true madness or the realistic accepting of fate? 

This is one of the great questions of the play, and one of the reasons it's such a demanding role to play--choices must be made about this madness in order to show the evolution from grieving son to mad prince.