Is Hamlet really mad in the play, or is merely pretending to be mad? 

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rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hamlet's "madness" is one of the central concerns of the play. Hamlet says in asides throughout the play that he is not, in fact insane, but sometimes his performance is so convincing that it is difficult to tell. Indeed, Hamlet himself wonders if he is not mad, most notably when he sees his father's apparition in his mother's bedroom. 

While he seems to have convinced Polonius and Claudius, in particular, that he is insane, both men seem to suspect that there may be something lurking behind his madness. Polonius remarks that "though this be madness, yet there is method in't" when confronted with Hamlet's nonsequitors, and Claudius worries that "[m]adness in great ones must not unwatch'd go." 

Hamlet himself tells the audience that he will assume an "antic disposition" to bring about his revenge, and he assures Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that he is not actually mad, claiming "I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw." But at the same time he claims to be extremely depressed for reasons he does not know. So Hamlet's madness at times appears to be a ruse, which he says it is, and at times is very convincing. What seems certain, however, is that he is deeply unhappy and disillusioned with what has occurred within the royal family. 

coryengle | Student

As rrteacher said, this is one of the most debated questions in the play. Personally, I think he's acting a little crazier than he is (he says he will put on an "antic disposition"), but I do think he is kind of mad to begin with. He's just a naturally melancholy guy, which drives him to bouts of manic-depressive behavior and constant ruminations on suicide.

I mean think about it, besides the fact that he literally admits he's going to act crazy, he does some pretty lucid things such as putting on the play within a play. But then, he also stabs Polonius through the arras like we would expect of someone who's nutso. I think Hamlet is just highly intellectual, which leads to some erratic behavior.

loraaa | Student

yes, I think Hamlet is really mad in this play.