Hamlet's Madness and Ophelia's MadnessDo you think that Shakespeare is saying that we cannot tell the difference between true madness and fake madness, sanity and insanity? Hamlet says he's faking...

Hamlet's Madness and Ophelia's Madness

Do you think that Shakespeare is saying that we cannot tell the difference between true madness and fake madness, sanity and insanity? Hamlet says he's faking madness, but at times seems like he's actually insane. Ophelia suffers from true madness, but her songs and the scene with her bouquet have possible deeper, darker meanings. What do you guys think?

Expert Answers
tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Any life-changing event causes mental trauma. A therapist friend of mine once said that marriage is traumatic and can cause a person to go into survival mode, deep depression, or experience any other psychological distress. Hamlet experiences the loss of his father, the quick marriage of his mother to his uncle, and the revelation that his uncle killed his father. That's pretty traumatic! If it weren't for the fact that Hamlet has the goal to reveal this information he may have gone to that deeper, darker place like Ophelia did. Ophelia, on the other hand, was fragile. She was young and impressionable and her father manipulated her. She, too, didn't have one of her parental figures around. Had Ophelia's mother been with her, she probably would have had more support in her own life to conquer the manipulation and confusion that surrounded her during the time of the story. Shakespeare was definitely suggesting that madness manifests itself differently in different people.

lmetcalf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with post #5. Hamlet is telling the truth to his mother when he states that he is not mad. Remember that he has just spoken with the ghost his mother cannot see, so she is very confused. In Act 5, Hamlet is probably suspicious of this whole fencing challenge and his "apology" and "excuse of madness" could be a means to emotionally disarm Laertes. Just prior to this scene Horatio directly tells Hamlet that he fears for him, and Hamlet acknowledges that idea and says that all he can do is be ready for anything: "the readiness is all."

rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Appearance and reality is a major theme in Hamlet, as is madness. This question addresses both of these issues. My personal view is that Hamlet is not, in fact, insane, but that he is simply deeply tormented by what is an extraordinarily disturbing series of events. Of course, Ophelia is legitimately driven mad by a similar set of events. So yes, in juxtaposing these two characters, my own view would be that Shakespeare is indeed trying to comment on the nature of insanity and sanity.

rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think Hamlet is being disingenuous when he says that he was mad when he killed Polonius. I think Shakespeare meant to couple this dishonest statement with the one that follows from Laertes, in which he claims that he will not "wrong" Hamlet's "offer'd love." Of course, he fully intends to kill Hamlet as part of Claudius's plot. So essentially, this is part of a dishonest exchange. As with so much in the play, though, I'm not sure, to be completely honest. That's the beauty of it.

quentin1 | Student

Thanks all. Just another FYI for thought. In Act III, when Hamlet kills Polonius, he tells his mother that he's not crazy, that he's just pretending. But, at the end of the play when he confronts Laertes, he tells Laertes that he was crazy when he killed Polonius. So once again, was Hamlet really insane or just pretending to be? Is he lying to Laertes to save his own skin and conscience, or does he really believe he wasn't in his right mind when he knifed Polonius? What is insane behavior, what is sane behavior? In the end, who decides?