How is madness portrayed in Hamlet? Is Hamlet or any other character portrayed as mad?

Madness is portrayed in Shakespeare's Hamlet in Hamlet's emotional scenes, including the scene with his mother in which he sees the ghost of his father and the scenes he uses nonsensical wordplay with Polonius, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern. Ophelia is also portrayed as mad, particularly in the scenes of her dancing, singing, and strewing flowers and in the description of her death by drowning.

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After Hamlet speaks with his father's ghost in act 1, scene 5, Hamlet confides in Marcellus and Horatio that he intends to feign madness—"to put an antic disposition on." This raises the question throughout the rest of the play as to whether Hamlet is simply acting mad or if he really is mad.

The first time in the play that Hamlet appears to put his "antic disposition on" is when he frightens Ophelia while she's sewing in her room. Ophelia hurries to her father, Polonius, to tell him what happened.

OPHELIA. My lord, as I was sewing in my closet,
Lord Hamlet, with his doublet all unbraced,
No hat upon his head, his stockings fouled,
Ungartered, and down-gyved to his ankle;
Pale as his shirt, his knees knocking each other,
And with a look so piteous in purport
As if he had been loosed out of hell
To speak of horrors, he comes before me. (2.1.87-94)

Polonius concludes that Hamlet is mad for Ophelia's love.

POLONIUS. ...This is the very ecstasy of love,
Whose violent property fordoes itself
And leads the will to desperate undertakings
As oft as any passion under heaven
That does afflict our natures. (2.1.114-118)

There are other times during the play when Hamlet seems entirely mad or else he's doing a very good job of acting mad. Hamlet plays words with Polonius, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern in act 2, scene 2, and discusses the shapes of clouds with Polonius in act 3, scene 2.

In the scene with his mother, Gertrude, after the play-within-a-play scene, Gertrude is convinced that Hamlet is mad, if for no other reason than Hamlet sees the ghost of his father, which Gertrude can't see.

GERTRUDE. Alas, how is't with you,
That you do bend your eye on vacancy,
And with the incorporal air do hold discourse?

...To whom do you speak this?

... This is the very coinage of your brain. (3.4.128-130, 143, 151)

However, in that scene Hamlet claims that he's not mad at all "but mad in craft" (3.4.204) to protect himself from Claudius. This is a logical, rational, and sane reason for acting mad. In act 4, scene 1, however, Gertrude says that Hamlet is "mad as the sea" (4.1.7) for killing Polonius.

Hamlet sometimes wonders about his own mental state, as in his "what a piece of work is a man!" monologue to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in act 2, scene 2.

HAMLET. ...I have of late—but wherefore I know not—
lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed, it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory ...What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals! And yet to me what is this quintessence of dust? (2.2.301-313)

In that same scene, Hamlet confronts Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and demands to know why they're in Elsinore. He answers his own question by telling them that they were sent for by Claudius and Gertrude.

HAMLET. ...I know the
good King and Queen have sent for you.

...But my uncle-father and aunt-
mother are deceived.

GUILDENSTERN. In what, my dear lord?

HAMLET. I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw. (2.2. 287-288, 373-377)

Hamlet might be entirely self-aware and simply toying with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, or Hamlet is clearly not in his right mind.

There are times, however, when Hamlet appears perfectly sane. In his soliloquy at the end of act 2, scene 2, Hamlet formulates a plan to discover if Claudius is guilty of his father's murder by means of a play called the "Murder of Gonzago," which he's arranged to be presented at court.

In his soliloquy in act 3, scene 1, Hamlet intellectually explores the nature of suicide, life, and death, but in the "get thee to a nunnery" scene with Ophelia directly thereafter, he reacts to her emotionally and irrationally. Ophelia is overcome by his transformation and thinks that he's gone mad.

OPHELIA. O, what a noble mind is here o'erthrown!...
Now see that noble and most sovereign reason,
Like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh;
That unmatch'd form and feature of blown youth
Blasted with ecstasy. (3.1.159-169)

There are also times, however, when other characters think that Hamlet might not be mad after all.

LORD POLONIUS. [Aside] Though this be madness, yet there is a method in't. (2.2.216-217)

KING CLAUDIUS. Love? His affections do not that way tend; Nor what he spake, though it lack'd form a little,
Was not like madness. (3.1.171-173)

The issue of Hamlet's madness, real or feigned, has been a matter of debate since the play was written and will likely never be resolved with any certainty.

Ophelia, too, is portrayed as having gone mad, possibly because of her father's death, Hamlet's rejection of her, or both.

Whereas there's some debate as to whether Hamlet is sane or not, Ophelia's odd behavior in act 4, scene 5, seems to indicate that she has truly gone mad during the course of the play.

By the time of her death, apparently suicide by drowning, she's no longer cognizant of her environment or of any danger that falling in the brook might pose to her life.

GERTRUDE. There on the pendant boughs her crownet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke,
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook....
Which time she chaunted snatches of old lauds,
As one incapable of her own distress... (4.7.187-193)

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