Was Hamlet crazy? if so, why?Was Hamlet crazy? if so, why?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the play, Hamlet says that he is only crazy when he wants to be. He warns Horatio that he should be prepared to see Hamlet pretend to act crazy, and not to act in an unusual way when this happens.

Hamlet shares his thoughts, allowing that if he acts crazy, it will give him more leeway to discover if his uncle is truly guilty of killing Hamlet's father, Old Hamlet. The ghost of his dad has asked Hamlet to avenge his death, and Hamlet struggles with his own lack of action. However, if the ghost is not his father (but a servant of evil) and he wrongfully kills the King, Hamlet will lose his immortal soul.

So Hamlet tries to deal with his father's death, keep Ophelia at arm's length because he believes that as Polonius' daughter (who is loyal to the King) that she cannot be trusted; he misses his father and greatly resents his mother's remarriage. [During the time the play was written, Elizabethans believed that when a couple married, they became as one. When Old Hamlet dies and Gertrude marries and sleeps with Claudius (her brother-in-law), that part of her that is Old Hamlet is sleeping with his brother--Elizabethans believed Gertrude was committing incest by sleeping with Claudius.] Hamlet is also being followed and spied on by two guys from school (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern), and Claudius becomes more and more suspicious.

Hamlet has more than enough to make him crazy, but I think that while he acts erratic at times and impulsive (killing Polonius without being sure who was behind the curtain), he is not insane. He mourns deeply for Ophelia, and makes peace with his mother. Hamlet is a man whose life has been destroyed by his uncle's deceit and murder of Old Hamlet. He is angry along with everything else, but I don't believe he is insane: though if anyone had the right to be, Hamlet would be that man.

enotechris eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In a word, No.  Hamlet finds himself in a very dangerous position at the beginning of the play; as his uncle Claudius has taken the throne, Hamlet existence threatens the king's legitimacy.  The king fears Hamlet even more as the play progresses, since the king eventually learns (at the end of the Player's scene) that Hamlet knows the truth about his father's murder.  But at the beginning of the play, Hamlet needs time to sort out his feelings and facts, and also to deflect any suspicion that he is plotting against the king, and so he takes the prudent approach of pretending to be mad, or putting "an antic disposition on."


rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Throughout the play, there is abundant evidence that Hamlet is feigning madness. He says early in the play that he will put on an "antic disposition," he assures his mother that he is only "mad in craft," and he tells Guildenstern and Rosencranz that he is only "mad north-north west." But he does seem to display some signs of mental illness- he is obsessed with avenging his father's death and he is plagued by bouts of intense melancholy. I think that Shakespeare's point is that there is a fine line between madness and sanity, and that leaving us to wonder which side of that line Hamlet is on adds to the richness of the play.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is obviously a very debatable question. On the one hand, he certainly behaves as if he is mad: he acts in a deranged way in various scenes of the play, not least when he appears to Ophelia in a deranged state and then in Act III scene 1 calls her a whore. However, the major argument that is used to suggest he is not mad is that he announces his plans to adopt an "antic disposition" to Horatio and Marcellus in Act I. There therfore seems to be enough evidence to suggest both possibilities.

lmetcalf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hamlet is not crazy, but he does show some symptoms of mental illness. His contemplation of suicide and preoccupation with death and the afterlife are not necessarily typical of people. He fluctuates between extremes in emotion: he declares in one moment that "my thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth" and in the next scene he doesn't take action against Claudius because he rationalizes the act would send Claudius to heaven. He isn't crazy, but he is confused, frustrated and depressed.

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I, too, support the postings above. I would also say that Hamlet is not crazy. Instead, his heightened sense of agitation could make some try to justify his behavior as mad in order to elevate the play to a different level. Mostly, this has to do with fact that the typical tragedy has a protagonist who possesses a tragic flaw. Some may state that Hamlet is mad simply to identify his tragic flaw as insanity.

vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with the first response.  Hamlet is not crazy, although he is highly agitated. But he can still reason properly and is obviously highly thoughtful and articulate. He pretends to be a bit crazy, but doing so allows him time to think and plot and try to determine the truth of his uncle's guilt.  He also has to decide whether the ghost is an evil sprit sent from hell to tempt him to sin.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I do not think Hamlet was crazy.  I think he was young and confused, and highly overwhelmed.  He snapped, but that does not mean he was mentally ill.  He does seem to have been having hallucinations and talked to himself, but those are signs of stress.

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