What is the role of Madness and Melancholy in Hamlet?Essentially, I have to talk about Madness and Melancholy in the play. However, I am having problems trying to figure out what to argue for my...

What is the role of Madness and Melancholy in Hamlet?

Essentially, I have to talk about Madness and Melancholy in the play. However, I am having problems trying to figure out what to argue for my essay. I can't argue specifics, such as "Is Hamlet Mad? or Sane?" I have to take the generalisation of Madness and Melancholy, formulate a thesis, and write.

Question is... What to write about?

I was thinking either, that Melancholy is the start of Hamlets descension towards Madness, and his eventual demise, and the demise of others.

1. Argument - Hamlet is Melancholic at the beginning of the play

2. Argument - Appearance of the Ghost further increases his melancholy, and his decension to madness becomes apparent.

3. ? Don't know...Perhaps something about the queens actions, But Gertrude could be included in the first argument b/c it was her actions, and the death of Hamlets father that began Hamlets melancholy.

Maybe a physical outburst or something for the 3rd argument.. not sure.


that Madness and Melancholy emphasize the theme of revenge.

1. Argument - Hamlet gets revenge on Mother for her actions by making her feel guilt through his feined madness.

2. Argument - Hamlet gains revenge against claudius by killing him.

3. ? Was thinking something about Laertes, not sure though.

Though, if I do revenge, I don't know what my third argument could be.


Opinions, and thoughts are welcome. Share with me your knowledge. Think outside of the points I posted or correct me as well. If you think of something different I could argue, please share.

Expert Answers
shaketeach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

That Hamlet is melancholic is his mental state but he chooses madness as way of uncovering information.  Therefore, perhaps you can frame your argument in that direction.

His melancholy by today's terms would be considered depression.  His mental attitude can be understood.  Who won't be depressed to find out that your beloved father has died and your mother has married his brother (who was not Hamlet's favorite uncle).

To then be told by a ghost who looks and sounds like your father that in fact he was murdered by that brother and it was his duty as his son to avenge this murder.  If Hamlet wasn't depressed to begin with, this could sure do the trick.

He then chooses madness as a way of finding out information.  He needs to confirm what the ghost told him before he commits himself to action.

Does his depression and role of the mad man lead him into madness for real?  Perhaps this explains why he changes the letter and orders the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, which was unnecessary.  Hamlet is smart enough to know that these two men are being used by the king and they have no idea what is happening.

I would avoid the idea of revenge on Gertrude since the ghost expressly told him to leave her alone.

The line you might want to follow then is that in the beginning he is depressed because of recent events in his life.  He decides to pretend to be mad in order to gather information that will confirm the ghost's story.  He chooses madness for several reasons including it fits right into his melancholy.  However it is a fine line between pretending to be crazy and really being mentally ill.

Hope this helps.

s-spurs | Student

To be or not to be” -- “that is the...” soliloquy. “Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to...” agree, the question that no one knows. To think, to know, to know perchance to understand, the truth behind it all... ’ Was it, or was it not true that Hamlet was faking his insanity, really suffering, or perhaps even both. First, this is what insanity is; insanity is acting peculiar, but not knowing that they are. Also, it is going through a lot of stresses at the same time causing you to not think straight. Hamlet was not completely suffering from insanity. It wouldn’t make sense. 

First of all, I’m not saying that Hamlet was faking the whole thing. I mean obviously, having your father die is bad enough, but to have your mother within a month, marry your uncle. What’s more is to see the ghost of your dead father! Obviously, that will make you a little crazy, but not to the extent that everyone thought Hamlet was experiencing.

If it weren’t for Hamlet’s insanity, the King (Claudius), would have obviously known that something was up with his nephew, and surely have him killed. If Hamlet didn’t act so he made his uncle believe that he was insane, then the King would have seen it in Hamlet’s eyes that he knew the truth. Think about it... in today's society, if someone thinks you’re crazy, you can say anything and get away with it. For example, someone can notion the slightest bit of sexual harassment, and get in a lot of trouble. Whereas someone who seems obviously insane, can say a hundred things that suggest sexual harassment and get away with it. Look at all the trials today! Murderers are constantly pleading in court to experiencing temporary insanity, and getting away with it! If you are believed to be insane, you can get away with anything. That is what was on Hamlet’s mind. It was truly an ingenious plan.

“...[I am only] mad north-by-northwest.” Anyone that would hear that, what instantly say, he’s a nut. However, there is logic to this quote. North being straight ahead, or up, meaning normal. Saying that it is “north-by-northwest,” means that he is only insane slightly off to the side. Hamlet seemed to be somewhere along the line of southwest, meaning really crazy, (south being the opposite direction of north, hence the opposite direction of normal). Since he states this, he can’t be truly insane. Also the way that he went from character to character exploiting his insanity, being very careful going to this person first, and acting this way with this, all to make everyone think he was insane, including the most important character, Claudius. Once Claudius though he was insane, he was safe, and then he could carry out the rest of his plan. With the soliloquy, “To be...” Hamlet knew that he was being heard by the King, henceforth going on with his insane act. A great example is following his “To be...” speech, when he was talking to Ophelia. He knew that the King was listening to him. That was his chance to try to show the King that he was insane. The way he acted around him, the madness of it all. How he kept insisting, “...get thee to a nunnery...” That’s a mad thing to say to the woman you love. Among those reasons, of only acting insane around certain people, leads to another example. His private conversations with his true friend, Horatio.