Of Hamlet, the renowned critic Harold Bloom writes,
No single character in the plays, not even Falstaff or Cleopatra, matches Hamlet's infinite reverberations.
Hamlet seems a character too large even for Shakespeare's longest play; for, he stands apart from the other characters with an indefinable aura about him. Ironically, perhaps, his charisma emanates from his erratic behavior and wit; an intellectual, he exists in a sphere that is beyond the scope of many. It is because of his great intellectualism that Hamlet appears erratic and "mad" to others; they simply cannot understand what exists within Hamlet, whose mind transcends the mundane. For, he engages in many self-debates upon the nature of existence, the question of what constitutes right or wrong, death, betrayal, love, lust, greed, ambition, courage.
In between his soliloquies, which generate the action of the play, Hamlet indicates that his insanity is a pretense. In Act I, for instance, Hamlet tells Horatio that he will put "an antic disposition on" (1.5.191) and warns him and Marcellus not to say anything if he acts oddly. Later in Act II, he banters with his former friends, Guildenstern and Rosencrantz, telling them that he is
I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is
southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw. (2.2.376)
Even Polonius, who contends that Hamlet is mad to Claudius and Gertrude, says to himself later,
Though this be madness, yet there is a method
And, Claudius makes a similar remark at the end of the first scene of Act III, saying that "Madness in great ones must not unwatch'd go." So, he, too, believes that Hamlet's madness serves Hamlet's purposes.
Thus, while Hamlet's madness is for the most part feigned or merely the workings of a brillant mind that to the banal thinker appear erratic because these thoughts transcend the thoughts of others, he does truly appear to have become mentally disturbed in the graveyard when he discovers that Ophelia is dead. For, after having pensively considered the skulls that the gravediggers have unearthed, Hamlet becomes unnerved. Horatio notices and remarks,'Twere to consider too curiously, to consider so. (5.1.197)
In other words, he tells Hamlet that thinking about death too becomes too overwhelming to ponder. Enraged at Laertes, who jumps into his sister's grave, Hamlet declares, "This is I, Hamlet the Dane" as he challenges Laertes, wildly asserting that he
... loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers
Could not, with all their quantity of love,
Make up my sum. What wilt thou do for her? (5.1.270-272)
Angered at Laertes and crazed with grief, Hamlet certainly exhibits veritable madness in this scene, for he is enraged beyond reason at the death of his beloved Ophelia. In this scene, Hamlet emotions override his mind in his crazed moments of grief.