Was Hamlet's madness real or feigned, in your opinion?

Quick answer:

Although this is a hotly debated issue, one might believe that Hamlet's madness is feigned based on Hamlet's statement to Marcellus and Horatio that he plans to pretend to be mad, Polonius's observation that there is "method," or reason, in Hamlet's mad utterances, and the rationality Hamlet shows in his soliloquies. His only moment of genuine madness may be when he thinks he sees the ghost in his mother's bedchamber.

Expert Answers

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This is a debated question, but I would come down on the side of Hamlet feigning madness—except for one incident.

First, Hamlet tells Marcellus and Horatio after he sees the ghost that he is going to pretend to be crazy—"put an antic disposition on." This shows that he knows what he is doing:

I perchance hereafter shall think meet
To put an antic disposition on....

These sound like the sensible words of a person who has good reason for secrecy if his uncle is a murderer: Hamlet comes across as planning for his future based on rational fears and a need to protect himself.

Further, Polonius notes that Hamlet's "madness" sounds as if informed by an underlying sanity:

Though this be madness, yet there is method in't.

Hamlet is clearly depressed. He is grieving his father's death, bitter over his mother's remarriage, and dealing with the idea that his uncle might have murdered his father. He has a great deal to worry about and very few people he can turn to in trust. Yet, for all these problems, he is able to steer a course that entraps Claudius into revealing himself as a murderer. He is also able to save his own life when Claudius plots to have him killed by sending him to England. In addition, his soliloquies show Hamlet is well able to reason.

The one time Hamlet seems as if he might genuinely be mad comes when he confronts Gertrude over marrying Claudius. Unlike his previous sightings of the ghost, which were witnessed by others, when Hamlet cries out that the ghost is in the room, Gertrude sees nothing but air. This suggests that Hamlet is hallucinating, as does his impulsive and out-of-character stabbing of the man behind the arras, who is Polonius, though Hamlet thinks he is Claudius.

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