A question that arises from the beginning until now; is Hamlet really mad?
To understand Hamlet, one must understand the true meaning of madness; madness is the state of being mentally ill, especially severely. Now is Hamlet mad?
To begin the story, two months after Hamlet’s father’s death, the ghost form of old King Hamlet appears at the kingdom. After suffering his father’s death and having his mother mourn for barely a day before uniting with his uncle, I think it is agreeable that not many would stay sane. Now everyone’s father dies, as Claudius said, “but you must know your father lost a father, that father lost his, and the survivor bound.” (1.2) Putting aside his father’s death, Hamlet’s mother did end up wedding his uncle.
Hamlet, respectively, was furious with the fact that his mother so willingly and quickly married her passed husband’s brother. Hamlet says, “with such dexterity to incestuous sheets!” (1.2) Accepting a loved one’s death is one thing, yet watching the one that is supposed to love his father now in his uncle’s bed is something on another level. Not only is this initially awful, but later in 1.5 he also finds out that his uncle murdered his father. Hamlet now has a dilemma of: was his mother a part of his father’s death? Now, it is obvious that as time moves forward, Hamlet loses trust in more and more people, but losing trust in a mother is more severe.
Returning to 1.2, a common theme in Hamlet is shown when he says: “but break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue.” This is him suppressing his feelings which is detrimental, and that is proven by multiple studies.
Hamlet then decides to put “an antic disposition on,” in 1.5. When an individual constantly plays a different version of one’s self, that version becomes reality causing them to lose themselves. As time goes on, Claudius believes that Hamlet is mad for he is melancholic. In Renaissance time, melancholy was a condition which doctors believed could lead to madness. That is an option, and that is how it began, but there is truth in every action; as soon as Hamlet decided to put the fake act on, it stuck and grew as the play progressed. Although this “truth” could be debunked when in 2.2, Polonius says, “though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.”
His madness is especially evident in his misogynistic behaviour towards Gertrude and Ophelia; this, I believe, serves as evidence that Hamlet truly is going crazy. The only reason why I believe that is, is because those scenes had little to do with his quest for justice, and yet they seem to provoke his strongest feelings.
Going back to the melancholic state that Claudius and others believed Hamlet was in, it is definitely shown in 3.1 during his “to be or not to be” soliloquy. He is discussing whether or not he should die, that is immediately a sign of mental illness; a sane person wouldn’t have that cross their mind so vividly. He has lost control over himself and at this point, Hamlet is in his transition stage from sanity to insanity.
The biggest instance of Hamlet going mad is in 3.4 when he went into Gertrude’s bedroom. After going off on his mother and killing an innocent man, his father’s ghost appears once more. The only difference is that in act one, others besides Hamlet were able to see the ghost, whereas now, only Hamlet does. Gertrude says, “alas, how is ’t with you, that you do bend your eye on vacancy and with th’ incorporal air do hold discourse? Forth at your eyes your spirits wildly peep, and, as the sleeping soldiers in th’ alarm, your bedded hair, like life in excrements, starts up and stands on end. O gentle son, upon the heat and flame of thy distemper cool patience. Whereon do you look?” At this point, it is arguable that the ghost is merely a figment of his imagination for no one could see it besides Hamlet. This is the moment where I believe he has truly lost his mind.
Is Hamlet really mad? That is a question that is up for debate for centuries to come, but I believe that his innocent ‘crazy’ act slowly transitioned to pure insanity.