Free Essay

The Madness of Hamlet

In: English and Literature

Submitted By blakwing
Words 1427
Pages 6
Oatley 1

Josh Oaltey

Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily--how calmly I can tell you the whole story.
-Edgar Allen Poe; The Tell-Tale Heart

An Analysis of Hamlet's Unraveling

The madness of Hamlet is prevalent within each page of the beloved play. Stemming from his acute paranoia, distrust of others, and melancholy outlook, there is a great unraveling of his psyche as the play rolls on. He can be observed as a victim of Psychotic Depression with paranoid tendencies. In Hamlet, the key character is characterized by his suicidal tendencies, grandeur delusions, and highly conflicted personality, therefore he can be classified as depressive, paranoid, and psychotic (Zimbargo, et al 580). While Hamlet's initial sadness itself brings little alarm to the audience, his eventual distressed nature becomes an apparent issue:
O, that this too solid flesh would melt
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!
Or that the Everlasting had not fix'd
His canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God! God!
How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable,
Seem to me all the uses of this world!

Oatley 2 Initializing Hamlet's distressed nature and suicidal thoughts; Hamlet's spoken words brings the audience up to pace with his distress over his mother's marrying of his potentially murderous uncle. With this we pick up a certain instability in Hamlet's mental functioning and displays a rather melancholy and depressive vibe to his persona. From the beginning Hamlet is distressed and desires for his "flesh" to "melt" and become "dew". This anguish of this new development in his life is seen as a causal factor for his depression. Although one could easily dismiss this claim as dramatic anger, Hamlet's suicidal words conjure up a deeper and darker diagnosis. As "suicide claims one in 50 depression sufferers, persons on their way down in a depressive episode" are at a risk "for suicidal tendencies when compared to those in deeper forms of depression" (Zimbargo, et al 588). Thusly, we find Hamlet's suicidal needs are more than simply surface symptoms; rather, they are indicators of a depressed individual. As Hamlet's depressive psychosis persists we find him interacting with the ghost of his dead father:
[…] The spirit that I have seen
May be the devil: and the devil hath power
To assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps
Out of my weakness and my melancholy,
As he is very potent with such spirits,

Oatley 3
Abuses me to damn me
Here we find Hamlet's psychosis coming into play; "in severe cases...psychotic distortions of reality" (Zimbargo, et al 585), a disorder here found in Hamlet's conversing with the "ghost" of his deceased father. After the ghost tells Hamlet that Claudius has murdered his father, Hamlet begins to plan his next steps. Here, he warns his friends that he will put on an "antic disposition":
How strange or odd soe'er I bear myself,
As I perchance hereafter shall think meet
To put an antic disposition on
What does this antic detail entail? As it means "clown" or a performer who plays the role of a "grotesque" this translates Hamlet into pretending to be a madman. A further point in depressives "shifting their attention" and Hamlet following suit. Additionally, this delusional grandeur of his father's specter specifically mimics those under psychotic symptoms; "believing that they are witnessing actual manifestations, victims under psychosis especially those under depression-induced psychotics...are known for seeing families, and in some cases...deceased ones" (Zimbargo, et al 582). Oatley 4 After his already questionable interaction with the ghost, Hamlet now begins to contemplate murdering his Uncle and explains to his friends that he is going to put on an "antic" of insanity, hopefully placing his Uncle under false securities. This feigning of madness in conjunction with his stressors, need to murder, and severance with anyone trustworthy will soon bring Hamlet to psychosis. One that he even displays in front of his beloved paradise, Ophelia:
My lord, as I was sewing in my closet,
Lord Hamlet, with his doublet all unbraced;
No hat upon his head; his stockings foul'd,
Ungarter'd, and down-gyved to his ancle;
Pale as his shirt; his knees knocking each other;
And with a look so piteous in purport
As if he had been loosed out of hell
To speak of horrors,—he comes before me.
Mad for thy love?
My lord, I do not know;
But truly, I do fear it.
This calls into question Hamlet's lucid intentions, if they are present at all. While he is attempting to throw Polonius into a confused state and get him to stop spying, he is also acting psychotically in front of his love. "Little can be done to bring psychotics back from a delusion...friends and family rarely gain legitimate responses" (Zimbargo, et al 588). Hamlet's knowledge that Polonius has asked Ophelia to spy on him may be used as an argument, however Hamlet should have some form of trust in Ophelia.
Oatley 5 Contributing to his lacking trust, Hamlet may also be feeling rejected and unloved by Ophelia due to her non-writing. Lastly, Hamlet's paranoia is prevalent here as we see he gives her a complete absence of interaction and suspects her of working against him. This potentially displays Hamlet as one of ambiguous nature and brings an interesting light on his troubled mind. Another fascinating aspect of Hamlet's psychological downfall is seen through the moment he and his mother are in the same room with his father's ghost.
How is it with you, lady?
Alas, how is't with you,
That you do bend your eye on vacancy
And with the incorporal air do hold discourse?
Forth at your eyes your spirits wildly peep;
And, as the sleeping soldiers in the 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
Sprinkle cool patience. Whereon do you look?

Oatley 6 The striking part of this passage is that Hamlet is the only one between the two of them whom can see the ghost. This moment brings in two schools of thought. The initial, simplistic idea that Hamlet's ghost simply elected to appear in front of Hamlet; while the other is that it is part of his broken mind. The second thought however makes the play far more complex that the other; if the ghost is a figment then each character who has viewed it previously is also a figment. With this idea we can break the play down into two groups of characters; those who see Hamlet's ghost such as Horatio, Bernardo, and Marcellus and those who do not like Claudius and Polonius. Oddly enough, these two groups of characters never interact with one-another until the final scene of the play. This would render Horatio and company as nonexistent to the others as is the ghost. Hamlet interacts with each of these characters and this leads one to find that the ghost and all the characters who also see the ghost are a fragments of Hamlet's mind. "Grandeur illusions are the pinnacle of psychotic minds...they create complex worlds we scarcely understand and....weave great systems" (Zimbargo, et al 585) thusly making Hamlet's world a falsity. So what does our dear hero of the play do to curb these depressive cycles and delusional visions? He takes the " major depression that lingers by his "shifting of attention to something doing something physical in order
Oatley 7 to take their mind off their mood" (Zimbargo, et al 585). Murdering his father brings Hamlet to the only logical conclusion he can muster; persuading himself to kill his step-father as the ghost is Hamlet's way of persuading himself that it is right to kill his step father. Psychosis, for Hamlet, was brought on by depression over his father, social, political, and relationally isolated due to his paranoia, and his deeply depressed outlook. While his actions reflected those in need of control and reconciliation, his unwound mind simply gave him justification for murder.

Works Cited
"Hamlet." SparkNotes. SparkNotes. Web. 22 Mar. 2012. <>.
Zimbardo, Philip G., Robert L. Johnson, and Vivian McCann. Psychology: Core Concepts. Boston: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon, 2009. Print.

Similar Documents

Premium Essay

The Madness of Hamlet

...March 2014 The Madness of Hamlet In William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, the character of Prince Hamlet has just gotten back to Denmark from school to learn that his uncle and mother are now getting married, the same uncle that killed his father, the king. There is much debate as to whether or not Hamlet truly did go crazy from these series of events. However, Hamlet, much to his dissent, did indeed go crazy when his late father died, although he persisted in believing he had not; through his demeanor, words, and inner turmoil, it was shown that he was simply in denial about this fact. When Hamlet’s late father’s ghost told him to kill his uncle as an act of vengeance, Hamlet wholeheartedly agreed. He also decided to act crazy, something his family and friends attributed to either grief or love, however Hamlet told his friend Horatio that he was simply acting. He might have began off simply acting, but he did gradually fade into madness. Hamlet went to see Ophelia after his meeting with the host of his father, where he demonstrated his first act of madness. “He took me by the wrist and held me hard…/ Long stayed he so,/ At last, a little shaking of mine arm,/ And thrice his head thus waving up and down/ He raised a sigh so piteous and profound” (II. i. 98-106). This is where his family got the idea that he was mad with love. And so, deciding to prove this, Claudius and Polonius had Ophelia help them, insisting she go talk to Hamlet whilst they......

Words: 1058 - Pages: 5

Premium Essay

Motif Of Madness In Hamlet

...Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “There is always some madness in love, but there is also always some reason in madness. Love and revenge lead to strong motif of madness in William Shakespeare “Hamlet”. Hamlet like most sons, loved, his father dearly. Hamlet tries to seek revenge for his father’s death so he decides to act mad. When Rosencrantz and Guildenstern try not to see what’s wrong with hamlet he says, “I am but mad north – North West when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw” (scene 2 act 2 page 57). He explains that he is mad, but he still knows what he is doing. There is no need to worry about him. Over and over again each character explains how they think Hamlet is mad, even his mother, and the queen. She says, “Alas,...

Words: 500 - Pages: 2

Free Essay

Theme of Madness in Hamlet

...Polonius also says: "Though this be madness, yet there is method in't" (2.2.203-204). This quote clearly shows that Hamlet is crazy, but there is reason behind his craziness, and sure enough there is. The question always remain whether Hamlet is crazy or not, but there is no denying Ophelias madness. Both of them have tragic events occur in their lives. Ophelia is asked to stay away from Hamlet from her father; she then gets rejected by Hamlet, tricked into giving up her virginity, and worse of all her father is killed by her ex lover. Ophelia starts singing about her father's death, Hamlets trickery and all the tricks of this world. To be singing after the death of your father shows there is something wrong with you: "A document in madness" (4.5. 175-176). Hamlet does not completely lose it after the death of his father but keeps his calm and mind focused on his plan. Also, Hamlet constantly talks about suicide throughout the play: "To be or not to be, that is the question" (3.1. 156). But he never actually goes through with killing himself, unlike Ophelia who does end up committing suicide. Shakespeare uses Hamlet to illustrate the complex workings of the mind, and how one must use deception in order to deceive others to get to the truth. In a way we all can relate to Hamlet. We decide on our own unique methods to overcome whatever problems lie in our way, maybe the methods may not be right, but we believe them to be right. That is not madness but rather human nature,......

Words: 312 - Pages: 2

Premium Essay

Examples Of Ophelia's Madness In Hamlet

...Tyler Marshall-Barnes 2/24/16 P.7 Was Ophelia’s Madness Justified? Throughout the play “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare, Ophelia’s actions can be seen as a silly act to get attention, but her spiral into madness was justified. Ophelia’s character could not emotionally or mentally handle the flawed characteristics conveyed through her loved ones. The author conveys this reasoning through two main characters. Hamlet, her lover, didn't let her know of his plans which made her believe she had lost him for good, proving her father's words and Polonius, her father, had the biggest role in pushing her over the edge with all of his contradictory actions and statements Learning of the cause of Hamlet's frequent visits, Polonius lectured his daughter....

Words: 813 - Pages: 4

Premium Essay

The Madness Of Ophelia In Shakespeare's Hamlet

...As the theme of “madness” runs rapid through the play, Hamlet, many characters suffer from psychological disorders leading to their inevitable end. Ophelia, daughter of Polonius, is among the many characters that suffer from these psychological behaviors. Her mindless behavior was under scrutiny and eventually classified under two categories: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Delirium. These disorders were characterized through both the physical and mental stability of her. At the start of the play, Ophelia was considered to be rather normal. Her responses and actions were of those who would be considered healthy. As the play progressed, she began to slowly lose touch with reality until she finally went ‘mad’. Ophelia’s psychological degradation...

Words: 619 - Pages: 3

Premium Essay

Insanity In Hamlet

...ended up. Madness can be defined as, “the state of being severely mentally ill.” The road to developing madness can be connected to trauma or life experiences. Evidence today points to the idea that stress or trauma can lead to psychosis. Traumatic experiences can hijack a person’s reality, and disable them. In Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, Hamlet can be viewed as mad and psychologically unstable. Hamlet’s character in the play is very complex. Hamlet moves from a series of dramatic and drastic emotions throughout the novel, starting with depression, moving to madness and high levels of stress. Hamlet acts as a philosopher in the beginning of the play by the way he articulates his speeches and behavior in front of crowds....

Words: 424 - Pages: 2

Premium Essay

Hamlet Is Mad

...Hamlet is Mad In the play, Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, there was quite a controversy to whether the main character, Hamlet, pretended to be mad or was indeed mad. Throughout the play, Hamlet put-on an act of madness to appear innocent, however, through Hamlets desire for revenge his illusion of madness became reality. This was shown through Hamlets change in character, his confession of madness, and his hallucination of the ghost of his father. Firstly, Hamlet’s pursuit for revenge drove him mad, which in turn changed his character. This was shown when Hamlet accidentally killed Polonius thinking that he was Claudius. Hamlet originally was an intelligent scholar, not a soldier who fought battles. Hamlet was not the type of person to commit murder and take someone’s life. Hamlet’s desire to attain revenge drove him mad with thoughts of murdering his culprit. Furthermore, after Hamlet killed Polonius he admitted to Laertes that it was madness that drove him to commit murder. In act 5, scene 2, Hamlet said to Laertes, “What I have done that your nature, honour, and exception roughly awake, I here proclaim was madness”. In Hamlet’s complete speech to Laertes, the tone was very serious. This showed that what Hamlet said was not another one of his acts of madness. Therefore, Hamlet himself admitted to his madness, which killed Polonius. Lastly, Hamlet’s hallucinations of the ghost of his father proved that Hamlet was mad. During the scene with Hamlet and Gertrude in her......

Words: 325 - Pages: 2

Free Essay

Hamlet Movie Scene Comparison

...Hamlet Movie Scene Comparison Act II, scene 2 is the longest scene in Hamlet. In this scene, Rosencrantz and Guildernstern come to the King, Voltimand and Cornelius report the message from Norway, Polonius suggests to Claudius and Gertrude the reason of Hamlet’s madness, Hamlet calls Polonius a “fishmonger”, Rosencrantz and Guildernstern bring in the players, Hamlet decides to let the players play the Old King’s murder. Scene 2 is divided into sub-sections in a way to present the plot and the theme more clearly. The “fishmonger scene” refers to the part from Polonius’s explanation of Hamlet’s madness “Your noble son is mad” (2.2.92) to the end of Hamlet and Polonius’s first interaction “except my life” (2.2.210), initiates Hamlet’s actions on revenge and vouchsafes how other characters view his “madness”. This essay will compare the actors’ gestures and line arrangements from directors Kenneth Branagh and Franco Zeffirelli to depict the different effects in Hamlet’s madness. First, the actors’ gestures between Kenneth Branagh version and Mel Gibson version show differences to the interpretations of Hamlet’s madness. There are not many gestures in the Kenneth Branagh film, which can mean something. When Polonius talks to Claudius and Gertrude, also when he talks to Hamlet, he does not have obvious big body movement, but instead just standing straight, walking steadily, behaving perfectly like a honorable and educated man; Hamlet as the noble son of the King and Queen, and......

Words: 1159 - Pages: 5

Premium Essay

Insanity In Hamlet

...Philip K. Dick once said that, "It is sometimes an appropriate response to reality to go insane" ( This is a very controversial statement to make, since more often than not, madness is unquestionably inappropriate; for example, in Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. Yet, Dick is right; under specific circumstances, insanity can be righteous, such as in William Shakespeare's Hamlet. In both The Picture of Dorian Gray and Hamlet, with influence, the titular characters descend into madness. However, the similarities in their stories end there. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, the nominal character is selfishly chaotic, thus, his madness can never be forgiven. Contrarily, Hamlet, in the play titled after him, becomes deranged...

Words: 1720 - Pages: 7

Premium Essay


...In the play Hamlet, madness is very prevalent and is a major theme in the play. Madness is defined as mental delusion or eccentric behavior from it; and in this case Hamlet's madness changes his perception and affected his judgment. When people are mad, people start to react to things instead of thinking them through and do not act normally. Through Hamlet's apparent madness, Shakespeare illuminates the danger that Hamlet's flawed decisions made from poor judgment pose to other, especially those closest to him. Hamlet in the play makes flawed decisions because of his mental state. The madness contributes to his poor judgment. In act one scene five, Hamlet says “As I perchance hereafter shall think meet To put an antic disposition on” (1.5.28). This is Hamlet blatantly stating that he is going to pretend to act crazy. But the premise of it is a bit insane itself. He makes this decision from seeing the ghost of King Hamlet. It is strange that nobody except Hamlet has heard the ghost told. And even later in act three, scene four, Hamlet talks to the ghost in front of Gertrude, but Gertrude acts confused as if she never seen the ghost. The fact that Claudius killed his brother and married King Hamlet's wife upsets Hamlet and causes him to make these rash decision. Another example of his decision making is in act two scene two, where he makes fun of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Hamlet confronts Rosencrantz and Guildenstern about them spying on him for the king and queen.......

Words: 1023 - Pages: 5

Premium Essay


...Shakespeare’s Hamlet is possibly the most famous work in Western Literature. Since its first performance around 1600, Hamlet has been Shakespeare’s most performed, read, and studied drama. One of the most intriguing of these interpretive questions concerns madness in the play. How we as readers view Hamlet’s sanity has a profound impact on how we see his character and how we view the play as a whole. Throughout Shakespeare's Hamlet, Hamlet's questionable madness is explored through his real madness and feigned actions towards his madness. The first reference to madness comes in Act 1, Scene 5. Here Hamlet sets the stage for his alleged madness throughout the rest of the play by telling Horatio “As I perchance hereafter shall think meet to put an antic disposition on....” (1.v. 171-72). In these lines Hamlet is telling his friend Horatio that he will play the role of a mad man so that no one will be able to discover his true purpose of avenging his father’s most foul and unnatural death. After seeing the ghost, Hamlet's mind is bombarded with thoughts of the world unseen that leave him full of emotion and desperate to know the truth. This is maybe the biggest influence on Hamlet in his life. He changes personal so much from the beginning to end, from living to dead. In some instances, Hamlet's madness can be seen as real. For example, Hamlet states as he makes a pass through the arras and kills Polonius, "How now! a rat? Dead for a ducat, dead!" (3.4, 25). Hamlet's......

Words: 420 - Pages: 2

Premium Essay

Hamlet's Madness

...Hamlet is thought to be one of William Shakespeare's most honored works and is a piece of art in its form that has been studied in depth by many scholars since its time. The storyline of Hamlet follows a vein of madness that begins with Claudius' murdering King Hamlet and ending with the tragic killing of almost every main character. Many reasons have been proposed for the ultimate tragedy, which occurs at the conclusion of the play. Indeed Hamlet is mad, but the other characters' madness also helped in contributing to his own. It is or is it not true that Hamlet was faking his insanity? Highly doubtful that Hamlet was faking the whole thing. The meaning for insanity on is “a permanent disorder of the mind.” Hamlet didnt have a permanent disorder of the mind he knew what he was doing and even planned the majority of the events that happened. Most of the time anyway. Having your father die is bad enough, but to have your mother marry your uncle, within a few weeks of your father’s death? Then to see the ghost of your dead father. That would drive anyone a little insane, but maybe not to the extent that everyone thought Hamlet was acting. Hamlet is torn between acting sane and letting everyone else see him as insane. Throughout the story Hamlet pretends to be insane and even dies acting out this front of insanity. At first it seems as though Hamlet is just acting, but then it appears that he does truly indeed go insane. Even after he has gathered evidence......

Words: 1932 - Pages: 8

Premium Essay

Deception In Hamlet

...William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, there are many themes of betrayal, plotting, deceit, and revenge. With so much going on it can be hard to distinguish a character’s motives and plots, especially with regards to the main protagonist, Hamlet. This clearly disturbed character, whose problems over the course of the story take their toll on his emotional as well as physical health. His plot for revenge is never explicitly clear to the reader, as his monologues get more and more dark and vague. This leaves a lot of his actions up to interpretation, most clearly his descent into madness, which while some see as an act, others see as the result of a deep depression. Many people have vastly different opinions on the topic, and for the rest of time they will only be that, as Shakespeare is no longer here to give a definitive answer of his intentions. That is not to say that these different ideas have no merit however, as it has been a topic that has been heavily debated for years. Some say that Hamlet was driven insane by the death of his father, and the “betrayal” of his mother. Others say that his madness was all a plot to trick and confuse the antagonist, Claudius. While others even see it as a mixture of both, with Hamlet slowly losing his mind over...

Words: 1432 - Pages: 6

Premium Essay


...writers on your OIB program deal with the theme of madness It is not rare that the theme of madness whether it is feigned or not to be presented in literary works. William Shakespeare and Euripides depict this theme in their works Hamlet and Medea. Medea and Hamlet have experienced familial hardships; as a result they believe that the only way to obtain what they desire is through manipulation. Indeed both characters have become masters at the art of deceiving. In both works the theme of madness can be discussed as we cannot be certain that these personas are truly lunatics. Madness can be here considered as a tool to achieve ones end. Indeed Medea and Hamlet feign insanity in order to achieve revenge over their disloyal family. Medea and Hamlet have been betrayed by their family, the first through the murder of his father by his uncle and the marriage of his mother to the same man and the second by her husband who has agreed to marry somebody else. Both are left alone dealing with these events. As madness may be described as “mental incapacity caused by an unmentionable injury”, it is with no surprise that Hamlet or Medea would fall in the hands of insanity. However their actions and words prove the opposite. We can thus suppose that they are both feigning madness to achieve revenge. Medea thinks about the consequences before taking action “what state would take me in? What friend would offer me his land as refuge”. Hamlet weighs also his options as he does not......

Words: 1630 - Pages: 7

Premium Essay

Hamlet Essay

...Humes English IV April 4th, 2013 Hamlets Sanity Is Hamlet mad, is he sane, what is he going to do with his madness or sanity? In this mind twisting play, Hamlet by: William Shakespeare, there are many situations throughout the play that are enough to bring Hamlet to insanity. Take, for example, Act IV, scene II, after Polonius's death. Hamlet's day has been crazy, he finally decides that Claudius has killed his father. The chance to kill Claudius confronts him, and he comes very close to convincing Gertrude that Claudius killed his father. Hamlet accidentally kills Polonius and finally, the ghost of his father visits him. Though at this point these situations create plenty of reasons for Hamlet to be insane, he remains sharp and witty. Hamlet remains in this state of madness, .his intelligence remains clear, but his way of thinking takes a turn for the worse.   Hamlet reveals to his friends and his mother of his plans to pretend act insane. He tells Horatio that he is going to “feign madness”, and that if Horatio” notices any strange behavior from Hamlet, it is because he is putting on an act”. (I.v.166-180). Hamlet also tells his mother that he is not mad, "but mad in craft." (III.iv.188-199). In addition to his confessions, Hamlet's madness only shows itself when he is in the presence of certain characters. When Hamlet is around Polonius, Claudius, Gertrude, Ophelia, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, he behaves in a bad manor. When Hamlet is around Horatio, Bernardo,......

Words: 632 - Pages: 3