Was he Sane?


ELA 12. 30.1


March 23, 2004


One of the most difficult questions to answer in William Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, is; was Prince Hamlet truly mad, or was he just putting on “an antic-disposition”(I.v.173) Hamlet’s behavior is frequently changes throughout the course of the play and it makes it hard to distinguish his true nature. However after an in-depth analysis of Hamlet’s words and actions, prove for both his sanity and madness is evident.


Proof toward Hamlet’s madness first becomes evident in the beginning of the play when Hamlet, upon hearing the truth of his father’s death, began speaking “wild and whirling words,”(I.v.134) to Horatio and Marcellus. This is significant because Hamlet, usually, is calm, focused, and takes time to think things over, but instead is ranting on about, literally, nothing. Also Horatio pleads to Hamlet not to follow the Ghost, Horatio believes that the ghost cannot be trusted because it may "assume some other horrible form, / Which might deprive [Hamlet’s] sovereignty of reason / And draw [Hamlet] into madness" (I.iv.72-74) Horatio also believes that spirit could lure Hamlet to the edge of a cliff, where the sight of the depth "so many fathoms to the sea,"(I.iv.77) would Hamlet fall. This is also significant because Hamlet again does not think about the consequences of his actions, instead he rather risk everything just to find out meaning of the ghost being clothed in his fathers battle uniform, again showing that Hamlet is outside himself. His sarcastic comment, “O, wonderful,”(I.v.119) also shows that Hamlet is in madness because Hamlet should be furious about what he has been told, but instead he seems happy. How can Hamlet be calm after hearing that his own uncle murdered his father? It’s because Hamlet is unable to take control over his actions because what he has heard is unbearable. However not only Horatio and Marcellus think Hamlet is mad, Ophelia and Polonius both believe that Hamlet is "Mad for [Ophelia’s] love?" (II.i.886). They think this because Hamlet came into Ophelia’s chamber “ with his doublet all unbraced…[and] pale as his shirt (II.i.79-82). This is, again, not like Hamlet at all; his behavior has been changing constantly, ever since he spoke with the ghost, and now Hamlet seems to have become even deeper into madness because Ophelia, on her father\'s orders, won\'t see him anymore. Hamlet should be thinking out a plan to avenge his father’s death, not work out issues about him and Ophelia. However Hamlet shows true madness when he kills Polonius in his mother’s chamber.


Hamlet acted solemnly on impulse when he killed Polonius, and only madmen act on impulse rather than their conscience. He didn’t even make an attempt to ask who it was, he just stabbed thinking it might be Claudius because he believed that only Claudius would hide in his mother’s chamber. Also when Gertrude asks, “what hast thou done,”(III.iv.27) Hamlet responds with “Nay, I know not.”(III.iv.28) This again shows that Hamlet did not know what he was doing when he stabbed through the arras, Hamlet, for the moment was being ruled by his emotions, rather than his conscience, and his emotions overwhelmed him, and therefore if he was not in control of his actions he must be mad. Moreover, after Hamlet kills Polonius the ghost of Hamlet’s father appears and only he can see him. Hamlet then says to his father to “save me, and hover o’er me with [his] wings (III.iv.105), which Gertrude replies, “alas, he’s mad,”(III.iv.107), because she can not believe that Hamlet “bend[s] [his] eye on vacancy”(III.iv.119). This is very strange because Horatio and Marcellus were able to see the ghost in the beginning of act one, when they were by themselves, and then when Hamlet was around at the end of act one. But now only Hamlet can see him, this clearly shows that Hamlet, at this time, was mad. However, even thought the evidence towards madness is quite strong the evidence towards his sanity is even stronger.


Hamlet, despite his frequent loss of control of his self, is in fact sane. In the beginning of the play Hamlet told Horatio that he was going to fake everything and if anything that Horatio sees is strange or erratic it is because Hamlet is “put[ting] an