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HAMLET’S MADNESS:

The most difficult question in Hamlet is the madness of the hero. Whether the bonds of
sanity are really over passed by Hamlet or not. Almost all the critics have dealt with the
character of Hamlet and have given their opinions and can be grouped into two. Let us
judge their opinions and then analyse the problem ourselves.
There are certain critics who believe that Hamlet is definitely mad and his madness is real.
George Farren, a nineteenth century critic, says that “the death of his father, the hasty
marriage of his mother, over throw of his royal hopes, all these working on mind
predisposed to gaiety imparts a tinge of melancholy to it.” Dr. Raj, a medical man, writing
in “The American Journal of insanity” remarks:
“The manner, of which Hamlet speaks of and to the ghost, while administrating the oath of
secrecy to his friend, is something more than the reaction of a mind after experiencing
extraordinary emotions.”
According to these critics there are definite signs of madness in the play. His actions and
behaviour after meeting ghost, his meeting with Ophelia, with pale face, piteous look and
eccentric behaviour, his loss of mental balance after the success of Mouse Trap, his
emotional behaviour at the funeral of Ophelia, his conversation with Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern, after he has dictated them as spies of king, are the sure signs of his madness.
Prof. Nicoll says in his book: “It is quite natural that the shocks to Hamlet’s inner nature
should tend to destroy his sanity.”
On the other hand, there are extreme critics who hold the view that Hamlet is not mad at
all and his madness is definitely feigned. Sinder, a nineteen century critic, says that Hamlet
is not mad at all. He possesses the finest sides of character and intelligence. He no doubt,
has weakness, deficiency of will power, melancholic colour in his feelings, unsound
reasoning etc. All these are true but do not make out a case of madness. Lowell, another
famous critic of Shakespeare, is of the view that if Shakespeare himself, without going mad,
could so observe and remember all the abnormal symptoms as to able to produce in
Hamlet, why should it be beyond the power of Hamlet to reproduce them in his self. If
Hamlet is mad then what about Shakespeare?” Stopford Brooke in “On ten plays of
Shakespeare” remarks, all men of genius are mad, genius itself is madness. If genius is
madness Hamlet was mad.” A German critic Vischer says: “Hamlet is just as insane as all
men of genius are.”
When we read the play, we feel that in peculiar circumstances Hamlet becomes subject to
emotional outburst and abnormal behaviour. After meeting the ghost, Hamlet utters the
words which should put an end to the whole controversy.
“As I perchance here after shall think meet
To put an antic disposition on…..”
Here arises a question for what purpose he puts on an antic disposition. Whether he
remains successful in his aim for which he adopts madness? Let us seek answer to these
questions. Before going deep, it should be clear that feigning of madness was a part of the
convention of the revenge plays. Hamlet may adopt madness to carry out his purpose- the
execution of revenge, without alerting his enemies. The king has never been convinced of
his madness. Even Polonius, who sets Hamlet’s madness, confuses that:
“Though this be madness, yet there is method in it.”
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern who tackle with Hamlet also say:
“Nor do we find him forward to be sounded,
But with a crafty madness.”
Only the two ladies, in the play, believe in his madness- Ophelia and his mother. His
mother believes in his madness even after she is told by Hamlet:
“Ecstasy!
My pulse as yours doth temperately keep time,

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And, makes as healthful music. It is not madness
That I have uttered. Bring me to the test.”
There can be no convincing proof of his sanity than these words to his mother. He is ever
sane and good in his talk with Horatio. His talk with players is sensible. A sure proof of his
sanity is his plot for the death of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. A man out of his senses
could not have plotted the death of two comrades.
Some critics run away with the idea that Hamlet was not actually mad in the beginning. He
adopted madness in the beginning and went completely mad later on. They refer to
Hamlet’s emotional confession of love with Ophelia at her funeral. He says:
“I loved Ophelia, forty thousand brothers
Could not, with all their quantity of love
Make up my sum.”
His confession of love which he expresses at such a grave and serious occasion of funeral
procession is quite insane, extravagant, and exaggerated. When he utters his love in
graveyard, all people standing there, consider him mad. Even his mother says:
“This is mere madness.”
The King also says:
“0, he is mad, Laertes.”
In fact, when he sees Ophelia dead, he gets an emotional shock. Suddenly he forgets his
adopted madness and at once comes to his grounds. He only expresses his true, deep and
secret love for Ophelia, and nothing more.
A deep study of the play shows that his encounter with the ghost, his talks with Horatio has
an intellectual quality in it. His conversation with his school-fellows, players and with
himself is quite sane. He only adopts madness in the presence of those whom he wishes to
deceive. He does not have any secret plot to fulfill, during his madness. He adopts madness
for two reasons:
First, he adopts it for protection. In sane condition the king may consider him as danger to
his throne. Secondly, he adopts madness as a defense mechanism. It is to accept a
pretended state in order to protect oneself against the real madness. Hamlet can cool down
his fiery and violent emotions during his madding condition and can relieve the pressure of
his mind. Hamlet takes on the adopted madness and keeps it up till the end even though his
device does not help him in his plan materially.
Thus we can say that Hamlet adopts madness only to protect himself physically and
mentally. He does not adopt madness to fulfill any plot, or evil design against anybody.
Neither is it true that he adopts madness in the beginning and later on goes completely
mad. Hence we may say that actually he was not mad and his madness was feigned.

Written&Composed By:
Prof. A.R.Somroo
M.A.English&Education.
0661-610063.

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