Is Hamlet’s Insanity Real or Fake?

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“Though this is madness, yet there is method in it” was one of many quotes by William Shakespeare. Shakespeare was acknowledged to be one of the greatest English writers, and poet in history (Encyclopedia of world Biography). One of his most famous plays is “Hamlet.” This play has many themes but one of the most important one in this play is the theme of insanity or madness.

Many of the characters in this play faced either a tragic death, anger or distress. It has been a controversial topic whether Prince Hamlet’s insanity was real or fake. If it was fake, was he doing so to distract his surroundings of his intentions to kill his uncle Claudius or did his obsession for vengeance to his father’s death really drove him to madness. Seeing his father’s “ghost,” and “accidentally” killing people, where some of many factors that happened in the play that may portray Hamlet’s insanity.

In the beginning of the play, Hamlet did not appear to be insane, in fact, his personality changed from a normal behavior to a depressed one after the death of his father. The depression took effect harder after finding out that his mother, Gertrude, was going to marry his uncle Claudius. Hamlet felt betrayed by his mother considering that his dad had just passed away a couple months before. “Within a month, ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears had left the flushing in her galled eyes, she married,” (Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 2,154-156).

His mother, however, did not feel, as she is moving on too fast, “thou know’st ‘tis common- all that lives must die,” (Hamlet 1.2.72-73) is a comment she gave Hamlet when he was mourning the death of his father. She was basically stating that this is the way of life and everything that lives has to eventually die. Hamlet knew that what his mother said was true, but it still hurt to know that she was getting over it fast, especially doing so by getting married with Claudius. He saw that as “gross” and in a way unethical for her to marry her late husband’s brother. That made Hamlet depressed and furious at the same time.

A ghost first appeared to Hamlet’s friends: Marcellus, Bernardos, and Horatio and later to Hamlet. When he appears to Hamlet, he reveals to him that he is his father, “I am thy father’s spirit,” (Hamlet pg.1121) He then asks Prince Hamlet to revenge his death, “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder…the serpent that did sting thy father’s life now wears the crown” (Hamlet, pg. 1122).

That his cause of death was from poisoning by his brother Claudius. After learning the truth behind the death of his father, Hamlet swore he would take revenge against his uncle but made his friends swear that they would not tell anyone about the ghost. He had to carry out a plan; however, he had to do it in a way that his uncle would not suspect. Claudius believes that Hamlet is crazy because he is keeping a big secret. This is incongruous because the secret that Hamlet did have is that he knows that Claudius is his father’s killer. The same secret that concerns Claudius is the same one of Hamlet.

Hamlet pretended to be insane as part of his plan to kill Claudius, he first came up with a plan where his friends were going to recite a play and the actor was going to die the same way his father died, by poisoning in the ear. He was sure his uncle was going to see that play and wanted to see his reaction. This is when his obsession for revenge came upon. When Claudius in fact sees the play, his reaction was of nervousness. He knew Hamlet was up to something and he was not crazy like he was making everyone belief. That is the reason Claudius decided it was best for Hamlet to leave for England. Claudius was afraid that if Hamlet in fact knew something, it would harm his new position as the new King.

Hamlet’s “fake” insanity was more believable by the people around him because his “act” was very precise that of a mental person. Polonius, the king’s chief councilor, was certain that Hamlet was mad, “your noble son is mad,” (Shakespeare 1132), he told the king and queen. In the play, it seemed as everyone that was on Claudius’s side were the ones convinced that Hamlet was insane except for him. Insanity is “a chronic or persistent disorder of the mental processes caused by brain disorder or injury” (Dictionary.com), Hamlet did not have any brain disorder or injury, so his actions were in fact fake.

Gertrude and Hamlet entered the chamber to talk were Polonius was spying on their conversation just in case he wanted to harm her. Gertrude was convinced that Hamlet was insane and thought he could do such thing, “what wilt thou do? Thou wilt not murder me?” (Shakespeare 1165), Hamlet was not there to harm his mother. He wanted to let her know how he felt towards her after getting married to his uncle.

He wanted her to realize the kind of “sin” she had committed by doing so. The ghost appeared as they were having a conversation and Hamlet started to talk to him but since Gertrude cannot see him, that gave her the certainty that he was mad, “alas he’s mad,” (Shakespeare 1168) she said. She then cried for help and Polonius jumped out his hiding spot prompting Hamlet to kill him with his sword thinking it was Claudius.

After Hamlet “accidentally” murdered Polonius, and felt no guilt after doing so, it gave everyone around him the certainty that he was in fact insane and not acting like others thought he was doing. Although he hated Polonius for always being with Claudius and thought of him as a “tedious old fool” (Shakespeare) it was not his intent to kill him. Gertrude had doubts about her son’s insanity after they spoke about his feelings. She was certain that he was acting mad because he was hurt and felt betrayed that she remarried too soon after her husband’s death. She felt guilty for the way her son was acting.

Hamlet managed to fool most people in to thinking he was insane, “I am but mad north-north-west, when the wind is southerly known from a handsaw” (Shakespeare 1139), but others believed that he was using an appearance of dementia in order to demonstrate the hatred he had towards everyone. He had the chance to kill Claudius when he was alone but yet spared his life. That was insane for him to do since that was what he was wanting to do since the beginning. He saw Claudius alone but praying and he thought that by killing him as he prayed Claudius would go to heaven. The play was written during the Renaissance in were religion and humanity was a popular topic. He could not let his uncle die peacefully after what he did to his father.

Hamlet verbally attacked many people during the play, Ophelia (his true love), Gertrude, Laertes (Ophelia’s brother), Polonius, and of course Claudius amongst others. Ophelia was madly in love with him, but Hamlet never showed his love towards her until she died. She committed suicide after knowing that the person she was in love with had killed her father. She could not deal with so much pain in her heart that she was the one that actually went into a mental state of being. She was caught in between the love she had for Hamlet, and the limitations of her father and brother. She felt trapped and had no choice than to throw herself in the river. Gertrude claims it was an accident because she climbed a tree and the branch broke making her fall into the river, however she made no effort to try to get out. That there showed that it was not an accident it was suicide. Ophelia was a victim of everything that was happening around her and she had no voice in the way she wanted to live her life.

In the final scene, Laertes blamed Hamlet for the death of his father and his sister he wanted to avenge their death the same way Hamlet wanted to avenge the death of his father. It was in the best interest of Claudius for Laertes to kill Hamlet. Claudius being an evil man came up with a plan to get rid of Hamlet. Of course, Hamlet was suspicious about the invitation he got to do a fencing match with Laertes, but he still accepted it because as a man he wanted to honor his name. No man was going to back away from a provocative fight, “it was the realization that man is not a totally free agent. With this realization Hamlet faces the fencing match and the King’s intrigues without concern for self” (Eiss, Harry. Insanity and Genius: Masks of Madness and the Mapping of Meaning and Value).

In this same scene, Hamlet’s sanity seemed to be coming back or acting like his old self again. He was making sense of what he was talking about, he was also being respectful towards Claudius. It is unclear if he was doing so to confuse them or was, he done acting mad. Hamlet learned that Claudius had the idea of poisoning him with a glass of wine that instead his mother drank out of. The tip of the sword he was dueling Laertes with was also poisoned.

Laertes confessed to this after Hamlet cut him with the poisoned sword and knew he was going to die. Laertes probably confessed to this as he knew murder was a sin and since he was dying, he wanted to repent of all sin, so he could die in peace and go to heaven. Hamlet made Claudius drink the rest of the poisoned wine glass and now he was not only avenging the death of his father but also of his mother and himself. In the end it was not important of who won the duel, it was more about honor and what it really means to be a man.

Losing your father, seeing a ghost that claims to be your father, having to accept the fact that your mother is remarrying to your uncle, that could drive anyone crazy. Hamlets insanity could’ve been caused by the current death of his dad, the remarrying of his mother or the obsession to avenge his father. Usually at the end of every story, revenge ends with a happy ending where there’s justice served, and everyone lives a happily ever after. However, Hamlet shows that revenge is gained by paying a fatal consequence.


  1. Shakespeare, William. Hamlet, pp. 1101-1210.
  2. ‘William Shakespeare.’ Encyclopedia of World Biography, Gale, 1998. Biography in Context, http://ezproxy.bakersfieldcollege.edu:2068/apps/doc/K1631005993/BIC?u=bcgvdbl_main&sid=BIC&xid=7c8fe11a. Accessed 3 Dec. 2018.
  3. Dictionary.com
  4. Eiss, Harry. Insanity and Genius: Masks of Madness and the Mapping of Meaning and Value. Vol. 2nd ed, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.bakersfieldcollege.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=790726&site=ehost-live&scope=site.

Cite this paper

Is Hamlet’s Insanity Real or Fake?. (2021, Jun 22). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/is-hamlets-insanity-real-or-fake/

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