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The Tragedy “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare

Hamlet’s state of mind in Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet remains a mystery to many readers. While there have been constant debates on whether Hamlet is insane or he is faking insanity as a strategy to avenge his father’s death, there is clear evidence throughout the play that Hamlet is fully aware of what he is doing. Although he is subjected to extreme sadness, betrayal and anger, which can easily drive him into madness, Hamlet is a dynamic character who changes according to the context and environment to dominate and manipulate the conversation to his favor. This paper proves that Hamlet is not insane but rather uses his dynamic nature to make people believe that he has gone insane to accurately prove his uncle’s guilt and avenge his father’s death.

Prior to meeting his father’s ghost, Hamlet’s conversation with his mother demonstrates that he is sane. After learning about his father’s death, the king, Hamlet, returns from Wittenberg to mourn his father. His conversation with his mother, Queen Claudius, portrays him as calm and obedient. When his mother requests him not to go back to Wittenberg but stay with her, he gladly agrees and promises to obey her. The Queen says, “Let not thy mother lose her prayers, Hamlet. I pray thee, stay with us. Go not to Wittenberg” (Shakespeare. 1.2.122-123). Hamlet responds politely, “I shall in all my best obey you, madam” (Shakespeare. 1.2.124). This conversation portrays Hamlet’s sanity, although he feels lonely and sad that he finds it convincing to spend time with his mother to recover from the loss of his father.

As he comes to terms with his father’s death, Hamlet becomes angrier with the speed with which his mother remarries his uncle but controls his emotions. He thinks that the Queen did not accord the deceased king the respect he deserved. He says, “She married. O, most wicked speed, to post with such dexterity to incestuous sheets!” (Shakespeare. 1.2.161-162). This statement demonstrates the mental breakdown that Hamlet is fighting because he feels his mother betrayed his father by remarrying his uncle. However, he shows that he is in control of himself and does not allow the anguish and sense of betrayal to overcome him by staying silent rather than confronting his mother about it. He says, “But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue” (Shakespeare. 1.2.169). This statement shows Hamlet is aware of the sensitivity of the matter surrounding his mother’s betrayal and the implications it would cause by publicly making such allegations, thus demonstrating sanity.

Furthermore, Hamlet shows that he is not insane when interacting with his friend Horatio. In several instances that he converses with Horatio, Hamlet appears to be aware of the context of the conversation and the fully engaged in the topic of discussion. For instance, he acknowledges that he has been seeing his father in his mind a lot since his death. This confession shows that Hamlet understands his state of mind and that he is not hallucinating but instead has a picture of his father in his thoughts but not in reality. When Horatio reveals that he saw the ghost of Hamlet’s father, Hamlet becomes inquisitive to understand Horatio’s claim. This shows that he is sane and wants to understand how one could see the dead. He asks Horatio to physically describe the ghost to confirm whether it matches the attributes of his father. Therefore, his curiosity and skepticism prove that he knows how strange the claims are and would wish to obtain more evidence to believe what Horatio was saying, which makes his reasoning logical.

When Hamlet meets to speak with his father’s spirit, he gets bitter and vows vengeance, learning that his uncle killed the king to marry the Queen. The revelation of his uncle’s betrayal makes Hamlet more careful and clever with how he plans to execute his vengeance plan. He understands that the king is likely to eliminate anyone who stands in his way. As a result, he becomes dynamic such that he changes from a sensible person to an insane character for people to believe that the loss of his father psychologically overburdens him. Coincidently, this is the same interpretation that the king makes, not knowing that it is a strategy that Hamlet wants to employ to kill him. The king says, “More than his father’s death, that thus hath put him So much from th’ understanding of himself I cannot dream of” (Shakespeare. 2.2.8-10). Additionally, the king instructs Hamlet’s close friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to spy on him and gather information on the seriousness of his insanity. The king’s reaction justifies Hamlet’s strategy to conceal his motives by faking insanity.

Hamlet’s alleged insanity is selective such that his behavior is determined by whoever he is interacting with. For instance, he calls Polonius a fishmonger out of madness, although a deep interpretation justifies his statement. He uses the metaphor of a fishmonger to criticize Polonius’ dishonesty and his ill behavior of using his daughter to his advantage. By faking insanity, Hamlet gains the freedom to criticize whoever he wants without being subjected to punishment. This is evident at the beginning of the play before he adopts his act of insanity when he chooses to remain quiet about his mother’s betrayal of marrying his uncle after his father’s death. For instance, he uses his fake insanity to criticize his mother for being wicked and betraying his father. after annoying the king with a staged play that resembles his father’s murder, the Queen gets angry and tells him how much he has offended the king. Hamlet responds to her by saying, “Mother, you have my father much offended” (Shakespeare. 3.4.13). Therefore, hamlet understands that by faking insanity, he has a greater chance of avenging his father’s death without being victimized.

Besides, when his mother calls the killing of Polonius a bloody deed, Hamlet responds by telling her that a bloody deed is killing a king and marrying his brother. This was a confrontation with his mother and an expression of anger for his mother’s betrayal. His mother is blinded by his fake insanity of Hamlet and cannot judge him, although she gets frustrated by what Hamlet is saying. Additionally, he wittingly uses his fake insanity to kill Polonius, who was spying for the king. He pretends to mistake Polonius for a rat hiding behind the arras, thus striking him dead with his sword. He says, “How now, a rat? Dead for a ducat, dead” (Shakespeare. 3.4.29). By killing Polonius, Hamlet draws himself closer to the king because Polonius was a significant obstacle to the success of Hamlet’s mission.

Hamlet adopts insanity even speaking with his closest friends, including his lover, Ophelia, because the king was using the people close to him as spies to get much trigger him to reveal his motives. Despite being in love with Hamlet, Ophelia questions his behavior and becomes suspicious. She would have been a great source of information to the king, but Hamlet is clever to be consistent in his insanity when interacting with her to seal any loopholes that would reveal his intentions. However, when interacting with his confidant, Horatio, he depicts coherent and logical thoughts that show his sanity. This is because he finds Horatio loyal to him, and unlike most of the characters in the play who are dynamic, Horatio is static throughout the play.

When the king devises a plan to have Hamlet killed in England, Hamlet learns about the plan, jumps off the ship, and returns to Denmark. This shows that he was utterly aware of his environment and knew how to react to every unfolding situation. He had meticulously learned the moves of his enemies and developed counteractive plans to overcome several plots to kill him effectively. In another act to demonstrate his sanity, Hamlet advises Horatio to testify what had happened to Fortinbras, the heir to the throne. This shows that Hamlet had accomplished his mission and wanted the people to know the evil that had transpired.

In conclusion, Hamlet was not insane but rather faked insanity as a mechanism to execute his plan of avenging his father’s death effectively. Hamlet understood that by being insane, he obtained the freedom to criticize and condemn the evil that his mother and uncle were exercising without facing trial. Furthermore, he faked insanity when interacting with his friends to prevent spies from gaining any meaningful information that the king could use to reveal his motives. His ability to fake madness effectively makes Hamlet a dynamic character in the play.

Work Cited

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Edited by G. R. Hibbard, Oxford UP, 2008.

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"The Tragedy “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare." OctoStudy, 7 Apr. 2023, octostudy.com/the-tragedy-hamlet-by-william-shakespeare/.

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OctoStudy. "The Tragedy “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare." April 7, 2023. https://octostudy.com/the-tragedy-hamlet-by-william-shakespeare/.


OctoStudy. 2023. "The Tragedy “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare." April 7, 2023. https://octostudy.com/the-tragedy-hamlet-by-william-shakespeare/.


OctoStudy. (2023) 'The Tragedy “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare'. 7 April.

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