Madness and Insanity in Shakespeare's Hamlet - Hamlet and Insanity

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Hamlet and Insanity

William Shakespeare’s supreme tragic drama Hamlet does not answer fully for many in the audience the pivotal question concerning the sanity of Hamlet – whether it is totally feigned or not. Let us treat this topic in detail, along with critical comment.

George Lyman Kittredge in the Introduction to The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, explains the prince’s rationale behind the entirely pretended insanity:

In Shakespeare’s drama, however, Hamlet’s motive for acting the madman is obvious. We speak unguardedly in the presence of children and madmen, for we take it for granted that they will not listen or will not understand; and so the King or the Queen (for Hamlet does not know
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Hamlet’s first soliloquy deepens the psychological rift between the prince and the world at large, but especially women; it emphasizes the frailty of women – an obvious reference to his mother’s hasty and incestuous marriage to her husband’s brother:

Must I remember? why, she would hang on him,

As if increase of appetite had grown

By what it fed on: and yet, within a month--

Let me not think on't--Frailty, thy name is woman! (1.2)

The Ghost reveals to the protagonist that King Hamlet was murdered by Claudius, who had a relationship with Gertrude prior to the murder; the ghost requests revenge by Hamlet: “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.” Hamlet swears to carry out vengeance on King Claudius.

The hero resolves to put on an “antic disposition” to disguise his intentions while he seriously works on avenging his murdered father. So it would seem that the prince’s madness is entirely feigned – at least at first. Hamlet’s girlfriend, Ophelia, is unfortunately the first to experience the hero’s new “madness,” and she is terrorized by his visit. Marchette Chute in “The Story Told in Hamlet” describes Polonius’ analysis of Hamlet’s
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