The issue of madness is one of major importance in this play. Is
Hamlet truly mad, meaning insane? Or is he merely angry? Does he feign
madness and use it as a guise? Or does he place himself so dangerously close
to the line between sanity and insanity that he crosses it without even
realizing it? Or is he so intelligent, cunning and in control that this is merely
the playing out of his completely conceived and well-executed plan of attack?
The patient is a thirty year-old male. He is Hamlet, Prince of Denmark,
an introspective, grieving young member of the royalty, plagued by the recent
death of his father, and the hasty marriage of his mother to his uncle,
Claudius. He is capable of depressing anyone around him; the King and
Queen attempt to pry Hamlet from his mourning. As relations become more
strained between Hamlet and Claudius, his attitude becomes destitute. He
begins to withdraw himself from everyone in the castle, and spends most of
his time in solitude; he is often seen walking alone, talking to himself.
Upon deeper investigation, it is discovered that Hamlet is seeing the
ghost of the ex-King of Denmark, Hamlets father. The ghost becomes
Hamlets counselor, guiding him through his everyday maze of depression
and confusion. It is through the ghost of his father that he learns that
Claudius, the new King of Denmark, is solely responsible for his fathers
foul and most unnatural murder (I.v.26). He claims that he is told to seek
revenge on his fathers murder by murdering Claudius. Hamlet sees the ghost
at various times over the course of the play, appearing when he is in need of
Hamlets condition persists, gradually getting worse, as he becomes
increasingly more aggressive and violent. His behavior towards Ophelia, the
woman he loves, becomes erratic. He has violent outbursts towards his
mother. He kills various members of the castle without explanation. Hamlet
is clearly out of control, and is in need of a psychological evaluation.
The most major of mental illnesses is schizophrenia, a psychotic
illness, where the patient is out of touch with reality. In this disease, thoughts
may be deranged or delusions without basis may arise. The individual tends
to withdraw from their already little social contact. They become
unresponsive and lose interest in normal activities. Emotionally, they can be
irritable, angry, aggressive, and even violent at times. At other times, they
can have an obsession with death, or voices can be heard or visions seen.
The reasons for this change often appear unexplainable to relatives and
friends. Some try to explain this new behavior as due to stresses, past or
present, especially from interpersonal difficulties and mishaps. It is generally
a devastating illness, troublesome to the patient and painful to the relatives
and sometimes offensive to society. (Chong, 1)
William Shakespeares literary opus Hamlet is an adventure story of
the highest quality, a tale of the psychological trials of a man who is isolated
from the society he must live in, and a portrait of a family driven to bloody
and gruesome murder by one mans lust for power (King, 1). In his essay
Hamlet: A Riddle in Greatness, Louis Kronenberger states that even on
the surface, Hamlet remains among the greatest of unsolved psychological
mysteries, and the one that has been provided with the most solutions (1).
The theme of madness in Hamlet has been one of great discussion; there is
much conflicting evidence that can be found when trying to prove the validity
of the claim to Hamlets true madness.
The patient, Hamlet, prince of Denmark, has been diagnosed with
schizophrenia due to his erratic, sometimes irrational behavior. Ever since
the death of his father, King Hamlet, young Hamlet has been what appeared
to be in a state of madness. This case study on Hamlets condition will cite
many instances in William Shakespeares Hamlet in which the patient has
acted in a schizophrenic, meaning mad, manner. Hamlets madness is the
result of his fragile, overanalytical personality being confronted with a great
Hamlets madness is apparent even before he sees the ghost of his
father. At the start of the play, Hamlet is shown to be in the throes of
bereavement (Though This is Madness, Yet There is Method in It., Online
Archive, 1). The queen encourages him to look to the future, and to cease his
grieving, for she believes it is false. Hamlet responds angrily to her
suggestion: But I have within which passeth show; these but the trappings
and the suits of woe. Hamlets strained relationship with Claudius is now
evident; as he comments on his mothers marriage, It is not nor it cannot
come to good (I.ii.158), he already senses that it embodies much misfortune.
This line sets a portentous prediction for the course of the play, as Hamlet
struggles between emotion and sobriety in order to enact revenge on his
Hamlets encounter with the ghost of his father considerably changes
his disposition, and his actions become more bizarre. He has the unique
ability to communicate to his father by talking to a ghost; his friends must
swear themselves to secrecy because of the threat that others may dismiss
him as mad. Nevertheless, Hamlets actions after meeting the ghost do
lead everyone except Horatio to believe he is crazy, but never acts upon his
feelings and loses control. From the beginning, Hamlet feels much pressure
to speak out against the king, but lacks the strength to do so. This inner
conflict is shown in his soliloquy in act two, when he states, O, what a rogue
and peasant slave am I! (II.ii.534). He confesses that he is a coward, and is
torn between speaking out and actually taking action against Claudius. These
new pressures cause much inner torment in Hamlet, and hint at the fact that
Further evidence of Hamlets madness can be found in Hamlets
encounter with his mother in act three, scene four. Hamlet has gone to see his
mother in an attempt to force her to purge herself of her sin, her hasty
marriage to Claudius. As he attempts to make his mother see her wrongs, he
screams at her: Nay, but to live in the rank sweat of an enseamed bed,
stewed in corruption, honeying and making love (III.iv.92-95). This attack
on his mother clearly shows that he has gone beyond merely playing the role
of a moralist, for he has crossed the line between sanity and insanity with his
After this attack on his mother, Hamlet furthers his irrational behavior
by killing Polonius, who was standing behind the curtain in his mothers
room. As Polonius slumps out from behind the curtain, the queen exclaims
O me, what hast thou done?. Hamlet replies, Nay, I know not. Is it the
king? After the slaying, Hamlet appears to justify the killing in his own
mind by stating that Polonius death is almost as bad, good mother, as kill a
king and marry with his brother (III.iv.30-31). Hamlets excuse for the
murder is irrational, for he left Claudius a scene before, and did not take any
affirmative action then. He continues to verbally attack his mother, and does
not cease until his next meeting with the ghost. Hamlet is indeed acting
madly, and without justification.
As he continues the attack on his mother, the ghost appears in a
nightgown. Hamlet appears to come back to his senses, his mood changes,
and begs for guidance: Save me, and hover oer me with your wings, you
heavenly guards! What would your gracious figure? The queen, oblivious
to Hamlets hallucinations, cries out: Alas, hes mad! (III.iv.107-109). The
queen is now convinced of Hamlets psychosis, as she has what appears to be
solid evidence that Hamlet is hallucinating and talking to himself.
After Hamlet kills Polonius, he will not tell anyone where the body is.
Instead, he assumes the role of a madman once again, speaking in a
grotesque and ironic manner. The king asks him, Now Hamlet, wheres
Polonius? Hamlet replies with a sarcastic remark: At supper. He
continues, Not where he eats, but where a is eaten. (IV.iii.16-19) Hamlet
is clearly disrespecting Claudius, and making him look like a fool. Yet again,
Hamlet does not act upon his plan to seek revenge of his fathers murder, but
merely attacks Claudius verbally, as he did to his mother in a fit of rage.
From the beginning of the play, Hamlet has a great fascination with
death, another common symptom of schizophrenia (Goldman, 3). Despite
being warned by his friends that following the ghost was a bad idea, Hamlets
obsession with death was so great that he was prepared to risk all to follow.
Taking such a risk, Hamlet organized a play that revealed the truth about his
fathers death. This play was to serve as a strategy to force Claudius to admit
to the killing of Hamlets father. Claudius reaction to the play served as
solid evidence against himself; it was all Hamlet needed to be convinced that
he was the true murderer. While he is struggling with the truth of his fathers
death, Hamlet is also struggling with thoughts of suicide: Devoutly to be
wished; To die, to sleep… (III.i.65). This soliloquy shows how Hamlets
obsession with death turned on him, to the point where he is considering
Another instance of madness in Hamlet is found in Ophelia, Hamlets
true love. Before the tragedy began, Hamlet and Ophelia were already in
love, and was shown through Ophelias words: My lord, he hath importuned
me with love in honorable fashion…and hath given countenance to his speech,
my lord, with almost all the holy vows of heaven (I.iii.111-115). Ophelias
madness was caused by the repression of their true love; Claudius wanted
Hamlet removed, and Polonius was determined to not let Ophelia be caught in
a harsh social class (Desmet, 2). This subplot even furthers the theme of
madness in Hamlet, and plays an important role in the other characters
rationalization of Hamlets madness.
The appearance of Ophelias madness is sudden; Hamlet is unaware of
her condition, preoccupied with his own mental deterioration and his lust for
revenge. The repression of her love for Hamlet, his rejection of her, her
fathers death, and Hamlets own mental incapacity all drive Ophelia across
the line between sanity and insanity; in this madness, she takes her own life.
Hamlets behavior towards Ophelia is inconsistent throughout the play. After
her death, as he was visiting her grave, he jumped in the grave to fight with
Laertes. During the fight, Hamlet states Forty thousand brothers could not,
with all their quantity of love, make up my sum (V.i.250-253). This
statement contradicts his words when she returned his gifts, stating that he
never loved her. Hamlets madness does not reflect Ophelias true madness,
his actions contrast them (Soon, 4).
When Hamlet was sent to England, he carefully exchanged the letter
that accompanied Guildenstern and Rosencrantz; the result was these men
going to their death, because of Hamlets clever exchange. Even though they
were not part of his plot of revenge, he had them killed, a demonstration of
In the final scene when Hamlet is confronting Laertes, his thoughts and
words turn again to the topic of madness:
Wast Hamlet wronged Laertes? Never Hamlet.
If Hamlet from himself be taen away,
Then Hamlet does it not, Hamlet denies it.
Who does it then? His madness (V.ii.223-226).
By these words, Hamlet is speaking of his true madness, which caused
him to kill Polonius. He is apologizing to Laertes, and admits that his loss of
control is due to his madness. In this final scene, Hamlet comes to terms with
his own madness, and apprehends that it was his suffering and procrastination
that kept him from killing Claudius sooner. He loses control over his
revenge, and it is at this time that he finally finds the right opportunity to kill
Claudius, and satisfy the wishes of the ghost of his father: Hamlet is of the
faction that is wronged; his madness is poor Hamlets enemy (V.ii.227-228).
The theme of madness in Shakespeares Hamlet has been a widely
popular topic in the discussion of the play by both critics and readers alike. It
is quite simple to see the reason why, since the play confronts us with
evidence to prove the validity of the claim to Hamlets true madness, or,
rather a view that the actions and words arising from the apparent madness is
but a feigned antic disposition as proclaimed by Hamlet himself. (Soon, 1)
The psychological case study of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, presents the
theory that Hamlet did have a break with reality, and should be diagnosed
with schizophrenia, a devastating disease that affects a mere 1 percent of the
worlds population. The preponderance of evidence that has been displayed
clearly points to the conclusion that Hamlet was indeed mad; the diseases
onset is in the young adult years, it is disabling, resulting in a period of
productive time lost, and it has social effects on the patient, as well as his
family. In Hamlets case, all criteria have been met, and therefore can be
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