Hamlet: Insane or Pretending?

There are many levels of mental illness and emotional stress and William Shakespeare deftly portrayed the two young characters in Hamlet in different levels of this mental state, although the cause of stress was similar to both. The focus tends to be aimed at Hamlet as the main protagonist, yet I believe that poor Ophelia had the same dilemma and wasn’t able to handle it as well so sank into full insanity, while Hamlet’s depression didn’t go into quite the same depths. Both of these characters are caught between what they want and what others expect of them. Hamlet’s father shows up as a ghost and demands that if Hamlet is a good son, he will kill Claudius. Claudius is the king and no one, including Hamlet’s mother, wants the new king dead. Plus, Hamlet isn’t sure that Claudius murdered his father, although he is fairly upset that life has just gone on for most people, including his mother, who got remarried as quickly as she could. According to Christopher J. Hall, “what may be perceived as madness may be his way of protesting against the dominant narrative that his father has been forgotten” (Hall 9). Then of course, Ophelia’s father, Polonius tells everyone that Hamlet is insane. Polonius says, “Your noble son is mad./Mad call I it, for, to define true madness,/What is’t but to be nothing else but mad?” (Act Two, Verse Two). Since everyone thinks that Hamlet is mad, he can get away with a lot more crazy behavior and questions if he goes along with. 

Ophelia, on the other hand, is also trapped between being a dutiful daughter and her love for Hamlet. Her father forbids her to speak with Hamlet and she ends up unable to cope with the conflict between them and retreats within her own mind. She “finds herself at a point from which she cannot escape so she appeases all by going mad…losing contact with one’s reality” (Hall 8). She ends up floating peacefully down the river, happily singing old Catholic hymns that have been outlawed by the Protestants so it’s the closest she can get to escaping into a nunnery as Hamlet had told her to do in a moment of anger.  

While looking at Hamlet’s mental state with the comparison of Ophelia’s true insanity right next to it, his ability to question his emotional state “To be or not to be” (Act Three, Verse 1) in many instances throughout the play, show that Hamlet was able to reason and weigh  possible outcomes for any actions he would take. In my opinion, he pretended to be insane in order to gain information of the truth of his father’s death, and he did it well. Was he also suffering emotional trauma and probable depression? Very likely, yet he was far from insane.
Works Cited
Hall, J. Christopher. “A Narrative Case Study of Hamlet and the Cultural Construction of Western Individualism, Diagnosis, and Madness.” Journal of Systemic Therapies, vol. 35, no. 2, June 2016, pp. 1-13. EBSCOhost, doi; 10.1521/jsyt.2016.35.2.1.
Shakespeare, William. “Hamlet.” The Project Gutenberg, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1524/1524-h/1524-h.htm