Hamlet tells his friends that he will pretend to be mad. His act is extremely convincing, though. Is it really an act, or does Hamlet slip into madness during the play?
Honestly, if it hadn’t been for you, Mr. L, I would have never taken much thought to this idea. Without prompting this question from the start, it can be quite easy to judge Hamlet as either simply insane or intelligent, merely an individual without complexity. However, diving deeper into Hamlet (the play), uncovering the minuscule details and contrasting contexts, we as readers can see that Shakespeare left a lot of leeway in how we interpret Hamlet (the character). Furthermore after having discussed and analyzed Hamlet, I now see how important the way we visualize the character, Hamlet, determines how we visualize the play as a whole, the meaning and what we get from it.
Personally, I am more in the middle of this argument because I feel that there is no way to justify that Hamlet was solely acting or actually becoming mad, but if I had to take a side I would lean more towards Hamlet purposefully acting the way he does. Firstly, Shakespeare makes a clear distinction between Ophelia’s very apparent madness with Hamlet’s more coherent “strangeness.” As seen in Ophelia’s speech later on after her father’s death, she speaks out of iambic pentameter, in song, and scattered thoughts (IV.iv.20-48). And although Hamlet may seem to express his words dramatically and in an unorthodox manner at times, his speech has a deeper meaning and stays in iambic pentameter (III.i.57-91). There was also discussion over the scene where Gertrude can not see the ghost while Hamlet can (IV.iii.104-140). Many may argue that Hamlet created the ghost out of his imagination, but the fact that so many others, Horatio, Marcellus, and Barnardo, (I.i.37-50) see the ghost seems to emphasize that Shakespeare does want us as readers to infer that there really is a ghost. Also, King Hamlet’s death seems too extensive and specific to just have been made up in Hamlet’s mind (I.v.40-91).
In all, I believe that the underlining reason that Hamlet may act out of sorts throughout the play is not from mentally breaking down or becoming obsessed with his act but more caused by his insecurity and immaturity, leaving him unable to cope with what is happening in his life. From the start, before meeting the ghost, before being informed of his father’s murder, before deciding to be insane, Hamlet already has a hard time trying to deal with his mother marrying his uncle (even though this was much more common than it is today) (I.ii.65-160). He continues to mope around and mourn though he is around 30 years old (V.i.160-170). The way Hamlet treats others adds to his “man-child”-like qualities. Finally, an interesting point to note is that throughout the entire play, Hamlet is quite human and normal when speaking with Horatio. When Hamlet does say things that makes us skeptical about his state of mind, I feel that he is being more overwhelmed and overtaken by his strong flush of complex emotions that he feels and has difficulties comprehending rather than by mere madness.