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Is Hamlet Mad or Mad in Craft?

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  • Pages: 5
  • Word count: 1081
  • Category: Hamlet

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Madness is defined as the state of being mentally ill or having extremely foolish behavior. It is a condition in which is difficult to identify whether it is true or not. In William Shakespeare’s masterpiece, Hamlet, there is confusion as to whether or not his madness is real. The ghost of his father asks Hamlet to avenge his death. While he tries to accomplish this, he puts on an antic disposition. The antic disposition reoccurs throughout the play, but is merely an act. Hamlet is mad in craft because he admits that he is not mad several times, he behaves irrational only in front of certain individuals, and he has many feigned actions. From the very start, the ghost of Hamlet’s father tells him that Claudius is the one who murdered him.

As soon as he is aware of the news, Hamlet begins to plan his next steps, saying, “How strange or odd soe’er I bear myself, as I perchance hereafter shall think meet to put an antic disposition on” (1.5.179-181). An antic disposition means to act in a grotesque manner. This simply means that Hamlet is going to play a role of a mad person throughout the play. Hamlet does this so he can distract people from his intention of exposing Claudius for the murder of his father. Hamlet also states a second time that he is not in fact crazy. While talking to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet says, “I am but mad north north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a Hawk from a Handsaw.” (2.2.378-379).

This implies that Hamlet is only crazy sometimes and at other times he knows what is going on. Another time that he admits he is acting crazy is to his mother, “I essentially am not in madness But mad in craft” (3.4.194-195). This final confession from Hamlet lets the audience know once and for all that he is faking his madness. Besides admitting he is mad in craft, it is obvious that Hamlet is sane by his choice of actions around select audiences. If Hamlet can decide who he wants to act mad around then he is aware of what he is doing and he knows that he has not really lost his mind. Throughout the play, Hamlet behaves erratically and changes his moods quite abruptly. He acts irrational only when he is around certain individuals.

He acts irrational around Polonius, Claudius, Gertrude Rosencrantz, Guildenstern and Ophelia but remains calm and rational around Horatio, Marcellus, and the players. A big part of the play is when Hamlet lashes out at Ophelia and convinces her he has actually gone mad. “With a look so piteous in purport as if he had been loosed out of hell to speak of horrors…Then he let out a sigh so piteous and profound as it did seem to shatter all his bulk and end his being” (2.1.84-97). This single action brings tremendous tension and makes Polonius immediately believe that Hamlet has gone mad because of his love for his daughter. On the other hand, Hamlet can be rational just as much as a sane person. “Give him heedful note, for I mine eyes will rivet his face, and, after, we will both our judgments join in censure of his seeming” (3.2.83-86).

Hamlet tells Horatio to watch Claudius during the play to see if he acts guilty. The fact that he thought this out in such an organized and clear way makes it hard to believe that he is mad because a madman would never be able to think like that. Hamlet also knows how to act properly around the players. An example of this is when he asks, “You could, for a need, study a speech of some dozen or sixteen lines, which I would set down and insert in ‘t, could you not?” (2.2.540-542). This question is understandable and logical. The players seem to feel very comfortable around Hamlet, making him seem like a perfectly rational human being. Many of Hamlet’s actions can be seen as feigned, which he uses it to his advantage.

The interaction between Hamlet and the ghost of his father in front of his mother is all an act to make his mother think he is crazy. Gertrude, not being able to see the ghost, says to Hamlet, “No, nothing but ourselves…this is the very coinage of your brain. This bodiless creation ecstasy is very cunning in” (3.4.139-145). She explains to him that she cannot see anyone besides themselves in the room. Gertrude is bound to think Hamlet is mad since she sees him talking to nobody. The audience knows that Hamlet is not in fact mad and is actually talking to the ghost of his father. Hamlet uses his feigned madness to an advantage earlier on in the play as well when he is talking to Polonius and says, “Slanders, sir; for the satirical rogue says here that old men have gray beards, that their faces are wrinkled, their eyes purging thick amber and plum-tree gum…” (2.2.197-200).

Hamlet cleverly insults Polonius here and his wit shows how he is not mad. By feigning his madness, it allows him to speak whatever is on his mind without anyone being suspicious. While the play is going on, Hamlet does exactly this with Ophelia by making sexual remarks to her when he says, “That’s a fair thought to lie between maids’ legs” (3.2.125). Expressing his feelings induces reactions from others just as he wants. Stating what is on his mind allows him to speak his true feelings and still feel safe knowing he has nothing to fear. Using madness as an excuse is something an insane man would not be able to do. After all, it is much more believable that a sane man can play an insane man rather than the other way around.

Hamlet is mad in craft because he admits that he is not mad several times, he behaves irrational only in front of certain individuals, and he has many feigned actions. Everything Hamlet does has a purpose to it. His goal is to avenge his father’s death and he does everything he can to conquer his goal. Hamlet knows what he is doing throughout the play and has complete control of himself and his actions. His actions prove that he is not mad; he is merely angry as any man would be whose uncle murdered his father and married his mother.

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