Hamlet: Method in the Madness In Hamlet, Shakespeare incorporates a theme of madness with two characters: one truly mad, andone only acting mad to serve a motive. The madness of Hamlet is frequently disputed. This paper arguesthat the contrapuntal character in the play, namely Ophelia, acts as a balancing argument to Hamlet’smadness or sanity. Ophelia’s breakdown and Hamlet’s “north-north-west” brand of insanity argue forHamlet having a method to his seeming insanity. The play offers a character on each side of sanity. While Shakespeare does not directly put Ophelia’s insanity (or breakdown) against Hamlet’smadness, there is instead a clear definitiveness in Ophelia’s condition and a clear uncertainty in Hamlet’smadness. Obviously, Hamlet’s character offers more evidence, while Ophelia’s breakdown is quick, butmore conclusive in its precision. Shakespeare offers clear evidence pointing to Hamlet’s sanity beginningwith the first scene of the play. Hamlet begins with guards whose main importance in the play is to givecredibility to the ghost. If Hamlet were to see his father’s ghost in private, the argument for his madnesswould greatly improve. Yet, not one, but three men together witness the ghost before even thinking tonotify Hamlet. As Hamlet says “O, that this too too sullied flesh would melt…” we can see that he isdepressed and appalled but it does not mean he is insane. As Horatio says, being the only of the guards toplay a significant role in the rest of the play, “Before my God, I might not this believe / Without thesensible and true avouch / Of mine own eyes.” Horatio, who appears frequently throughout the play, actsas an unquestionably sane alibi to Hamlet again when framing the King with his reaction to the play. That Hamlet speaks to the ghost alone detracts somewhat from its credibility, but all the men are witnessto the ghost demanding they speak alone. Horatio offers an insightful warning: “What if it tempts youtoward the flood, my lord, Or to the dreadful summit of the cliff That beetles o’er his base into the sea,And there assume some other horrible form. Which might deprive your sovereignty of reason, And drawyou into madness? Think of it”. Horatio’s comment may be where Hamlet gets the idea to use a plea of insanity to work out hisplan. The important fact is that the ghost does not change form, but rather remains as the King andspeaks to Hamlet rationally. There is also good reason for the ghost not to want the guards to know whathe tells Hamlet, as the play could not proceed as it does if the guards were to hear what Hamlet did. It isthe ghost of Hamlet’s father who tells him, “but how somever thou pursues this act, / Taint not thy mind. “Later, when Hamlet sees the ghost again in his mothers room, her amazement at his madness is quiteconvincing. Yet one must take into consideration the careful planning of the ghost’s credibility earlier inthe play. After his first meeting with the ghost, Hamlet greets his friends cheerfully and acts as if the newsis good rather than the devastation it really is. Horatio: What news, my lord?Hamlet: O, wonderful!Horatio: Good my lord, tell it.Hamlet: No, you will reveal it. This is the first glimpse of Hamlet’s ability and inclination to manipulate his behavior to achieveeffect. Clearly Hamlet is not feeling cheerful at this moment, but if he lets the guards know the severity of
the news, they might suspect its nature. Another instance of Hamlet’s behavior manipulation is hismeeting with Ophelia while his uncle and Polonius are hiding behind a curtain. Hamlet’s affection forOphelia has already been established, and his complete rejection of her and what has transpired betweenthem is clearly a hoax. Hamlet somehow suspects the eavesdroppers, just as he guesses that Guildensternand Rosencrantz are sent by the King and Queen to question him and investigate the cause of hissupposed madness in. Hamlet’s actions in the play after meeting the ghost lead everyone except Horatio to believe he iscrazy, yet that madness is continuously checked by an ever-present consciousness of action which neverlets him lose control. For example, Hamlet questions his conduct in his soliloquy, but after carefulconsideration decides to go with his instinct and prove to himself without a doubt the King’s guilt beforeproceeding rashly. Even after the King’s guilt is proven with Horatio as witness, Hamlet again reflects anduses his better judgment in the soliloquy before seeing his mother. He recognizes his passionate feelings,but tells himself to “speak daggers to her, but use none,” as his father’s ghost instructed. Again, when inthe King’s chamber, Hamlet could perform the murder, but decides not to in his better judgment to ensurethat the King doesn’t go to heaven by dying while praying. As Hamlet tells Guildenstern, “I am but madnorth-north-west: when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw.” This statement reveals out-right Hamlet’s intent to fool people with his odd behavior. This is after Polonius’ enlightened commentearlier in the same scene, “though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.” Compare the copious evidence against Hamlet’s madness with the complete lack of evidence forOphelia’s sanity after her father’s murder. Her unquestionable insanity puts Hamlet’s very questionablemadness in a more favorable light. She is quite obviously mad, and unlike Hamlet there seems to be nomethod to her madness. All Ophelia can do after learning of her father’s death is sing. Indeed, Hamlet’sutter rejection of her combined with this is too much for her, and she doesn’t sing a mourning song at thebeginning of, but rather a happy love song. Ophelia’s breakdown into madness and inability to deal with her father’s death and Hamlet’srejection is dealt with neatly and punctually. There is little evidence against her madness, compared toHamlet’s intelligent plotting and use of witnesses to his actions. Thus, by defining true madness inOphelia, Shakespeare subtracts from the plausibility of Hamlet’s supposed insanity. In the play, Shakespeare uses the dimmer light of reality to expose the brighter light ofcontrivance. Hamlet is dynamic, animated, and absurd in his madness, making Ophelia’s true madnessseem realistic rather than absurd. Hamlet explicitly states the contrivance of his madness, while Opheliadoes not. To prove more of hamlet’s sanity he questions his actions. “To be or not to be” proves thatHemlet still thinks before he performs his actions. Further, Hamlet has a motive behind leading others tobelieve that he is insane. Although Hamlet is under severe pressure and emotional strain due to hisituation in the play, he shows a remarkable amount of intelligent, conscious, and rational decision-making in efforts to resolve his situation. Thus we can see that Hamlet is not insane but has a methodand can make intelligent decisions.