INTRODUCTION: 'Hamlet' is considered to be the best tragedy of Shakespeare. The prince of Denmark, Hamlet, is the protagonist of this play. He is a very complex character. His madness in the play is a contradictory issue. On this issue the critics of Shakespeare and the characters of the play are divided in their opinions. Some critics are of the view that Hamlet is really mad. Some others say that his madness is a mere pretence. Is Hamlet's madness real or feigned? This question demands discussion. To know the answer of this big question, it is essential to analyse and evaluate the major incidents of this play.
FEIGNED MADNESS: First of all it should be noted that the feigning of madness is a part of the Revenge play. In 'Hamlet' Shakespeare maintains this convention. Hamlet is sane throughout but feigns insanity. Some important critics like Dowden, Richardson and Wilson Knight say that Hamlet's madness is not real but it is pretence. Some others call it crafty madness. Some of the important characters like Claudius and Polonius always suspect his madness. Through his various statements, speeches and soliloquies Hamlet himself accepts that he is not mad. We can find his acceptance in the following statements. Once he says to Horatio: " Here as before, never, so help you mercy How strange or old soe'er I bear myself - As I, perchance, hereafter shall think meet To put an antic disposition on - " Once again he says to his mother that he is not really mad. He says: My pulse as yours doth temperately keep time, And makes as heathful music; It is not madness That I have utter'd. Bring me to the test, And I the matter will reword, which madness Would gambol from". Hamlet assumes madness for various reasons. It is a defensive apparatus. It is to shift all suspicion from him. Thus he assumes madness in order to befool his uncle and other enemies.
REAL MADNESS: Some important critics are of the opinion that Hamlet's madness is not feigned but real. They say that Hamlet is actually mad. According to them if he feigns madness in the beginning, he becomes actually mad later on. Such critics have some ground for their belief. They refer to Hamlet's hysterical out burst in his interview with his mother and by the graveside of Ophelia. The murder of Polonius, his consent to participate in the duel with Laertes and his behaviour at Ophelia's funeral prove his madness. The characters like Gertrude and Ophelia also believe in his madness. The fact is that Hamlet is disturbed due to a lot of shocks. He receives three rude shocks. These rude shocks are - the death of his father, the hasty re- marriage of his mother and the loss of his hope of inheriting the throne. Due to these shocks he loses his mental balance. Sometimes he thinks of suicide also. The communion with the ghost of his father aggravates the situation.
CONCLUSION: to conclude, Hamlet's madness is really a very difficult issue. Opinions are divided on this. Sometimes Hamlet appears as sane and at the same time he appears as insane also. But when we minutely observe, we find that his madness is not real. On certain occasions he does appear to be almost crazy. But it can be explained as the result of an excess of bitterness and melancholy. It is not indicative of madness. Hamlet's madness is feigned. It is a kind of defense mechanism. His madness has a touch of wisdom and method. All men of genius are mad and Hamlet is mad only because he is a genius. He is depressed and melancholy and yet mostly he retains his artistic sense, his ready wit and his imaginative vision.