Internet Shakespeare Editions


Madness: Hamlet

To many Elizabethans, madness was something to be laughed at, and the mentally disturbed were to be kept in their place by whipping. Hamlet and Ophelia, however, are members of the nobility, safe from such treatment*.

Claudius and Gertrude send to Hamlet's fellow students, to see if they can find out the cause of his strange behaviour, his "transformation" (2.2.5) (though it is clear that Hamlet thinks they are spying; is there is any reason to think him simply paranoid)? Claudius thinks that there is "something in his soul/O'er which his melancholy sits on brood" (3.1.165-66). Is it ever clear whether Hamlet is mad--losing control of his reason--or is simply deeply disturbed? By his own test* he is sane.

Saturn, the melancholy planet


  1. A sympathetic end

    Ophelia is also given privileged treatment in death--although her funeral is composed of "maimèd rites" (5.1.219), she is at least buried in consecrated ground, against the wishes of the priest.

  2. Playing with madness

    Bring me to the test,
    And I the matter will reword, which madness
    Would gambol at

    Is it characteristic of Hamlet that he sets himself a test of sanity in terms of words rather than actions?