Throughout Shakespeare?s play, Hamlet, the main character, young Hamlet, is faced with the responsibility of attaining vengeance for his father?s murder. He decides to feign madness as part of his plan to gain the opportunity to kill Claudius. As the play progresses, his depiction of a madman becomes increasingly believable, and the characters around him react accordingly. However, through his inner thoughts and the apparent reasons for his actions, it is clear that he is not really mad and is simply an actor simulating insanity in order to fulfill his duty to his father.
Hamlet only claims madness because it allows him to say and perform actions he otherwise would be prohibited from, while keeping people from taking his actions seriously. This seems to be part of his initial plan that is first mentioned when he asks Horatio and Marcellus not to make any remarks in relation to his ?antic disposition (1.5.192).? Hamlet?s madness allows him to talk to Claudius, Gertrude, Ophelia, and Polonius in a manner unsuitable for a prince. He is often disrespectful and insulting in his remarks. Although his acting backfires during his speech to Gertrude, Hamlet is able to severely criticize her for her actions because she thinks he is insane. During the play he also makes many sexual innuendos and even blatantly sexual remarks towards Ophelia such as ?That?s a fair thought to lie between maids? legs (3.2.125).? His convincing insanity act gives him the chance to vent his anger towards Ophelia for her abandonment.
Similarly, in another scene, he is able to tell Polonius his true feelings through his guise. Upon Polonius deciding to ?take leave? of Hamlet, Hamlet replies, ?You cannot, take from me anything that I will more willingly part withal (2.2.233).? Furthermore, Hamlet uses his madness as almost an excuse, and definitely part of his apology, towards Laertes for his murdering of Polonious. Would a madman be able realize he was mad and call his actions uncontrollable? Were it not for his ?madness? he would have been reprimanded rather than feared, pitied, or ignored. Hamlet?s madness redirects attention away from what he is thinking about his father?s death, and puts it on why he has gone insane. This allows only himself to know what he is truly thinking, does not require him to answer any questions as to why he might be acting strange, and allows him to continue to plan his assault on Claudius. His plan to maintain an appearance of a madman is an ingenious one, and the fact that he does a good job in his portrayal only makes him more ingenious, not more insane.
On the other hand, Hamlet acts perfectly sane when acting insane is unnecessary. When he talks to Horatio about watching Claudius for signs of guilt during the play, he says ?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 (3.2.87).? His words to Horatio are those of a sane man....