What drives Hamlet to his madness? How does it relate to Ophelia’s madness? Are Hamlet and Ophelia both truly mad? These are some questions that I contemplated as I read Hamlet. The main character, Hamlet feigns madness after learning of his father’s murder; however, he becomes mad later on in the play. Is it possible that Hamlet became so wrapped up in his father’s murder that he was unable to distinguish fantasy from reality?
At the beginning of the play, Hamlet has learned that his brother, the newly king, Claudius, murdered his father. In Christian Wertenbaker: What is the riddle in HAMLET? (Sirs.com, 2011) it is stated, “From then on, Hamlet has to find his own way. He has become a seeker of truth. Unless he verifies the facts for himself, he cannot do the act” (1). This shows that Hamlet can’t back away from what he is meant to do. In his eyes he sees himself as being chosen to avenge his father. In fact, Hamlet proclaims, “The time is out of joint. O, cursed sprit, That ever I was born to set it right” (I. V. 207-208)! Already Hamlet is stressed out by his misfortune. He sees no other option, but to kill his uncle.
After his meeting with the ghost, Hamlet becomes obsessed with death. It is obvious that Hamlet is wrestling with the idea of whether or not he can commit the act. At this point he is capable of reasoning, but prior to this he was wily enough to invent his false madness. He has not lost his ability to discriminate right from wrong; therefore, he is not mad. To be mad a person loses total reasoning. Still he is determined to discover whether or not Claudius did really murder his father. So, Hamlet organizes a play that reveals the truth about his father’s death. This play serves as a strategy to force Claudius to admit that he killed Hamlet’s father. Claudius’ reaction to the play serves as solid evidence against him. It is all Hamlet needs to be convinced that Claudius is the true murderer. While he is struggling with the truth of his father’s death, Hamlet is also struggling with thoughts of suicide: “To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep; No more; and by a sleep to say we end” (III. I. 63-68). This soliloquy shows how Hamlet’s obsession with death turned on him, to the point where he is considering taking his own life.
Another instance of madness in Hamlet is found in Ophelia, Hamlet’s true love. Before the tragedy began, Hamlet and Ophelia were already in love, and was shown through Ophelia’s words: “My lord, he hath importuned me with love in honorable fashion...and hath given countenance to his speech, my lord, with almost all the holy vows of heaven” (I.iii.111-115).