In Shakespeare's Hamlet, there are two characters that display qualities of insanity. They are Hamlet and Ophelia. Although they both appear to be mad at times, their downfall (or supposed downfall) is quite different. Ophelia's crazed characteristics show up and intensify quite rapidly, until she is ultimately led to suicide. Her madness seems definite, and it is never questioned. The insanity or sanity of the main character is an arguable question. The issue can be discussed both ways, with significant support to either theory. Certainly, Hamlet has many reasons to lead him to becoming insane, because of the pressure and emotional strain that he is suffering from. This might be enough to cause the character to become deranged, but there is much evidence that shows how Hamlet remains sharp and credible through it all. Although in some instances Hamlet appears to be crazed, there are many indications that his madness is only an illusion that he is purposely trying to portray.
Horatio gives Hamlet some good advice when he says, "What if it tempt you toward 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 draw you into madness? Think of it" (I.iv.69-74). This warning might be where Hamlet gets the idea to use a plea of insanity to work out his murderous plan. In the following scene, Hamlet tells Horatio that he is going to feign insanity. If Horatio notices that Hamlet begins to act strangely, it is only because he is putting on an act, in order to fulfill a future purpose. Later in the play, Polonius questions the authenticity of Hamlet's madness. It appears as though he sees Hamlet's motives, even through his fallacy. Polonius admits that there appears to be a reason behind the way that Hamlet is acting. He proclaims, "Though this be madness, yet there is method in't" (II.ii.200-201).
Although it is clear that Hamlet originally intends to purposely put on an act of being crazy, it is still questionable whether or not he truly does become as such when his problems escalate further. It may be conjured that Hamlet is deranged because of the mention of continuous appearances of his father's ghost. It could be argued that sane people do not see ghosts. However, in the beginning of Hamlet, there were three additional witnesses of the ghost. The three witnesses are Barnardo, Marcellus, and Horatio, all men who seem to be perfectly sane otherwise. Therefore, it does not seem logical that Hamlet be considered truly mad on the basis of the fact that he sees a ghost.
One scene that appears to be particularly important in the argument of Hamlet's madness is the first scene in the third act. Hamlet acts very strange after Ophelia attempts to return his gifts. Previously in I.iii., Hamlet's love for Ophelia was displayed...