Sanity, Insanity, Wise Foolishness

By Kelsey, Katie, Deondra, and Glenn


The motif insanity demonstrates that what we see isn't always real. There could be 100 reasons for every action of madness people take. Hamlet acts insane to find out the truth about his father's death and his murderer. Hamlet is cornered between the truth and revenge, and what helps soften the blow is that he can hide behind his madness.

Book Quotes

"Mad as the sea and wind” (IV. i. 7).

During this scene, Gertrude reveals to Claudius that Hamlet killed Polonius. She tells Claudius that Hamlet is mad and killed a “good man”. Claudius also reveals something important when he says he would be killed if he were there. Hamlet initially thought Polonius was Claudius, which is why he attacked him. Even so, this act further helps Hamlet to be seen as “mad” and makes everyone worry for him. In this quote, Shakespeare is using a smilie to describe Hamlet's madness. He is comparing Hamlet to rough winds and sea.

"How strange or odd so`er i bear myself (As i perchance hereafter shall think meet to put an antic disposition on)” (I. v. 187-189).

This quote is an example of Hamlet's wise foolishness. To get revenge against his uncle without getting caught, Hamlet will start acting mad as an excuse. He tells Horatio that after tonight he will act as if he is mad and he cannot say anything. Hamlet will know exactly what he is doing but will make others think he doesn't.

“O heavens, is’t possible a young maid’s wits should be as mortal as an old man’s life?” (IV. v. 171-172).

Ophelia's brother, Laertes, is upset that his younger sister's mental health was so easily destroyed by the rejection of Hamlet and their father's death. After these two events, Ophelia goes mad and acts crazy towards anyone she is near. No one really wants to be around her, especially Gertrude, who, at first, refuses to speak to her but eventually does. Ophelia walks around handing flowers to people and singing. When she speaks, her words make no sense. In this quote, Shakespeare is using smilie to compare Ophelia's quickly brought on madness to how fast an old man can die.

"Madness in great ones must not unwatched go” (III. i. 197).

King Claudius is telling Polonius that Hamlet must be sent away if he is mad because it is dangerous. He decides to send to send Hamlet to England, where he asks the King to kill him. Claudius knows Hamlet is very wise and smart and wants him out of Denmark, especailly because he thinks Hamlet is mad.

Lit Crit Quote

“And the Queen--had to beg Hamlet to speak no more, for she had believed him to be mad and his enraged language had suddenly revealed him as both sane and in possession of truths she had not wanted to confront--”(Ghose 67).

This quote helps to understand the meaning of the motif insanity and sanity because it talks about Hamlet’s saneness and insaneness. Readers already know that Hamlet is pretending to be mad but this quote emphasizes that fact and also implies that Gertrude may know as well, “his enraged language...revealed him as both sane and in possession of truths...” Gertrude had always believed that Hamlet was mad but because he let his anger get the best of him, he revealed himself to Gertrude and she may know that Hamlet isn’t really mad.

Works Cited

Ghose, Zulfikar. "Zulfikar Ghose on Ophelia." Bloom's Notes. Ed. Harold Bloom. By Ghose. Broomall: Harold Bloom, 1996. 67-69. Print.

"Hamlet and Gertrude." Flickr. Web. 25 Jan. 2013. <http://www.flickr.com/>.

"Hamlet and Horatio." Flickr. Web. 25 Jan. 2013. <http://www.flickr.com/>.

"Hamlet Angry." Flickr. Web. 25 Jan. 2013. <http://www.flickr.com/>.

"Hamlet Holding Skull." Flickr. Web. 25 Jan. 2013. <http://www.flickr.com/>.

"Ophelia and Gertrude." Flickr. Web. 25 Jan. 2013. <http://www.flickr.com/>.

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Logan: Perfection Learning Corporation, 2004. Print.