In Hamlet, by Shakespeare, the theme of madness is a prevalent theme that is portrayed through several characters in the play. The initial point at which madness is evident is when Hamlet is left to seek revenge upon the murderer of his father. Hamlet initiates his scheme to attain revenge in order to gain a perfect opportunity to kill the murderer, Claudius.


Throughout the play, Hamlet’s insanity is questioned, whether or not he is truly mad, or only pretending to be. Hamlet’s despiteful remarks against Gertrude demonstrate his hatred and cruelty towards her.

“Ears without feeling, feeling without sight/Ears without hands or eyes, smellings sans all/Or but a sickly part of one true sense/Could not so mope” (III.iv.78-81)

Hamlet is truly upset about the death of his father and is determined to kill Claudius, but his behavior towards his mother and Ophelia, the woman he loves proves his lack of sanity. Through Hamlet’s actions, it is evident he is still sane because he arranges the play and asks Horatio to “Observe mine uncle.

If his occulted guilt/Do not itself unkennel in one speech/It is a damned ghost that we have seen/And my imaginations are as foul” (III.ii.82-85).

Hamlet also demonstrates madness when he questions his presence and purpose on earth and thinks about suicide. Hamlet creates a mysterious and nifty character throughout the play, and his role-playing and acts of madness develop his character in a sane manner.


Ophelia develops a different variation of madness created by her love and hate towards everyone in her life, which she develops after the death of her father. After the tragic death of her father, Polonius, who was killed by Hamlet, Ophelia is devastated.

Ophelia’s hatred is evident when she sings about the “baker’s daughter” which is an indirect reference to her relationship with her and Polonius. “Well, Gold ‘ild you! They say the owl was a baker’s daughter; Lord, we know that we are, but know not what we may be. God is at your table” (IV.v.40-42).

Her madness over the loss of love is evident when she sings about Valentine’s day, “To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day/All in the morning betime/And I a maid at your window/To be your Valentine” (IV.v.46-49), which is a reference to the love Ophelia embraces for Hamlet.

Overall, Ophelia develops her madness to express how she is unable to adjust with the immediate losses in her life.


Near the end of the play, Laertes is frustrated and angry to hear about the death of his father. Laertes’ madness is driven by his rage to seek revenge upon the murderer, Hamlet. Laertes declares he would “cut his throat i’ the church” (IV.vii.126), which demonstrates Laertes’ eagerness and madness to kill.

Along with the death of his father, the immediate death of his sister gives Laertes more reason to kill Hamlet. Laertes’ madness is defeated when he considers the apology from Hamlet, proving he isn’t actually insane but consists of the qualities, strength, and power to execute his plans.

Amongst all the characters within the play, Ophelia was the one person who was infected by true insanity, whereas Hamlet’s and Laertes’ madness is controllable and don’t possess true insanity. 

All the characters had one thing in common, their madness was driven and encouraged by a devastating loss in their lives. All the actions of Hamlet, Laertes’ and Ophelia impact all the characters within the play.

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William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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