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The Motives of Revenge in Hamlet

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In Shakespeare’s play, the protagonist, Hamlet, is faced with the mission of avenging his father. He decides to act mad as part of his plan to kill Claudius and avenge his father. As the plot of the play rises, his madness becomes more and more believable. The readers know that Hamlet is acting mad because of the soliloquies said by him.

Hamlet plays mad because it helps work his plan without any character becoming suspicious. This is first mentioned when he asks Horatio and Marcellus not to make comment to his “antic disposition (1.5.192).” As Hamlet acts mad, this allows him to talk to everyone else that is not in a manner of a prince. When Hamlet talks to other character, he sometimes makes fun of them, and talks to them in a manner a prince wouldn’t. 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 references and even makes 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 release some anger upon Ophelia for abandoning him.

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).” Another example of Hamlet’s madness is when he blames Youssef 2 his madness for killing Polonius. If he was actually mad, would he be able to know that he is mad and consciously know what he is doing is wrong and mad. The way Hamlet “controls” his madness by redirecting attention from his plan and blames the fact that he is insane because of his father’s death. 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 a smart one, and the fact that he does a good job in his portrayal only makes him more clever, 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. Horatio is one of the few people to whom he does not need to prove he is “insane,” and as such, he does not try. Also, when he is explaining to the players how to act, he is surprisingly organized and natural sounding. For example, he asks “You could, for a need, study a speech of some dozen or sixteen lines, which I would set Youssef 3 down and insert in ‘t, could you not (2.2.565)?” His question is direct and simple as all his instructions are, and it seems that the player not only understands completely, but also is comfortable with Hamlet and what he asks. It is much more plausible that a sane man could play an insane one, than an insane man could play a sane one, and so reason would deem Hamlet sensible.

Additional proof that Hamlet must be sane is that even in his “madness” he is clever in his speech, and has a full understanding of the situations around him. He plays his madman character almost too well, and each phrase he utters appears to be an attempt towards conveying his madness or confusing his adversaries. Not one of his remarks, although said with hidden meanings, made to Claudius for example, is a normal statement that would not be considered insane. When he talks to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, not only is Hamlet clever enough to realize their true purpose for visiting, he tells them he is not really mad – in a manner that would be considered insane! “I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw.” (2.2.401). Hamlet is able to toy with his two friends through his illusory madness and, thus, free from their questioning, able to maintain the secrecy of his thoughts and goals.

Later, he is even able to have them killed in his place using his father’s seal, through the method cunning for even a sane man, let alone an insane one. In fact, Hamlet, in the same conversation with Polonius mentioned above, is so creative in his responses made to convey a countenance of madness that Polonius remarks on their ingenuity. “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t (2.2.223).” Hamlet’s wit and role-playing of a madman combine to make too witty of an exaggerated madman, for him to actually be insane.


Most importantly, Hamlet does not think as a person who is mad would. When he sees Claudius praying he thinks very logically, and realizes that he will not attain full revenge if he kills Claudius and sends him to heaven. “Now might I do it, now he is a-praying, and now I’ll do’t. And so he goes to heaven, and so am I revenged…A villain kills my father, and for that I, his sole son, do this same villain send to heaven (3.3.77).” His thoughts to himself are common sense, follow a logical Youssef 5 progression, and are in no way jumbled or erratic in nature. He is a sane man acting only for the audience around him. In each of his soliloquies, he thinks through the same inner debate a sane man would. For instance, he realizes that his father’s ghost may have been a devil in disguise and so he plans to watch the king during the play he has engineered for his own means. “I’ll have these players play something like the murder of my father before mine uncle. I’ll observe his looks; I’ll tent him to the quick…The spirit that I have seen may be a devil…(2.2.623).” Hamlet even goes further to ask Horatio to watch with him in case he is biased. A madman would not have had the foresight, reason, or possibly even care, to think in this very organized fashion. Even when questioning whether “to be or not to be (3.1.64)” Hamlet is sane in his thinking. He measures the “pros and cons” of his situation, and although at this point he appears mad to most everyone, he is most definitely sane in thought.

Hamlet can be considered no worse than a determined and possibly single-minded man, who was made so by his father’s murder and his request for revenge. His madness is maintained because it allows him to continue with his plans. This madness is not, however, sustained when guard is unnecessary. Maybe Hamlet thought too much, but he thought as a sane man would. He commits no actions without reason, and he is far too astute and organized to be proclaimed mentally unstable. Hamlet’s portrayal of a madman is also very complex because it allows not only his points to be made, but in a believably insane way, which contrasts greatly with the expected ramblings of a truly insane person.

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The Motives of Revenge in Hamlet. (2018, September 04). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 28, 2022, from
“The Motives of Revenge in Hamlet.” GradesFixer, 04 Sept. 2018,
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