His instructions to his henchmen, "Get from him why he puts on this confusion" (II. i. 2), imply that he understands it as pretence and not real lunacy. He soon admits that Hamlet's actions and words do not indicate madness but melancholy:
"What he spake, though it lack'd form a little.
Was not like madness."
(III. i. 163-4.)
But it serves his wicked purpose to declare him a madman, and to make this the excuse for getting rid of him by sending him to England. In this as in everything the king is insincere, and seeks not the truth but his own personal ends.
Ophelia's view that Hamlet has gone mad for love of her is of no value on the point. She is herself, rather than Hamlet, "Like sweet bells jangled out of tune, and harsh." (III. i. 158.) The poor distracted girl is no judge of lunacy, and knows little of real sanity. She cannot enter into the depth of his mind, and cannot understand that it is her own conduct that is strange and …show more content…
He saw much to be gained by it, and to this end he did many things that the persons of the drama must construe as madness. His avowed intention was to throw them off the track. To understand the madness as real is to make of the play a mad-house tragedy that could have no meaning for the very sane Englishmen for whom Shakespeare wrote. There is dramatic value in such madness as Lear's, for the play traces the causes of his madness, and the influences that restore him. Lear's madness had its roots in his moral and spiritual defects, and the cure was his moral regeneration. But no such dramatic value can be assigned to Hamlet's madness. Shakespeare never makes of his dramas mere exhibitions of human experience, wise or otherwise, but they are all studies in the spiritual life of man. His dramas are always elaborate attempts to get a meaning out of life, not attempts to show either its mystery, or its inconsequence, or its madness. If Hamlet were thought of as truly mad, then his entrances and his exits could convey no meaning to sane persons, except the lesson to avoid insanity. But it needs no drama to teach