Who is Hamlet? What type of person is he? Is he sane? Then how should we account for the erratic and strange behavior that he shows throughout the play? Then, is he insane? He is certainly not. There seems to be various interpretations of Hamlet’s psychology. The best that we can do is to judge his actions on the basis of the very situation and in this way we may reach a tentative solution.
So, at first some of his actions in the play are quite strange and erratic. In His such actions as fondness for ridiculing, his cruelty towards Ophelia, his broken sleep and bad dreams, his melancholy and his desire for secrecy, in the scene of Ophelia’s funeral Hamlet etc seem to be totally strange and out of control.
But some of his other actions such as putting an intentional ‘antic disposition on”, or giving direction to the players, or saying “I am mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly/ I know a hawk from a handsaw.” Or says “ It is not madness/That I have utter’d” obviously give the idea of a man who is not only cunning but also the controller of the underworld-the Godfather. All these actions actually indicate how deviously he hatched his intention, in guise of strange and erratic behavior.
Hamlet in a melancholic mood
Hamlet’s first appearance does not seem so eccentric rather melancholic. Here we find him very depressed because of his father's death and more importantly his mother's hasty marriage to his Uncle Claudius, one month after his father's death. He is very shocked not seeing any sign of mourning in his mother which is very clear when he refers Horatio that he (Horatio) has come for his “mother’s wedding” not for his father’s funeral. This unfaithfulness to the husband ultimately leads him to draw the conclusion that "frailty, thy name is woman". So till this point Hamlet comes as a grief, melancholic and gloomy person.
But we find Hamlet as an utterly changed man after his first encounter with the Ghost. Here he is informed a terrible truth that affects his whole vision of life. Then he takes a decision to put musk to conceal his real motive namely, to revenge for his father's murder.
The words of the ghost have an electrifying effect on Hamlet. He cries and almost goes mad. Here his actions can be judged on the basis of the situation. We can imagine how deeply he is shocked hearing the news of his father’s being killed. Hamlet, a sensitive youth and already divided by his mother’s hasty remarriage, can hardly bear the suffering. The effect is he behaves strangely. It will not be very unnatural if we compare his action with that of Ophelia’s after the death of the latter.
But he is somewhat recovered and becomes resolute to avenge his father’s death. Here we notice some grave changes in his character. Though we don’t have any handsome proofs, but still we can imagine that Hamlet’s this change is very intentional, purposeful and instrumental. He intends to present himself as harmless to Claudius. From now he becomes quite unpredictable.
In fact, almost all- Gertrude, Claudius, Polonius and Ophelia also begin to recognize the changes in Hamlet.
They become aware of Hamlet’s strange and erratic behavior. It is in the second scene of act 2, where the audience for the first time experiences the inconsistency in his behavior. Here Ophelia recalls to her father the meeting she had previously with Hamlet. She tells him that Hamlet came to her disheveled and in a shaken state of mind, speaking of "horrors" “as if he had been loosed out of hell”. Like the typical Elizabethan belief, Polonius immediately draws to the conclusion that “this is the very ecstasy of love” believing that he is mad for Ophelia’s love. This unusual behavior towards Ophelia can be seen from this point of view that Hamlet’s faith in women is shattered by his mother’s remarriage and it is also possible that Hamlet may realize that Ophelia would not also go beyond the restricted boundary that is drawn by that society.
Hamlet’ strange behavior with Polonius, calling him “a fish monger”
2nd instance of Hamlet’s eccentric behavior is seen when he meets with Polonius. He is playing Polonius by telling him he's a fishmonger and acting like he doesn't know him, because Polonius is a weasel and would go back and tell the king. Hamlet might as well give Polonius something to talk about. Hamlets sets in motion his insane behavior. "For if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a good kissing carrion, - Have you a daughter?" Whereas Polonius says to himself "Though this be madness, yet there is method in `t". In this discussion Hamlet shows antic behavior towards Polonius by mocking him when Hamlet would usually show great respect for him because of his age and high position in the court. This sudden question to Polonius has caused Polonius to believe that Hamlet has a form of love-sickness and that Polonius is sure to tell Claudius of his condition. Hamlet also accuses Polonius of being the "Jephthah, judge of Israel,” assuming that, like one of the judges of Israel, Polonius would put his country in front of his daughter. Hamlet has now convinced Polonius that he is in a state of madness. By convincing Polonius that he has no consideration for the well-being of others, Hamlet is then hoping that Polonius will tell the court of his emotional madness. So, we see that his behavior is intentional and instrumental by which he disguises his inner motif.
Hamlet’s strange conduct with Rosencrantz or Guildenstern
Again his behavior with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern shows that he is not in a very natural mood rather he is very critical towards them. He again and again asks them the reason behind their coming from the university. He deeply believes that neither Rosencrantz nor Guildenstern is trustworthy. But he willfully tries to test their trust using his eccentricity. But we the audience realize that his conversation with them in not really without any aim.
Here he discloses that Denmark is in prison which implies Claudius’s mistrustful behavior with the people of Denmark, as his ascending to the throne was not a legal one. He also befools them as he knows that whatever he tells them, will be relayed back to the King and Queen. In another incident, Hamlet plainly tells them that he is mad without any puns to hide the meaning. He tells: “ I am mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly/ I know a hawk from a handsaw.” Here it is again clear that his mad like behavior in not uninstrumental. Hamlet is also able to make smart remarks to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, comparing them to sponges. "When he (Claudius) needs what you have gleaned, it is but squeezing you and, sponge, you shall be dry again,". This is random and unexpected, as many of his actions, but the comparison makes sense; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern soak up all the king’s favors, only to become dry again after they mop up the King's “mess,” which was spying on Hamlet, and getting Polonius's body. Later, with Claudius, Hamlet tells how mean a king can be by saying, "A man (beggar) may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm," . This also makes sense, and is not quite as random; when Hamlet confronts Claudius, and the king asks where Polonius is, Hamlet immediately begins the comparison by telling Claudius that Polonuis is at supper. This proves that Hamlet had some kind of planning for this degrading comment, and that his thoughts are not scattered and he is able to stay focused.
Again theme of appearance and reality we find when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern inform him about the player’s arrival, he doesn’t want them feel that Hamlet treats the players better than his friends. He adds that he will be courteous in the prescribed way of society and “show his welcome as well as feel it.”
Hamlet’s usual behavior with the actors
After this scene we see Hamlet’s very usual behavior with the players. Here we find a contrast between his behavior with his two friends and the players. His directs the players how to act with quiet dignity and moderation. He advises them against extravagant gestures and melodramatic exhibitionism. So we see that his strange and erratic behavior before Ophelia or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern or Polonius is very intentional because the scene which is going to be performed in the next evening will resemble the murder of King Hamlet. He expects that if the ghost is telling the truth about Claudius murdering his father, then Claudius will react to the scene, admitting his guilt. Hamlet states "The play's the thing wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King.”. Anyone who can plot that, and think that far ahead, can never be mad.
Bed chamber scene 'Mad as the sea and wind when both contend'
After this scene when Gertrude calls her son to her chambers to discuss the reasoning of his putting on a play so closely related to the death of his father, we see his terrible earn nest to awaken the sleeping monster of conscience in the bosom of his mother. But he has such a wild and distracted look that his mother sees danger in it and cries out for help. Later he kills Polonius and his mother’s description( “ Mad as the sea and wind when both contend /Which is mightier”) also shows Hamlet's wanting others to think that he is truly mad. So it is not his insanity that brought about the rash action of killing the unknown man behind the tapestry rather it is his postponed revenge that consumed him.
His putting his two friends to death
That Hamlet is very cunning and quite normal is seen from the fact how aptly he managed put his friends into death.
Hamlet’s behavior in the grave of Ophelia
Such kind of reaction is not unexpected. As his speech indicates (40 thsnd brothers could not equal his love) he is terrible shocked by the sudden that of Ophelia. Though he did not behave well with Ophelia, Hamlet’s only solace of life was Ophelia, only Ophelia. But her death completely transports him to a friendless, loveless world. So, his lament is the lament of a frustrated young man who has lost his father, seen his mother go astray and also lost his more-dear-to-life beloved. It cannot be judged as unnatural or erratic.
Thus, throughout the play we see Hamlet act madly as well as soundly and there is a certain explanation behind each of his actions. To sum up, his behavior after the death of his father and his beloved Ophelia results from his deep frustration. Apart from these, all his insanity and seem-to-be-uncontrolled behaviors are instrumental and have a definite aim namely to avenge the murder of his father.