To be or not to be Insane?

The concept for our Phase 2 Presentation has been finalized!

Our game plan for the group meetings was to come up with themes within Act 3 which we could use our individual tools to analyze; from these themes, we would choose the one major subject which all of our tools would be able to analyze effectively. During our first few group meetings we came up with different themes that occurred throughout Act 3 of Hamlet; amongst these were: the relationship Hamlet has with Ophelia, Hamlet’s mannerisms towards the female characters: Gertrude and Ophelia, and Hamlet’s madness. Being a self-proclaimed relationship analyst (credentials still pending), I was hoping to do an analysis of the relationship between Ophelia and Hamlet. After some work with our tools, we felt that it would be best to work with Hamlet’s madness. Luckily, we did spend some time analyzing the relationship between Ophelia and Hamlet, which I will be using for my final blog post in Phase Three.

Madness is a thought-provoking concept because how can one truly categorize who is actually insane and who’s not? At some point in our lives have we not acted insane in some way? One could say that everyone is insane when it comes to a certain aspect in their life, the only difference is that we all vary in our insanity; some insane quirks are accepted, others aren’t. Our objective is to find out whether Hamlet is truly mad, or if his “insanity” is just quirk in his personality that he intensifies for his own purposes. To find the answer, I asked myself the following questions:

  • What is insanity?
  • How does Hamlet behave which makes others believe he is mad? Are there certain parts of his speech that indicate he is insane?
  • What are some of the factors that can be attributed to his insanity?
  • Can his behavior just be a cause of his anger/sadness of everything that has occurred in his life so far?
  • What role does the ghost play in Hamlet’s insanity?

Through our group projects and this class in general, I have learned that you cannot possibly do an analysis, a decent analysis that does justice to the author’s writing, with just the tools. The questions listed above cannot easily be found by just using WordHoard; it would only be a complete analysis if I used other methods as well as WordHoard to make a solid conclusion on Hamlet’s madness. For my analysis I combined WordHoard, a close reading analysis of the text and my favorite site of all time, YouTube. I won’t share my final conclusion yet for I’ll save it for our presentation! Instead I will share some of my results which I found quite intriguing.

Through the use of YouTube, I found countless clips of Act 3; some made by professionals and others made by high school students for their English projects. After watching a couple of videos I found that this clip of act 3.4, showed the point that I was working towards. In the video, Hamlet (I found it funny that he is blonde in this clip as I have always imagined him to have black hair!) is agitated and angry, irrational when he kills Polonius and overall in a fit of passion. If you were to remove the seed of doubt already placed in our head that questions Hamlet’s sanity, you could easily compare this to when any sane rational person has a fit of passion and acts deranged; does this mean that the person is insane because they had a moment of madness? It might be that Hamlet is suffering from a moment of madness; albeit the moment becomes a series of ‘moments’ in the play. Can ones sanity be judged by their behavior when they feel like they are in a whirlwind of emotions?

This idea helped me think of what I wanted to uncover through the use of my tool. Using WordHoard, I decided to search for words used in Hamlet, specifically Act 3, which would explain what madness is. Obviously my first search word would be madness itself. The following are some of my findings:

  • The word madness is said eight times by Hamlet, most of which were spoken in Act 3. Compared to all of Shakespeare’s plays, this is the most times any character has ever used the word.
  • In line 144, Hamlet says “That not your trespass, but my madness speaks” but then in line 185 he contradicts himself and says “That I essentially am not in madness, but mad in craft”. Both lines, said in scene 4, portray this dual persona of Hamlet; one that is mad, and one that isn’t.

This isn’t enough evidence to declare whether Hamlet is indeed insane, but it gives us a starting point to develop the idea that maybe Hamlet isn’t mad. Our group’s conclusion on the matter will be discussed during our presentation which we look forward to. For now I wish you the reader all the best of luck in your search of Hamlet.

“All are lunatics, but he who can analyze his delusions is called a philosopher.”
Ambrose Bierce

7 thoughts on “To be or not to be Insane?

  1. Hi, I found this a good post, its nice that you are investigating Hamlet’s sanity, I was thinking of doing the same (although it’s hard and I probably don’t find anything anyways). It’s funny that quotation at the end, because I just posted on how Hamlet is most ‘philosophical’ when he is supposed to be in his madness. I also liked how you don’t just write him off as insane, and are attempting to use WordHoard to help find out what he’s really doing. I never believed him to be insane though, don’t know why. It’s all confusing, sort of, your search of ‘mad’ by Hamlet was interesting too, how he contradicts himself and all; he always is seeming to contradict. It’s funny also how you imagine him to have black hair, I always thought a light brown or something. I’ve been thinking that everyone just imagines him the way that ‘they’ want, or everyone really just twists Hamlet to whatever image they desire. It’s sort of strange, but gives many interesting interpretations of his character, which is always interesting.
    I was just looking at your picture too, and all I can say is that I feel foolish; I’ve been thinking, all this time recently: how do I get more organization? How can I further divide my search results! And now, only now do I realize it was right in front of me with the little ‘+’ or ‘-‘ thing… I mean, I kept thinking that even though I knew it was there, this picture though just reminded me of that again… I was even going to write about how I wanted that divide in WH but now I see where my forgetfulness was.
    I guess, just for a note, at first I thought you made a mistake when you said Hamlet speaks ‘mad’ eight times, because I only saw six. But then I remembered WordHoards little trouble and you just simply added the 2 ‘madness’ parts which it doesn’t count; I also had to look up both ‘mad’ and ‘madness’ as well separately.
    I think this was a good post overall though, so good work, it also helped remind me of things

    • I agree, Hamlet is very deep and philosophical when he is suppose to be insane! But then again, haven’t the greatest poets and thinkers been thought to be insane at some point (take Edgar Allen Poe for example). I’m glad that my post helped refresh your memory on some of the functions of WH; after my final post, I’ll probably forget how to use WordHoard too! I hope phase 2 is going well for you!

  2. Noor! I’m so glad to see your Phase 2 project is going over smoothly. I feel like the tactic we took as a group in Phase 1 really helped prepare us for Phase 2, seeing as we are now both using the same approach with our Phase 2 teams. Good for us! haha. I have found it to be super effective though. Choosing an overall theme and then using our individual tools to start analyzing it is a great way to work with the team. Are you guys collaborating with your tools at all or just sticking to everyone’s individual tools? Because of all the frustrations we had with WordHoard in Phase 1 I found it pretty awesome this time around that I could reach out and get help with any tool I wanted when doing my research! So I hope you got to experience some of that freedom as well!

    Also just a side note, I LOVED what you said about insanity and how there’s a little bit of it in all of us but at different degrees. It just struck me and I enjoyed it. Good stuff!


    • Hey Dayna!!!

      After our workroom incident during Phase 1, I would have to say we all are a little bit insane 🙂 Our work during phase one definitely helped in phase two and luckily I did get a chance to work with the other tools! Surprisingly I find that I actually do like WordHoard even with its moodiness and bland appearance! Can’t wait to see your presentation!


  3. I loved this post! Hamlet’s madness is such an interesting topic to examine, and I really enjoyed reading about your process. The questions that you asked about insanity are a great starting point in order to try and figure out if Hamlet is truly mad or not. I agree with what you said that we are unable to find the answer to this question with our tools alone, but it seems that you’ve gotten interesting results nonetheless, and I’m looking forward to your groups presentation!

  4. What a remarkable way to conclude a Hamlet post; awesome quote!
    I too have imagined Hamlet dark haired, which is interesting for when I take the time to imagine any of Shakespeare’s character’s as anything but – I draw up images of character’s from his comedies! Is it just me, or do you suppose the vernacular used in Shakespeare’s tragedies paint a darker character and the reverse of the characters in his comedies?
    Do you suppose there would be a way of using the tools to decode this mental image we potentially have projected onto us about Hamlet and other characters from this and other plays? Thinking strictly about the characters in Hamlet’s, the lightest haired character I imagine is Ophelia – whom I imagine with lighter brown hair…not bright by any means. Perhaps this has something to do with her ill-fated innocence?
    Hm… I didn’t address much of your analysis in this comment, apologies, you have a terrific post however, I feel the other comments well covered any questions I could pose. Looking for an alternate question, I found myself very intrigued with your aside about your visualization of Hamlet. I had never thought about the implications that a mental image could mean – I mean, it would have to mean something, the images aren’t pulled from nothingness…are they?

    • Hey Nicole
      It’s interesting that you brought up the idea that our mental image of the characters reflects whether the play is meant to give off a tragic or comedic air because I myself hadn’t thought of that. If we pay closer attention to it, it seems as though we always expect someone who is in a bad mood to also emit that mood in their appearance. Others might not agree with this because, like jennifer said, she always imagined Hamlet to have light hair. Its funny that you mention Ophelia, because I always imagined her to have light hair as well! It would be pretty cool if our tools could help us discover if certain words trigger our imagination of what a character looks like; I agree with what you say, mental images can’t be pulled from nothingness, something has to have triggered it.

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