Hamlet research papers – the question of madness

There are few literary research paper topics that have been as thoroughly discussed as the question of madness in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” Not only is the play one of the most celebrated pieces of English literature to have ever been written, but insanity (or, the question of insanity) is one of its most central themes. Whether you’ve been assigned the topic for a literature class, or whether you’ve chosen the topic yourself to fulfill a coursework requirement, there is a wealth of material available to research.

Madness vs the Question of Madness

While insanity itself is obviously a recurring motif in the work, there’s a difference between addressing the subject of madness itself in Hamlet and addressing the question of madness in Hamlet. When one discusses “madness” alone, the assumption is that Hamlet is unquestionably out of his mind. When one addresses the question of madness, one defends or refutes the claim that Hamlet has lost his mind.

The Question of Madness: Arguments

There are a variety of different arguments one can make regarding Hamlet’s apparent insanity in the play.

Some of the more common choices are listed here:

  • Hamlet is, irrefutably, insane.
  • This is an argument not commonly made, simply because it would not provide enough material for a paper. Usually, if the writer takes the position that Hamlet has lost his mind, they then proceed to address how his madness affects events, the nuances with which it’s described, and so forth.

  • Hamlet is not insane. Instead, his insanity is an affectation.
  • When the writer insists that Hamlet is not mad, and is only pretending to be mad, they need to provide a motivation for his madness. Hatred of his uncle is a commonly cited motivation, but there are other creative explanations as well.

  • Hamlet is not insane. Instead, someone or some persons are contriving to portray him as insane.
  • This argument can be very creative, but supporting it can be difficult. In what way is Hamlet’s behavior being controlled? Is he being pushed to his limits so that his frustration seems insane to those who don’t know what he’s going through? Is he being poisoned?

  • Hamlet is not insane. Instead, he is depressed/grieving/etc. in a sane manner.
  • This approach has become more common in the modern era, with more literary students having at least a passing knowledge of psychology. Some posit that Hamlet’s behavior is not so far diverged from a grieving, depressed, or anxious individual that he can be called insane.

There’s no “correct” approach to the topic. So long as the student can defend their position, their argument can stand, however unorthodox it may be.