For most of the play, Hamlet does indeed pretend to be mad. The audience can understand that Hamlet is only pretending because Shakespeare leaves clues in characters’ lines. For example, when Hamlet first speaks to Polonius in act II, scene ii, Hamlet appears to be truly insane. Hamlet mistakes Polonius for a “fishmonger” and answers Polonius irrationally, saying, “For if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a good kissing carrion…” (II.ii.190; 197-198). Although Hamlet seems to be talking about nonsense, Polonius remarks on “how pregnant his replies sometimes are” (II.ii.226-227). If Hamlet were truly mad in this case, he would not be able to have so much meaning in his words. Hamlet acknowledges that he is feigning madness when he says, “I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw” (II.ii.402-403). It is clear that Hamlet is using madness intentionally in most of the play.
Claudius pretends to be innocent is in the beginning of the play when he first assumes the kingship after King Hamlet’s death. Claudius feigns a lamentation on th...
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...ause he refuses to relinquish all that he gained from pretending to be innocent. Claudius says, “…I am still possessed / Of those effects for which I did the murder: / My crown, mine own ambition, and my queen. / May one be pardoned and retain th’ offense?” (III.iii.57-60). Because Claudius gained so much from acting innocent, he fails to truly repent for the murder of King Hamlet.
Both Hamlet and Claudius act impeccably during the play; the other characters are unable to tell that they are acting. However, Hamlet does not act mad throughout the play because he is truly mad, to a degree. They both use acting to get what they want, but when Claudius tries to stop acting and truly become innocent, he is unable. Shakespeare does this purposefully in order to show that Hamlet is a more honorable character than Claudius is because he is more genuine than Claudius is.
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