An Act in Act 2


In William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” Prince Hamlet appears to be insane, but he is not. The reader sees Hamlet acting crazy following the death of his father and the recent marriage of his mother and uncle, but Shakespeare- being the master of words that he is- drops hints that he is doing just that: acting. In Act 2, Scene 2, Hamlet is speaking to Polonius and appears to be talking nonsense; however, in an aside, Polonius says, “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.” The word choice “method” is an extremely significant one. In the context of the story, “method” can be defined as “logic” or “sense.” Using these definitions, Polonius’ line means that Hamlet is spouting off madness, but that there is some logic to it; this is most likely what Polonius intends it to mean. However, the word “method” can also be interpreted as “artfulness” or “purpose.” When interpreted this way, Polonius is presenting the idea that Hamlet is intentionally pretending to be insane. From what we read in Act 1, we know that Hamlet intends to avenge his father’s death, so we can assume he is acting insane to help accomplish this. The word choice “method”- and the two very different ideas it alludes to- brings about a sense of irony because of what Polonius knows versus what we, as readers, know: that Hamlet’s insanity is an act. 

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2 comments

  1. I understand and can agree with both of your interpretations but I agree more strongly with your first interpretation. While I considered that Polonius may believe that Hamlet is pretending to be insane, what Polonius says in the paragraph following your quote swayed me to agree with your first interpretation. Polonius says, “A happiness that often madness hits on, which reason and sanity could not so prosperously be delivered of.” The book has in a footnote that states that “happiness” means “apt turn of phrase” in this context. With this meaning of happiness, your first interpretation is gains significant support. The editors of this version of “Hamlet” agreed that Polonius believed that although Hamlet was saying crazy things, there seemed to be at the same time a logic and perfect choice of words that only the minds of insane people can connect. Hamlet’s apparent madness is convincing enough that Polonius is going to try to set up his daughter with Hamlet to end Hamlet’s despair.

  2. I also agree more strongly with your first interpretation. While we know that Hamlet is acting insane to help him with his future attempt at revenge, Polonius does not. I don’t believe that Hamlet has disclosed this information to anybody.
    However, while I know that many of Hamlet’s acts of insanity are intentional and stem from his thirst for revenge, I believe that at least on some level, he is a bit insane. For example, Hamlet acts insane even when no one whom he is trying to fool is around. When Hamlet is telling Horatio and Marcellus to swear on his sword, we as readers cannot even tell if Hamlet’s friends can hear the ghost, or if it is only a figment of Hamlet’s imagination. For this reason, I don’t think we can call all of his acts of insanity intentional.

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