Hamlet is probably the best known of William Shakespeare's works and may well be the most famous English play ever written. This play has always been a difficult piece to analyze; featuring a very complicated central character and a story filled with many complex themes. The main character of this play, Hamlet, has been subjected to numerous interpretations and studies; his actions and thoughts have been analyzed again and again. The question of Hamlet's essential sanity has become a major issue in the interpretation of this play. Is Hamlet truly insane, or is it all an act? .
In the story of Hamlet, Hamlet's uncle murders the prince's father and soon marries the queen and becomes the King of Denmark. Hamlet is informed of the murder by the ghost of his father, and by speaking to the ghost he now knows he must avenge his father's death. .
The characters throughout the play try to decipher for themselves whether Hamlet had lost his mind or not. The two female characters Ophelia, Hamlets former lover, and Gertrude, his queen mother, both come to the conclusion that Hamlet is "mad". The major male characters on the other hand, such as Polonius for example in Act II notices that there is "method in Hamlet's madness"; that his insanity seems to be a mask to hide something deeper. Hamlet's abnormal behavior since the death of his father and his mother's hasty marriage to his uncle seems to be somewhat understandable. The others see that he is naturally gloomy and withdrawn from these traumatic events.
Yet Hamlet seems to know how to use the guise of madness toward strategic ends keeping all the characters off balance and unable to see the threat he posses. It is under this cover of madness that Hamlet presents his trap, a "play within a play" to capture the conscience of the guilty King. It is also under this disguise that Hamlet sees through the King's plan to have him executed in England and is able to escape.