OpheliaOphelia is seen as a level-headed and very much sane character at the beginning of the play. However, things seem to take a downward spiral towards the latter half of the play when Hamlet's killing of Polonius is made evident to her. This seems to be the driving force behind her madness. Unlike other characters in the play, at first glance, Ophelia's madness seems to have no purpose or meaning behind it. Horatio goes on to speak on behalf of Ophelia's madness in Act 4, Scene 5. Here is an excerpt from that scene:
She speaks much of her father, says, she hears
There's tricks i' the world, and hems and beats her heart,
Spurns enviously at straws; speaks things in doubt,
That carry but half sense: her speech is nothing,
Yet the unshaped use of it doth move
The hearers to collection; they aim at it,
And botch the words up fit to their own thoughts;
which, as her winks and nods and gestures yield them,
Indeed would make one think there would be thought,
Though nothing sure, yet much unhappily.
'Twere good she were spoken with, for she may strew
Dangerous conjectures in ill-breeding minds. (IV.v.4-15)
In this description we find many key elements that will point us towards the true nature and intent of Ophelia's madness. The reason is already, although not clearly indicated, implied at the beginning of the description when Horatio said of Ophelia that "She speaks much of her father." The death of Ophelia's father seems to deeply affect her psychological state. One of the noted key elements of this analysis of Ophelia's mental state is that she seems to get angry at simple things that one normally wouldn't even bat an eyebrow at. Another is of what Ophelia is saying, which, according to Horatio, "carry but a half sense." In other words, Ophelia's words lack meaning when people talk to her, and when people talk to her it takes more careful analysis than one would normally require to understand the meaning behind her words. Essentially the impression that Ophelia eminates in her madness is that her madness is genuine and fuelled by the death of her father.
However, later on in the play, Laertes says of Ophelia's madness that "This nothing's more than matter" (VI.v.172). This basically translates to Laertes saying that the nonsense that she's supposedly spewing actually has more meaning than rational speech does. This is a tad ironic (And quite funny in my opinion) because, upon analyzing what she says, her words seem to hold no relevant meaning other than to indicate her madness being genuine.
Overall, I would rate Ophelia around a 9 out of 10 on a supposed "madness scale." This is simply because, up to this point in the play, Ophelia's madness seems to be geniunely without method or purpose. In other words, to quote my English teacher Mr. Lafleur; "She's coocoo-bananas."
One of the more central characters to the plot of the play, Hamlet seems to have a different association with the theme of madness within the play. Where Ophelia's madness seems to be genuine and without purpose or method, Hamlet's seems to be quite the opposite of that. That is to say, Hamlet's madness isn't really genuine, and it does play a vital role in the plot of the play because although other characters assume him to truly be mad because of the sudden death of his father Hamlet Senior, Hamlet is really putting on an act and faking this madness to throw everyone off while he plans the perfect revenge for King Cladius, who killed his father as opposed to the story spread around that the former king was killed by a snake in the garden.
An example of Hamlet's plans can be found when Hamlet proclaims to be sane when he says that "[He] is but mad north-north-west; when the wind is/ southerly [he] know[s] a hawk from a handsaw" (II.ii.376-377). In this, Hamlet basically tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two of Hamlet's closest friends who were sent to spy on him by kind Claudius, that he knows why they are both there to see him and that, despite the fact that his actions seem to indicate madness, he's about his wits and can control his madness. In other words, his madness isn't more methodical and being used in a devious manner than anything else.
However, there are also indications that Hamlet's "fake madness" might be slowly and gradually transforming into true madness. Hamlet seems to be falling victim to his own plans in other words. Some evidence that Hamlet might or might not be becoming mad can be found when Hamlet goes on a sort of rant about how his love for the now-deceased Ophelia is greater than Laertes' love for her.
'Swounds, show me what thou'lt do:
Would't weep? would't fight? would't fast? would't tear thyself?
Would't drink up eisel? eat a crocodile?
I'll do't. Dost thou come here to whine?
To outface me with leaping in her grave?
Be buried quick with her, and so will I;
And, if thou prate of mountains, let them throw
Millions of acres on us, till our ground,
Singeing his pate against the burning Zone,
Make Ossa like a wart! Nay, an thou'lt mouth,
I'll rant as well as thou. (V.i.268-278)
In this rant, Hamlet basically tells Laertes that his love for Ophelia far exceeds anything that Laertes has to offer. However, this begs the question; why would Hamlet commit such a childish act towards someone? Is it caused by his passions for Ophelia taking over his level-headed reasoning? Or is it a sign of his imminent madness caused by constantly faking his own madness? This is truly a puzzling question. From what both King Claudius and Hamlet's mother Gertude can gather, Hamlet is mad. It's difficult to decipher whether this is true madness on Hamlet's part, but one thing is for certain; whatever the reason, Hamlet wasn't in control of his own emotions at the time of doing this, and therefore this can be precieved as a form of madness to some extent on the part of Hamlet.