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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: October ::
Re: Hamlet's Insanity
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0810. Saturday, 15 October 1994.
 
From:           Nick Clary <
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Date:           Wednesday, 12 Oct 1994 09:24:31 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Hamlet's Insanity Real or Feigned
 
While there are many studies published since then, a good place to start might
be the Appendix: "Is Hamlet's Insanity Real or Feigned?" in *A New Variorum
Edition of Shakespeare: Hamlet* edited by H.H. Furness (1877; rpt. New York:
Dover Publications, Inc. 1963), 2:195-235.  The editor's survey is from
MacKenzie (1780) to Dr. Onimus (1876).  An explosion in psychoanalytic
criticism, of course, occurred after Ernest Jones brought Freud to bear on the
subject of Hamlet's mental state and motivations in *Hamlet and Oedipus*
(1949).
 
As early as Charlottle Lennox's *Shakespear Illustrated* (1753), which was the
first assembly of "the Novels and Histories on which the plays of Shakespear
are founded," comparisons are made between Shakespeare's play and the Amleth
legend recorded in Saxo Grammaticus, and later in the adaptations by
Belleforest and an anonymous English prose translation.  Lennox, for one, found
it an error in judgment that the playwright should preserve the madness ruse
adopted by the Scandinavian hero, who knows as everyone else does that his
uncle has murdered to become king and and to husband Amleth's mother.  Lennox
writes: The Madness of Hamlet seems to be less essential to the Play than the
History....Shakespear has indeed followed the History in making Hamlet feign
himself mad....'tis certainly a Fault" (2:272-3).  She sees this feigned
madness in Shakespeare's Hamlet to be of no consequence to the play's design
and damaging to the hero's noble reputation.
 
You be the judge whether this early historical surveying is too much for your
high school students.  I would like to think that they may find it fascinating,
particularly if your own enthusiasm for its larger implications is evident to
them.
 
Nick Clary
 

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