The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1116  Friday, 6 June 2003

From:           Jay Feldman <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 5 Jun 2003 18:12:26 EDT
Subject:        Hamlet's Antic Disposition.

Hopefully members of this forum can shed some light on a few questions
concerning Hamlet.

Why does Shakespeare have Hamlet announce in 1.5 that he will put on an
"antic disposition"? That he does so is verified by his later
conversations with Polonius, by his own admission, and from reports of
his madness by others. But why does he do so? Is this just a vestigial
element carried forward from Saxo; is there some subtle unstated need
for Hamlet to find protective cover (perhaps from rumors reaching
Claudius of an errant ghost telling all); or does Shakespeare use it to
add verve to a Hamlet strategy of 'confuse and bewilder' the opposition?
I can find no hint that Hamlet *must* act in any way but as a sane
though melancholy prince as he works through the machinations required
to validate and meet the ghost's commands.

Or, is it possible that Hamlet's transition from the apparent madcap
inanity of an incestuous, over hasty marriage, to the mad insanity of an
adulterous fratricide has indeed tainted his mind, and that taint is
what he senses and refers to in 1.5? That perhaps this vicious mole in
his nature will carry him into moments of madness, as we will later see
in: his behavior in Ophelia's closet; the severity and meanness of his
speech during the nunnery scene; his excitation before, during, and
after the Mousetrap; his failure to dispatch Claudius in 3.3; his
unreasoned murder of Polonius and subsequent 'singular' vision of the
ghost in Gertrude's chamber; and his antics during the search for
Polonius' body (when we see an intelligent use of "antic" behavior to
perhaps serve as protection against an instant regal retaliation).

Thanks in advance for any assistance.

Jay Feldman

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