The Mobled Queen and the Sweet Prince

  • Kristian Smidt


The well-known puzzles that attend the interpretation of Hamlet are not, on the whole, such as can be easily accounted for by inconsistent imagining or changes of mind on the author’s part. There is the perennial question, for instance, as to why Hamlet should think he needs the disguise of madness and to what extent the derangement is real. His madness does come in useful as an excuse for the killing of Polonius: once when Hamlet persuades the Queen to offer it as an explanation to the King, and again when he offers this explanation himself to Laertes (IV.i.7–12, V.ii.224–35). At the end of the graveyard scene, too, the Queen excuses his outrageous behaviour by his supposed affliction. But in the main his affected derangement puts him in jeopardy and hinders his purposed revenge, since it rouses the suspicion of the King and his entourage. The point is that we must not look for a psychological motivation for Hamlet’s pretence. Shakespeare borrowed it from his sources and needed it for his plot — not as a means of disguise for a juvenile avenger biding his time, as in Saxo and Belleforest, but precisely as a means of causing suspicion and starting the train of soundings and espials which leads to the pivotal event of the tragedy: the accidental death of Polonius. As Schiicking observes, ‘the real starting-point of the tragedy is Hamlet’s decision to feign madness, no explanation for which is forthcoming’.1 The madness is in origin a plot requirement.


Good Text Psychological Motivation Outrageous Behaviour Funeral Procession Credible Revelation 
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© Kristian Smidt 1990

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  • Kristian Smidt

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