Home » William Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “The Antic Disposition”

William Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “The Antic Disposition”

It could easily be concluded that the prime thematic idea behind Hamlet is revenge, and it would not be a difficult task to prove. A greater question would be in regards to Hamlet’s “Antic Disposition,” which ultimately preceded his revenge plot. What is the nature of this “Antic Disposition” and what role did it play in Hamlet’s plan for revenge? Did having an “Antic Disposition” mean that Hamlet was indeed mad? What brought Hamlet to conclude that revenge was indeed the solution for his internal conflicts and malaise?

What was Hamlet’s rationale in making the decision to commit violent revenge? At what point in the play does Hamlet decide to embark on this mission of revenge, to devote his life to avenging the death of his father? Is Hamlet successful in his plan, and when does his plan effectively end? The analysis of certain key scenes will be required to provide conclusive evidence in order to answer the questions at hand. Knowledge of the play is required to consider these questions. The phrase “Antic Disposition” is initially encountered by the reader in the closings of Act I, scene v.

In the preceding scene Hamlet, Horatio and Marcellus are seen waiting for the Ghost Horatio had encountered the previous night. When it appears before them, Hamlet agrees that the Ghost bears a striking resemblance to his deceased father and it calls him forth to engage in some discourse-as during the previous night, The Ghost eluded the queries of Horatio and Marcellus to retreat at the call of a crow. At this point none of Horatio, Hamlet or Marcellus are certain whether the Ghost had come bearing evil or good sentiments.

Hamlet is obviously intrigued by this spectre, and agrees to follow it, forcing his way past the concerned pair of Horatio and Marcellus. Scene v. of the Act begins with Hamlet and the Ghost engaging in conversation on another platform of the battlements. Hamlet is shocked to learn that Claudius was responsible for his father’s death, and readily agrees to avenge his “most foul, strange, and unnatural murder. ” The Ghost tells Hamlet, and effectively, the audiences, for the first time the complete story of the King’s death.

The Ghost incriminates Gertrude concurrently, telling Hamlet of her adulterous ways with Claudius while the King was still living. Hamlet is upset by this, but the Ghost orders Hamlet to let God deliver the punishment to her and to concentrate on Claudius solely. The dawn then comes, forcing the ghost to return to the purgatory he must inhabit, because of the wrongful deeds he did prior to his own death. Afterward, Hamlet concludes he must put aside trivial matters and dedicate himself to the vengeance his father deserves.

When Horatio and Marcellus catch up to Hamlet, he forces them to swear an oath of secrecy on all matters concerning the Ghost. They hesitate, and the Ghost calls forth an ethereal order they have no choice but to comply with. It is at this point that we encounter the phrase of much importance: Hamlet confides in his friends, Horatio and Marcellus, that he must put on an “antic disposition” for all to see for the duration of his plan. At this point it is evident that Hamlet intends to act insane to carry out the steps of his plot against Claudius.

Here the plot is embarked upon. What rationale beyond seeing the phantom image of one’s murdered father would be required to justify a plan of revenge as such? Any debate on whether the Ghost actually exists at this point is redundant: the sheer fact that Horatio and Marcellus witnessed its manifestation on more than one occasion, in addition to Hamlet’s lengthy discourse with the spectre, is proof enough for the audience. At this point, we are meant to assume that the Ghost is indeed some ethereal reflection of the deceased King.

Indeed, the Ghost even appears in the dramatis personae. The only doubt comes later, with Gertrude’s failure to see the phantom while Hamlet speaks to it in her presence. In the previous acts, both Laertes and Polonius question Hamlet’s nobility and ethics; no doubt in response to the mounting allegations of the young prince’s affairs with “loose women,” “gaming” and “the drink. ” Laertes previously convinces Ophelia of Hamlet’s ill worth: as a man set to inherit the throne, he would have no time for matters of love while affairs of state await him.

Hamlet is almost equally dismayed by the superficial, almost foolish celebration of the king’s health by the shooting off of cannons; as he tells his mates in Horatio and Marcellus promptly before encountering the Ghost in I,v. Couple this with the murder of his father, his “incestuous,” “adulterous” mother; and what rationale could he possibly require beyond to fulfill the phantom wishes of his father, trapped in Purgatory? At this point, his worldview is best summed up by “How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable Seem to me all the uses of the world” (I. . 133-134).

And this is before he learns the truth surrounding the circumstances of his father’s departure into death. We are convinced, easily, that Hamlet is indeed lucid and logical, although somehow fated to remain unhappy. By taking on the task of murdering Claudius, Hamlet suddenly finds himself something to live for. Two months after Hamlet had met with the Ghost, in II, ii. Claudius and Gertrude are found discussing Hamlet’s strange behaviour with two of his friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

The audience is still of the idea that Hamlet is acting the lunatic, rather than actually insane. Here we find ourselves doubting, for the first time, whether or not Hamlet is still playing the lunatic or is actually becoming one. Although Gertrude is certain her quick re-marriage and the late king’s death are the cause of Hamlet’s ill-behaviour, Claudius is still uncertain as to the cause. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are sent to effectively spy on Hamlet, as Polonius was.

As they are leaving, Polonius enters with the messengers returning from Norway to report on Fortinbras. Polonius beings a long-winded, comical, roundabout speech, much to the dismay of the impatient queen. Polonius has concluded that Hamlet has fallen “Into the madness wherein he now raves” after Ophelia took his “advice,” noting that he “Fell into a sadness” before continuing on the road of strange behaviour. Claudius and Gertrude are not so ready to believe such simple reasoning for Hamlet’s apparent mental illness.

Claudius is evidently suspicious of Hamlet and Gertrude merely unsure: “It may be, very like. ” Polonius issues “proof” in the form of a letter written to Ophelia from Hamlet, expressing “that I love thee best, O most best, believe it. ” Hamlet may have indeed loved Ophelia throughout the play, but his affairs with her rank merely as a sub-plot, as a possibility of the peripheral characters to examine for reasoning of Hamlet’s “madness. ” Scene iv of Act III brings us into the Queen’s Closet, where Polonius and the queen are found discussing Hamlet and “his pranks.

Polonius hides promptly after the queen hears Hamlet approaching, after which point the queen attempts to lay guilt on Hamlet, telling him “thou hast thy father much offended. ” Hamlet will have none of this, telling the queen it is she that has offended his late father. Hamlet resents being her son, and commands her not to budge until he may “set up a glass” (mirror) that would have her see the “inmost” part of herself. Hamlet is showing due hatred for her, but she suspects him of desiring to kill her and cries out for help.

Polonius calls an answer from behind the curtains where he lay in hiding, and Hamlet responds to his meddling by running him through. At that point, Hamlet murders entirely indiscriminately, not caring for who he was attacking, but why: Polonius, by this time, had struck Hamlet as a “wretched, rash, intruding fool. Indiscriminate murder implies a certain instability, which Hamlet is obviously prone to, but in no way does it necessarily represent madness. Hamlet was tired of the meddling of others-he had a plan to finish!

Later in the scene, Hamlet speaks with the Ghost, in the queen’s presence. If she were not entirely convinced of his madness by now, she definitely was upon witnessing his conversation with a Ghost. The audience, however, knows the Ghost to be “real,” but is still without a doubt confused as to why the queen has failed to see its image. Later on in a pivotal scene concerning Hamlet’s as-of-yet-undefined love for Ophelia, in Act V, Scene I; we find that Hamlet is more enraged with Laertes’ reaction to Ophelia’s death then the death itself.

While Hamlet does briefly woe the death of Ophelia, it is not until the queen remarks on her past wishes of having Ophelia and Hamlet marry that Laertes suddenly becomes a dramatic and leaps into Ophelia’s grave in a frenzy of despair. After Hamlet contests Laertes’ love, and Laertes threatens him, Hamlet expresses his lucidity simply in “For, though I am not splenitive and rash, Yet I have something in me dangerous” while maintaining presence. This somehow goes to further convince all present, possibly Horatio included, that Hamlet is definitely mad.

He poetically rants about his love for Ophelia, how “forty thousand brothers” in their love could not equal his. Hamlet is clearly not “pretending” to be insane here, but he is not expressing the sentiments of a madman at the same time, either. Passionate sorrow, even violent anger towards Laertes, is a natural reaction to seeing the burial of his beloved Ophelia in a common, almost unholy burial place. The scene ends with Claudius reminding Laertes of their arrangement to deal with Hamlet.

In Act III, scene iii, Hamlet is given a perfect opportunity to finish his plan of revenge and kill Claudius. Here we are also given insight into the thoughts of Claudius and proof of his murder of the king. In Claudius’ soliloquy, he admits to killing his brother and starts to realise the difficulties he finds himself in. He tries to atone for his sins by praying, but he finds that although he can say the words to ask for forgiveness, he doesn’t believe in what he is saying.

Unbeknownst to Claudius, Hamlet enters while Claudius is at prayer, and although this seems like the perfect opportunity for Hamlet to commit the deed upon acquiring proof, Hamlet refuses to go ahead with it: he is afraid that because Claudius is praying, Claudius’ sins will be forgiven. Hamlet would rather not see Claudius to have a chance to end in heaven, or purgatory where his father resides. It is ironic that when Hamlet has an opportunity to kill Claudius and get away with killing him, he hesitates because he doesn’t want there to be a chance that Claudius wouldn’t suffer in the afterlife.

What Hamlet didn’t know was that Claudius couldn’t pray and if he had killed Claudius, he would have had his revenge. This situational irony is wonderful and suspenseful to the audience: at this point, we cant for the lives of us figure out why Hamlet didn’t kill Claudius. Had he, the multiple deaths at the end wouldn’t have occurred, and there would be no tension mounting and culminating in one dramatic thrust. Ultimately, it was Claudius that ruined himself in his attempt to have Laertes kill Hamlet. Although Hamlet didn’t carry out his plan as he had worked it in his head, Claudius still died at his hands, along with the meddling Laertes.

Gertrude is served her justice, perhaps by God (poison), as the Ghost foretold it. There is a certain measure of manifest destiny, running parallels with many of Shakespeare’s tragedies, wherein protagonists’ and antagonists’ fates were decided by ethereal, non-participating characters (I. e. , the Witches in Macbeth). In the end, Hamlet died with the nobility of defending his father’s character, and setting wrongs right, proving those wrong that initially slandered him with accusations of hedonism and poor character fit for a prince.

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