Hamlet by William Shakespeare- antic disposition

Essay by lbennieUniversity, Ph.D. March 2004

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'At the end of Act I, Hamlet says that he intends to assume an "antic disposition", yet there is evidence in Act II to suggest that his mental disturbance is genuine' Discuss this statement with reference to Act II, explaining whether you believe that Hamlet's madness is real or feigned.

Throughout Act II the audience gathers from sources other than Hamlet that he is "mad". After his declaration in Act I that he will "put an antic disposition on" this is not a surprise, yet the accepted belief by the other characters that he is truly mad leads one to have doubts as to whether his behaviour is real or feigned. Seeing as Hamlet has recently talked to the ghost of his father it would not be unreasonable to presume he would be mentally disturbed, and so, without viewing Hamlet until much later in the Act one could be suspicious of his true disposition.

Our first introduction to the possibility of Hamlet's madness is in fact prior to him revealing his intention to assume an "antic disposition". In Act I, scene iv Horatio warns Hamlet against following the ghost; "Which might deprive your sovereignty of reason and draw you into madness?" Horatio is aware that the ghost might tempt Hamlet towards madness, which may deny him the throne. This mention of madness could have been a trigger for Hamlet to later decide to assume madness or it could be a means for Shakespeare to foreshadow the future events. Either way, it is not evidence to explain whether Hamlet's madness is real or feigned but could be an indication that such madness is possible.

When Hamlet disclosed to his friends that he may be acting unusual in the future his state of mind has to questioned. He had just spoken to...