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Word Count: 652
Plucking Out the Heart of His Mystery Was Hamlet Mad I will be brief Your noble son is mad states Polonius IIii92 O what a noble mind is here oerthrown Ophelia exclaims IIIi142 Alas hes mad concludes Gertrude IIIiv107 I am but mad north-north-west when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw professes Hamlet IIii331 Four hundred years later the debate still rages It seems odd Hamlets sanity would be so widely debated for centuries when we need only to look at the background sources of this tragic play for explanation the characters feigned madness Shakespeares Hamlet was a remake of an already popular play based in turn on historical fiction based in turn on a episode from the Dark Ages The Historical Hamlet was the son of a Danish King of the Jutes who lived during the lawless period that followed the collapse of Roman-era civilization Saxo Grammaticus Historia Danica written around 1200 presents a highly fictionalized version of his story This ghastly tale depicts a prince named Amleth who must feign madness while plotting the revenge he finally achieves Although a success story and not a tragedy it is a bloody account of fratricide and a queens remarriage of tests and secret commissions of deceit and death Francois de Belleforest adapted Saxos historical fiction and published Histories Tragiques in 1570 In the 1600s The Spanish Tragedy a revenge play by Thomas Kyd with several similarities to Shakespeares Hamlet was performed as was the Ur-Hamlet a companion-piece to the original Hamlet play which Kyd probably also wrote Edwards 1-3 Belleforest provided the essential story line The old Hamlet play which we do not have must have contributed other elements Knowing this background it now become apparent where Shakespeare was constrained by his plot and genre to have Hamlets revenge delayed and his madness feigned when he wrote his best known and most popular
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