I’m working my way through a Hamlet summary for my daughter (their high school is performing Hamlet next week!) and I want to make sure I understand something. Here’s the timeline of how Hamlet’s “antic disposition” goes down:
* Hamlet sees ghost. Hatches plan to “put an antic disposition on.”
* Scene with Polonius where Ophelia runs in to tell her father that “she has been so affrighted” that Hamlet wandered into her room looking all crazy and what not. Polonius decides that he’s mad from love and runs to tell the king and queen.
* Scene with Claudius and Gertrude, who have already summoned Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to snap Hamlet out o this mood he’s been in.
* Polonius enters, announcing that he has discovered the cause of Hamlet’s madness. The queen says well duh it’s obviously his father’s death and our o’erhasty marriage.
* Polonius then reads the love letters that Hamlet has sent Ophelia.
So I’m trying to figure out how much time is going by here. If we take Ophelia out of the picture we’re led to believe that significant time has passed, for Claudius and Gertrude to decide that something’s wrong with Hamlet and to send for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, right? Everybody seems to agree that something’s wrong with Hamlet, and has been for awhile.
If that’s true … then how does the Ophelia story work into it? Why now all of a sudden is she so suddenly affrighted? Doesn’t she know that Hamlet is crazy? And, doesn’t Polonius also know that Hamlet is crazy?
Maybe Polonius has an epiphany here, maybe in whatever months have gone by Hamlet’s had nothing to do with Ophelia (as Polonius desired), but now he suddenly bursts in on her and Polonius says “Aha! He’s clearly mad because he hasn’t been close to my daughter! I’ve cracked the case!”
But if *that* is true…then where did the love poems come from? He doesn’t apparently give her anything when he barges into her room. And if the letters were part of what Ophelia gave over to her father back at the beginning when she was initially asked, those would have been written at a time before Hamlet was supposedly nuts. So that means that Hamlet’s been writing letters to Ophelia during these intervening months?
Is that it? Ophelia is no longer speaking to Hamlet. Hamlet is writing letters to Ophelia, which she is not answering, and he’s getting more and more desperate. Nobody notices the connection. But now he’s so desperate he’s getting physical, and Polonius finally connects the dots.
Do I have that right?