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It’s still an enigma to guess that Hamlet’s character. In Hamlet we see, quite generally, a feigned madness and a real madness; which, to a certain extent, would not be a contradiction, if we consult the facts of pathological observation. His conduct, and his discourse, the more it seems that there is only feigned folly in him; his natural sadness, his suspicious mind, his distrust of himself, his habit of analyzing his sensations and feelings, the awareness of his irresolution at the moment of acting, the perpetual fear of staying underneath the terrible duties of which he thinks he is charged, all that belongs, to the melancholy temperament all this does not constitute madness. A madman will dissimulate as artificially as Hamlet does, but it will be precisely to deceive his very folly, or to arrive by a detour to reach the goal towards which his fixed idea pushes him: – a madman is he afraid, like Hamlet to go crazy? Does he continue to analyze everything that happens in him? Does he know the nature of his strength and weakness so well? Does he calculate so precisely all the effects of his speech? Can he successively return to the past and show that foresight of the morrow that never abandons Hamlet? it would be difficult. If the dreamers of Germany, who have been compared to the Danish prince who has studied in their universities, have this power and rigor of logic, they are great philosophers, and not fools.
In the pain caused by the death of his father and the prompt marriage of his mother, Hamlet, it is true, thought of suicide: but as he quickly dismissed this culpable thought: God forbids us to attack nowadays .This disgust of life is provoked in Hamlet by a first suspicion which he reproaches himself without doubt. Still ignorant of the truth, he blames his mother for having so quickly forgotten the king, her first husband. But suppose she could have contributed to her death! no no; she is only guilty of natural inconstancy to all women.It is sometimes to the whole world that Hamlet wants, sometimes to himself, to have judged this world better than it is – world awful, indeed, that where the son, running to mourn his father in the arms of his mother, finds an incestuous substitute. Bitterly disappointed about the one with whom it would have been so sweet to cry, reduced to reflections that now isolate him on earth, Hamlet thinks of leaving this odious court, when he hears of the appearance of the specter. Here, no doubt, would start his madness.
This spectrum, he sees it; not only does he speak to him, but he hears it, and receives from him a horrible revelation. In our century when we no longer believe in ghosts, where it still appears everywhere where anyone still believes in them, such visions accuse delirium of fever or an imagination exalted by superstition; but they do not prove madness. In Hamlet’s time, the spectrum is seen by Horatio, Marcello, the soldiers, and others, without the reason of any being troubled.
Hamlet, therefore, does not lose his own for having seen the specter like the others: once we admit that he was able to see it without being mad, it would be a singular homeopathic madness, that which would suddenly be transformed into a feigned madness. After this vision, Hamlet will have only one thought, that of punishing crime: he will pursue this goal very rationally, and not in monomane. Faithful to the instructions of the spectrum, he will devote himself to this holy and cruel duty. The execution is repugnant to his character, because he knows he is not a man of action, and that he will hesitate more than once before striking, but he hopes to exalt himself until a resolution more energetic, strengthening his conviction to the obvious. For that, he will be sullied by all sympathies which could distract him; he will isolate himself in his so-called insanity, to watch at once the new proofs which will confirm the truth of his vision, and the moment of making use of it. ‘Yes,’ he said to the specter, ‘I will remember your words, and to remember it better, I will erase from my memory all other vain and trivial reminiscences of the past, all other hatred, all other love, all what I have read in the books, all that I have seen in the world: there will be only those words that will remain engraved in my mind: A treacherous woman, a hypocritical traitor! ‘