Published online by Cambridge University Press: 29 August 2010
PREFACE TO HAMLET
When so great a writer as Johnson declares himself unable to perceive any satisfactory cause for Hamlet's counterfeiting madness, I fear I shall be accused of presumption, if I attempt to offer any solution of the problem ; yet I really think that the difficulty is not as great as he supposes it to be. He says that Hamlet does nothing in the character of a lunatic, which he might not have done in his proper senses; but in this observation he appears to have overlooked what Hamlet intended to do, which ought to have been taken into consideration as well as what he actually did.
The state of the question I take to be as follows:—
Hamlet being informed by the Ghost of the murder of his father, and being at the same time required to revenge it, forms the resolution of killing his uncle; but, being sensible that he has no proof of the murder, except what was said by the Ghost to himself alone, which could have no weight with any other person, he feels conscious that his killing the king would be considered as the act of a traitor and an assassin: he therefore determines to assume the appearance of madness, in order that the intended blow might be ascribed to distraction rather than to treason.