Hamlet appears to be going mad… and we look at phrases to say that someone's behaviour is strange or silly. For the transcript click ''SHOW MORE'.
For activities and extra materials connected to this episode: http://www.bbc.co.uk/learningenglish/english/course/shakespeare/unit-1/session-7
Shakespeare Speaks is a co-production between BBC Learning English and The Open University
It was late in the evening. Actors Thomas Swann and Robert Harley are having a drink in the Duck and Whistle after a rehearsal of William Shakespeare's Hamlet.
Here you are Mr Robert, Mr Thomas: two more ales.
Now Robert, the big question in Hamlet for me is – oh, hello, Will.
Good evening Thomas, Robert…
Will. About your character Hamlet. Is he really mad?
Good evening Mr Will – oohh, he's a tricky fellow that Hamlet. The way I see it, Mr Thomas, is, he's not really mad. He wants to find out who killed his father, and he thinks if he pretends to be mad, the killer will stop hiding the truth from him. Isn't that right Mr Will?
Indeed it is, Bess.
Hamlet says all sorts of crazy things about maggots in dogs and crabs walking backwards… no wonder everyone thinks he's mad. I'm a big fan of yours, Mr Will.
Thank you, Bess.
But if Polonius thinks Hamlet is mad, why does he say: Though this be madness, yet there is method in't?
Well I think, Mr Robert, that's partly because some of the crazy things that Hamlet says actually make sense. That's why Polonius thinks Hamlet is somehow in control of his madness, because Hamlet says: For yourself, sir, should be as old as I am…
Robert Harley as Hamlet
For yourself, sir, should be as old as I am, if like a crab you could go backward.
Thomas Swann as Polonius
Though this be madness, yet there is method in't.
That Polonius is an old fool – he doesn’t know Hamlet’s insulting him. I've seen all your plays, Mr Will.
I know you have, dear Bess.
We'll leave them there for now. The name Hamlet is very similar to Hamnet, Shakespeare's son, who died at just 11 years old. It's possible that Shakespeare's grief influenced the outpouring of hopelessness and grief in Hamlet's speeches that follow the death of his father, the King. The modern version of the phrase Though this be madness, yet there is method in't is simply: there's method in his madness – or her madness, or my madness – and it means: there's a sensible reason for something that seems crazy. Take snooker champion Ronnie O'Sullivan, talking about how his father introduced him to snooker. He said:
My dad's method in his madness was to try every sport and then observe what I liked. I played football, tennis, golf, cricket – but I loved my snooker.
My mum's desk is covered in papers. There's method in her madness, though. She knows where everything is!
So Hamlet isn't mad – he's just pretending.
That's right – exactly.
This is one crazy plot…
Mr Will knows what he's doing, believe me.
Hmm… To be-lieve, or not to be-lieve...
…that is the question.
Pick up some useful everyday English phrases and learn about the life, times and language of the world's best-known playwright with our 20-part series: #ShakespeareSpeaks
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