No, I went round to work,
And my young mistress thus I did bespeak:
"Lord Hamlet is a prince, out of thy star;
This must not be." And then I precepts gave her,
That she should lock herself from his resort,
Admit no messengers, receive no tokens.
Which done, she took the fruits of my advice,
And he, repulsed - a short tale to make -
Fell into a sadness, then into a fast,
Thence to a watch, thence into a weakness,
Thence to a lightness, and, by this declension,
Into the madness wherein now he raves,
And all we mourn for.
Do you think 'tis this?
It may be, very likely.
Hath there been such a time - I'd fain know that -
That I have positively said "Tis so,"
When it proved otherwise?
Not that I know.
Take this from this, if this be otherwise.
If circumstances lead me, I will find
Where truth is hid, though it were hid indeed
Within the centre.
Shakespeare gives many descriptions of how it feels to fall prey to lovesickness. At the beginning of Romeo and Juliet, Benvolio (himself feeling out of sorts) spots Romeo out moping in the early hours of the morning. Indeed it is his distracted lovesickness that makes Romeo miss the brawl that starts the play. As mentioned in the episode, Rosalind also has a fun description of the symptoms Orlando would display if he really were in love. The comedies Much Ado About Nothing and Love's Labour's Lost also poke fun at the grisly process of falling in love and the ill-effects it can have on human health - all of which might have prepared an audience for Hamlet's behaviour. But is he really in love or only acting?
Tony Church wrote a brilliant contribution to the first of the six excellent "Players of Shakespeare" books from Cambridge University Press. In his essay on playing Polonius, he discusses a genius move in rehearsals for the play, in which the company changed the alcohol being consumed in the Danish court. They moved from wine to harder liquor (aquavit, appropriate to the Scandinavian setting) - immediately Polonius' verbosity became a bravura performance at dizzying speed, in which he could deliver twice the text anyone else might speak in the same amount of time. In this staging, Polonius could show a different awareness of his overblown language - and these earlier scenes displayed rather more humour.
As mentioned in the notes for a previous episode, for a very good article by Erin Sullivan on heartbreak and Shakespeare, including some discussion of contemporary medicine and medical opinion on sadness and heartbreak, click here