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Bradley, A. C. Shakespearean Tragedy: Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth.
2nd ed. London: Macmillan, 1905.
PAGE 420



     Johnson, in commenting on the passage (V. ii. 237-255), says: 'I wish Hamlet had made some other defence; it is unsuitable to the character of a good or a brave man to shelter himself in falsehood.' And Seymour (according to Furness) thought the falsehood so ignoble that he rejected lines 239-250 as an interpolation!

     I wish first to remark that we are mistaken when we suppose that Hamlet is here apologizing specially for his behaviour to Laertes at Ophelia's grave. We naturally suppose this because he has told Horatio that he is sorry he 'forgot himself' on that occasion, and that he will court Laertes' favours (V. ii. 75 ff.). But what he says in that very passage shows that he is thinking chiefly of the greater wrong he has done Laertes by depriving him of his father:

For, by the image of my cause, I see
The portraiture of his.

And it is also evident in the last words of the apology itself that he is referring in it to the deaths of Polonius and Ophelia:

Sir, in this audience,
Let my disclaiming from a purposed evil
Free me so far in your most generous thoughts,
That I have shot mine arrow o'er the house,
And hurt my brother:

     But now, as to the falsehood. The charge is not to be set aside lightly; and, for my part, I confess that, while rejecting of course Johnson's notion that Shakespeare wanted to paint 'a good man,' I have momentarily shared Johnson's wish that Hamlet had made 'some other defence' than that of madness. But I think the wish proceeds from failure to imagine the situation.

     In the first place, what other defence can we wish Hamlet to have made? I can think of none. He cannot tell the truth. He cannot say to Laertes, 'I meant to stab the King, not your father.' He cannot explain why he was unkind to Ophelia. Even on the false supposition that he is referring simply to his

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