It is constantly asserted that Hamlet wept over the body of Polonius ... but there is no warrant in the text for the assertion. It is
based on some words of the Queen (iv. i. 24), in answer to the King's question, 'Where is he gone?':
To draw apart the body he hath killed:
O'er whom his very madness, like some ore
Among a mineral of metals base,
Shows itself pure ; he weeps for what is done.
But the Queen, as was pointed out by Doering, is trying to screen
her son. She has already made the false statement that when
Hamlet, crying, 'A rat! a rat!', ran his rapier through the arras, it was because he heard something stir there, whereas we know that
what he heard was a man's voice crying, 'What ho! help, help, help!' And in this scene she has come straight from the interview
with her son, terribly agitated, shaken with 'sighs' and 'profound heaves,' in the night (line 30). Now we know what Hamlet said
to the body, and of the body, in that interview; and there is assuredly no sound of tears in the voice that said those things and
others. The only sign of relenting is in the words (iii. iv. 171):
For this same lord,
I do repent: but heaven hath pleased it so.
To punish me with this and this with me.
That I must be their scourge and minister.
His mother's statement, therefore, is almost certainly untrue, though
it may be to her credit. (It is just conceivable that Hamlet wept at
iii.iv. i30, and that the Queen supposed he was weeping for Polonius.)
Perhaps, however, he may have wept over Polonius's body afterwards? Well, in the next scene (iv. ii.) we see him alone with the
body, and are therefore likely to witness his genuine feelings. And his first words are, 'Safely stowed'!
How to cite this article:
Bradley, A. C. Shakespearean tragedy; lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth. London, Macmillan and Co., 1905. Shakespeare Online. 2 Aug. 2013. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/hamlet/killspolonius.html >.
Points to Ponder ... Hamlet's madness is an act of deception, concocted to draw attention away from his suspicious activities as he tries to gather evidence against Claudius. He reveals to Horatio his deceitful plan to feign insanity in 1.5: "To put an antic disposition on." Read on...