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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

William Shakespeare (1564–1616)

Madness With a Method

From “Hamlet

POLONIUS and HAMLET, reading.

Pol.How does my good Lord Hamlet?

Ham.Well, God-’a’-mercy.

Pol.Do you know me, my lord?

Ham.Excellent well; you are a fishmonger.

Pol.Not I, my lord.

Ham.Then I would you were so honest a man.

Pol.Honest, my lord?

Ham.Ay, sir: to be honest, as this world goes, is to be one man picked out of ten thousand.

Pol.That’s very true, my lord.

Ham.For if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a good kissing carrion—Have you a daughter?

Pol.I have, my lord.

Ham.Let her not walk i’ the sun: conception is a blessing; but not as your daughter may conceive. Friend, look to’t.

Pol.How say you by that?(Aside.)Still harping on my daughter. Yet he knew me not at first; he said I was a fishmonger. He is far gone, far gone: and truly in my youth I suffered much extremity for love; very near this. I’ll speak to him again.—What do you read, my lord?

Ham.Words, words, words.

Pol.What is the matter, my lord?

Ham.Between who?

Pol.I mean the matter that you read, my lord.

Ham.Slanders, sir. For the satirical slave says here, that old men have gray beards; that their faces are wrinkled; their eyes purging thick amber or plum-tree gum; and that they have a plentiful lack of wit, together with weak hams. All of which, sir, though I most powerfully and potently believe, yet I hold it not honesty to have it thus set down; for you yourself, sir, shall grow old as I am: if, like a crab, you could go backward.

Pol.(aside).Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.—Will you walk out o’ the air, my lord?

Ham.Into my grave?

Pol.Indeed, that is out o’ the air.(Aside.)How pregnant sometimes his replies are! A happiness that often madness hits on, which reason and sanity could not so prosperously be delivered of. I will leave him, and suddenly contrive the means of meeting between him and my daughter.—My honourable lord, I will most humbly take my leave of you.

Ham.You cannot, sir, take from me anything that I will more willingly part withal: except my life, except my life, except my life.

Pol.Fare you well, my lord.

Ham.These tedious old fools!