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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: November ::
Re: Laertes as King
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.1174  Thursday, 19 November 1998.

[1]     From:   N. R. Moschovakis <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 18 Nov 1998 11:20:03 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1172  Laertes as King

[2]     From:   Todd Lidh <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 18 Nov 1998 11:44:15 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1172  Laertes as King

[3]     From:   Chris Stroffolino <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 18 Nov 1998 15:50:02 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1172  Laertes as King

[4]     From:   John Drakakis <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 18 Nov 1998 22:58:16 -0000
        Subj:   RE: SHK 9.1172 Laertes as King


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           N. R. Moschovakis <
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Date:           Wednesday, 18 Nov 1998 11:20:03 -0600
Subject: 9.1172  Laertes as King
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1172  Laertes as King

Andy Drewry asks:

>It is clear... that Laertes is acting under the
>motivation that Claudius has murdered Polonious;  however, it is a
>stretch to suggest that the death of one statesman could incite such
>violence as the coup of the ruling king.

Actually it's not a stretch at all. Since Polonius was one of the chief
lords of Denmark, and Laertes is the current popular favorite (in part
because the seemingly mad Hamlet is not filling this role), Laertes is
in a prime position to make his father's murder an occasion for
rebellion against a court which many perceive as corrupt. It's almost as
if the Earl of Essex had been the son of a prominent Elizabethan
courtier who was murdered by one of Elizabeth's other favorites, under
conditions suggesting Elizabeth's condonement of the killing; who knows
what headway the Essex rebellion might have made, had such a pretext
been available! The call of honor would have been infinitely clearer.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Todd Lidh <
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Date:           Wednesday, 18 Nov 1998 11:44:15 -0500
Subject: 9.1172  Laertes as King
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1172  Laertes as King

> What is the current scholarly
> justification for this action, its strange insertion, and fast departure
> from the text?

I, for one, am not convinced it's such a strange insertion; rather, it
seems to be one more piece of evidence that there really is something
rotten in the state of Denmark. The public, whom we really only hear
*of* and see, perhaps, in the gravediggers, is decidedly conflicted.

Claudius himself worries that Hamlet is too popular with the rabble,
they are shouting for Laertes to be king, and the gravediggers openly
question the ruling of Claudius that Ophelia be buried on consecrated
ground (as well as comment that one of their ilk couldn't expect similar
treatment).

For my money, this bit with Laertes reinforces the unsettled political
picture that is Denmark during this play, so I wouldn't consider it a
throw-away or odd insertion.

Now, you asked for scholarly justification, and the above may not
qualify- anyone else care to take a whack?

Todd M Lidh
UNC-Chapel Hill

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Chris Stroffolino <
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 >
Date:           Wednesday, 18 Nov 1998 15:50:02 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 9.1172  Laertes as King
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1172  Laertes as King

At the risk of sounding flippant, I think that part of the justification
of these lines about Laertes King is the humour! At least that's how the
Actors Shakespeare Company played it-there's the sense of panic in the
king (who, at this point in the play the audience likely wants to see
panic) and thus it's a brief "comic relief" or at least a kind of
catharsis, even if-in the larger picture-it leads to the shrewd cunning
pact between the King and Laertes against Ham.....   c

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Drakakis <
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Date:           Wednesday, 18 Nov 1998 22:58:16 -0000
Subject: 9.1172 Laertes as King
Comment:        RE: SHK 9.1172 Laertes as King

It seems to me that Andy Drewry is asking the wrong questions.

Latertes' entry is prefaced by an interesting comment about language and
custom from an anonymous Gentleman who heralds his entrance.  Claudius's
response is to allow Laertes to enter with the words that: There's such
divinity that doth hedge the king that treason can but peep to what it
would, acts little of his will".  Now if that were "true" then Old
Hamlet would not have died and we'd have had no play.

When Laertes enters he does so (a) as a revenger and (b) as the leader
of a "popular" rebellion.  The one invites us to reflect on Hamlet as
revenger (a very different kind of revenger and with a different set of
obligations) and (b) on Claudius who thinks of himself as a "popular"
monarch (and something of a democratic one too- see I.ii: "Nor have we
herein barred your better wisdoms which in this have freely gone with us
along") but who is, in fact, a rebel, in principle, not unlike Laertes.

The point is that when Claudius confronts a mirror image of the chaos
for which he is responsible, he reaches for the ideology of kingship,
and thereby subverts it.  We already know how he manipulates language:
"My words fly up, my thoughts remain below/Words without thoughts never
to heaven go." So there is real irony here.  In IV.v. the scene of
Ophelia mad is followed by a piece of political madness which echoes
some of the major issues in the play.  Every thing that Hamlet holds
dear laertes throws away: vows, conscience etc.

Andy Drewry seems to think that the scene imitates a "real", ie.
non-dramatic situation in the political world so to speak.  My point is
that the scene offers a stringent interrogation- and an admission of the
inefficacy of- the Elizabethan ideology of kingship, while at the same
time forcing us to distinguish carefully between the different kinds of
revenge which the play presents to us for our consideration.  Laertes'
revenge is understandable but "illegitimate" compared to Hamlet's
injunction whereby the revenge HE has to undertake must scourge the
enemies of Denmark, but also minister to the wounded state.

Cheers,
John Drakakis
 

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