The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0337 Friday, 6 February 2004
Date: Thursday, 5 Feb 2004 16:17:21 -0300
Subject: TLS: The odds against Hamlet
5 February 2004
The odds against Hamlet
Frank Kermode, Anthony Holden, Robin Marris, Ken Follett, Linden
Stafford and Daniel Marciano
05 February 2004
Frank Kermode: Looking for problems to talk about in a lecture, I lit
upon the duel at the end of Hamlet. Relaying Claudius's challenge to
Hamlet, Osric tells him that the King has "laid on twelve for nine" (in
terms of "hits") in favour of Laertes. But nobody (including Arden
editor Harold Jenkins, in an extremely long note) seems to have figured
out the odds. You, Tony, may be able to do so, after all those sweaty
nights playing poker in Las Vegas. Quite a problem, I warn you. But you
will handle it.
Anthony Holden: You're right. This is complex, not least because the
text is ambiguous. But here goes: by my reckoning, the odds on Laertes
beating Hamlet are lousy for the punter: to wit, 1:4 (or 4 to 1 on in
bookie-speak, ie risk 4 kroner to win 1). Not much of a bet, even if
Laertes is as good as reported, and Hamlet has, as he says, been
foregoing all custom of exercise. But I think that's our boy playing
football coach-style "mind-games". For the form guide also tells us he's
been "in constant practice" since Laertes went into France (ie, at the
start of the play, ie, while he himself has recently been at Elsinore,
despite his contradictory claim to have foregone all custom of
exercise). That may just be Shakespeare nodding. If Hamlet wins against
the odds, we may need a Stewards' Enquiry . . . .
How do I work that out?
. . .
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