The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0066 Wednesday, 18 February 2009
From: Conrad Cook <
Date: Tuesday, 3 Feb 2009 02:52:37 -0500
Comment: SHK 20.0054 Heroes
Donald Bloom <
>Both are, I think, not taking into account the fact that the situation
>is quite crazy to begin with. In the preceding scene they were trying to
>strangle each other over the dead body of Ophelia. An hour or so later a
>friendly competition using deadly weapons is proposed between the two. A
>trifle suspicious, I think we'd all agree.
Well, let's be accurate. Fencing foils are not deadly weapons, provided
that the bate has not been removed or poison applied.
>Hamlet apologizes to Laertes ("Sorry about killing your dad, mate, but I
>was off my chump at the time") but as a prelude to a fencing match it's
>entirely goofy. Laertes offers a guarded response ("I'll consult some
>experts to determine whether I'll have to challenge you or knife you in
>the back to get revenge, but until then we'll pretend it never
>happened") that is hardly less loopy. The king takes his part with the
>hokum about the priceless pearl that will go to Hamlet if he gets an
>early hit, and then drinks his health as if they were best of friends.
>Granted they have to continue the sham in front of the public but what
>are they doing in front of the public if not setting up something
>underhanded? It is not a friendly match. Nobody's friends and nobody's
It calls to mind Bugs Bunny's commentary at the end of his Wagner
adaptation: "Well what did you expect -- a happy ending?"
Quite beyond "nobody's friends," the three players participating in the
three-way duel, Claudius, Laertes and Hamlet, each are kings who fall
short of kingship: Claudius is the king of Denmark, but in fact he is a
murderer and usurper, which renders his rule illegal. Laertes was chosen
by the people to be king, but he forfeited that kingship in return for
Claudius's promise of revenge. Hamlet is the hereditary king, but has
had trouble in claiming the throne.
>The queen, bless her heart, seems to take it all at face value, not
>suspecting her husband of his murderous deceit. But then again, maybe
>she does. Maybe she is weary of life: she has acted very scandalously,
>married with the murderer of her first husband, seen a man killed by her
>son. Maybe one could stage it such that she suspects that the cup is
>poisoned and drinks it deliberately, tearing it away from Claudius,
>expecting to die.
It's played that way sometimes.
You can find the queen suiciding to protect her son in the Ethan Hawke
_Hamlet_. An interesting interpretation, but it seems to me
inconsistent with the queen offering Hamlet the drink.
But if Shakespeare intends to raise the issue in our minds, then there
is a nice parallel with Ophelia's doubtful death, who the Gravedigger
says drowned herself in her own defense, and the Queen reports was
dragged under by her clothes "heavy with their drink."
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