I realized in my session with my Rubenfeld Synergist yesterday that I was longing to be a part of something wonderful – something that I didn’t have to lead. I want to be invited to the party, not host it. I want to join festivities already in progress.
I have mostly been leading those last years.
I am ready to follow for a change.
There is no explicit accusation of Gertrude here. He does not say, “You messed up” or “You destroyed my careful plan,” or “You meddling woman.”
But my woman’s brain hears an accusation anyway. We learn very early to read the smallest of signals, to see the first hint of threat.
There isn’t a threat written here and I’ve never seen one played – but I hear one. I hear a “Watch out, Gertrude.” I hear a “You’ll pay for this later.” I hear a “Why do you ruin everything?” and a “Why did you have to come in and tell him that bad news right then?” Probably this means that I’ve known too many assholes in my life. But I would be curious to see this moment played as the threat I hear.
This may be one of the most honest lines that Claudius says to another person. He really did have to work Laertes for a LONG time. But that work is not just calming, of course. That work was carefully manipulating his rage, carefully focusing it where he wanted it. But he DID have to do a LOT to “calm” him.
I feel like Claudius mostly uses her name when he wants to boss her. When he calls her by her name, he wants her to do something. In this case, it’s following Laertes. And the line he’s about to say might be interpreted as an accusation. It is, after all, Gertrude who has come in and given them enflaming news. She’s messing up his game. I feel like – if they were more in cahoots, she would not have burst in to deliver this news. If Gertrude were closely aligned with Claudius in his political workings and manipulations, she would have waited to tell Laertes about Ophelia. Is she intentionally enflaming Laertes? A Gertrude who has firmly aligned herself with Hamlet might do such a thing. I don’t think she’s aligned herself with anyone, though. She seems to just be operating on nerves by this point in the play. And now she’s the only woman left standing.
I’ve been told that anger is not a primary emotion, that it is often a mask for fear or sadness. But as someone who avoided anger for most of my youth, I have come to really admire anger, to respect speeches of fire and to appreciate how anger can energize.
I have doused numerous speeches of fire in my tears. Sometimes it feels as though I could drown myself in the tears – but then my partner will offer up his hand to punch and if I’m ready – the tears start to dry up as my anger begins to ignite. Making the switch from the moist tear soaked environment to the land of fiery speeches and cathartic kicks and punches is how I know I won’t cry forever. And the fire does FIRE. It fires one up. But it is hard to blaze in a rain of tears.
What? You can’t say goodbye to the Queen, too?
I guess in the middle of a patriarchal expression of grief wherein you denigrate the woman within, it’s a little hard to acknowledge an actual woman, especially the woman who just told you that your sister is dead.
But, man – I mean – can a Queen get a little respect around here? Might it be possible to, like, at least say adieu to her too when you’re leaving?
But that’s the thing – in the patriarchy, only men are really PEOPLE. They are all that matter. Ophelia only matters as the daughter of a man, the (ex) girlfriend of a man and the sister of a man. In and of herself, she’s not that important.
And I fear this is true of Gertrude, too, a little bit. I don’t like to think that way. I love this play. I love my man, Shakespeare. But this is a patriarchal moment to be sure.
And here we have a line that I always understood completely differently because I had not looked at it closely. I thought he was saying his tears were just gonna come. That is, “the woman” is just gonna “woman.” Tears will be tears. Boys will be boys. The woman will be out. In other words, the tears must flow.
But I see now that he’s talking about the tears he’s crying in the moment. He’s already crying and when these tears are gone, all that is womanly in him will be gone. He’s expunging all femininity as soon as he stops crying. It’s almost as though he feels as if he’s been possessed by a woman and she is leaking out of him, out of his eyes and when he’s cried it all out, she will be gone.
Every time a male character cries in Shakespeare, he gets all full of shame and self-flagellation and every time, I want to play him Rosey Grier singing “It’s alright to cry.” I grew up listening to this song but it wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized Rosey Grier was actually a pretty bad ass tough guy football player. So it’s even more alright to cry, little boy, when a man such as this tells you it’s alright. It’s alright to cry little boy. I know some big boys who cry too.
These phrases don’t hold together so much. Clearly Laertes is distraught (with good reason.) But even though the words are disjointed and the sense shifts and clicks and stops and starts, it is all metrically pretty even (aside from the feminine ending of the first line.)
It’s as if Laertes, even in his grief, cannot let go of convention. He speaks in ten beat lines, though the iambs are up and down and he keeps interrupting himself. He’s crying but won’t give himself time or space to cry. There is no obvious pause in this flow of words – there is no spot for him to stop and get emotional. But instead, the stopped up nature of his feeling comes out in his broken up speech.
What a different story this would be if Ophelia hadn’t drowned but instead just drank too many glasses of water and had to pee really badly?
And Laertes still had this line and was super upset – but he was just upset about Ophelia overdoing her drinking water.
Laertes would be a kind of perfect drama queen in that scenario.