I am but hurt.

Not really, though. From what Laertes has said, the poison on this sword is deadly from the first touch. Does Claudius think he’s immune to it? Or maybe, having been through the bodies of Laertes and Hamlet, the poison has been washed off with blood?

I mean, now that I think about it, it is pretty amazing that it could go through the bodies of two people and retain its potency. I’d think you might need to reapply the poison after each use – but no. It works just as well on all three people it’s used on – and rather than losing potency, it seems to increase – as each subsequent person seems to die more quickly – the first person to get struck is the last to die.

Maybe there’s something in the compound that reacts to blood and increases its potency the more blood it is exposed to. I mean – probably not. I don’t think that could be a real thing – but a fictional thing, sure.

O, yet defend me, friends.

Ah, yes, Claudius’ mythic friends. They were mentioned in an earlier scene. They’re wise, apparently. But despite “All” chanting “Treason” – he doesn’t really seem to have any friends left. He might count Osric on his team but Osric, we’ve seen, goes where the wind is blowing. (Or takes his hat off according to the reported weather.) But Osric is not in the least bit likely to stick his neck out, especially when the wind is blowing with poisoned swords and poisoned wine in it. Who is Claudius appealing to? The ALL? The mysterious ALL who chanted “Treason!”? That’s who he hopes will defend him? But whoever ALL is – they don’t defend him at all.

She swounds to see them bleed.

Nice try, Kingy. Good attempt to create a counter narrative to the actual truth here. However, I suspect that the Queen has seen quite a bit of blood in her time. She was married to the man who sledded the pollacks (pole-axe) on the ice. She saw her son stab a man to death, the wound of which probably led to him bleeding out. While certainly she wasn’t happy about witnessing that slaying, she also didn’t seem particularly swoony around the blood. So – even before the Queen herself denies it, this explanation does not seem a likely one. I wonder if it feels insulting to the queen as well – like, not JUST – no, I was poisoned but also – I would NEVER faint at the sight of blood, how dare you!

They are incensed.

I was making some guesses where “incensed” comes from and I thought maybe it was connected to our senses – that it suggested a kind of loss of sense – related to sensibility – being insensible.

But I looked it up and it is related to fire. It’s earliest connection to Old French “encensen” which was to arouse or inspire and to Latin “incedere” to set on fire. Like something incendiary. So are Hamlet and Laertes burned up? Are they, not just furious, as it means now, but burning?

I’m not quite sure how Claudius means this. Is he just saying they’re mad? Separating fighters just for fury doesn’t seem quite right.

We know why they need to be separated – they’re fighting and drawing each other’s blood and killing each other, by the way.

But incensed is a curious word choice for Claudius.

Part them.

Claudius waits to do this. He could have stopped it as soon as Laertes stepped out of bounds and wounded Hamlet. But he doesn’t. He waits. And watches while the swords, get switched, knowing full well that the sword that is passing from Laertes to Hamlet is a murder weapon. He makes no move to save Laertes’ life. He’s probably thinking that a dead Laertes can tell no tales on him.

But I suspect his failure to prevent Laertes’ death is probably a big factor in Laertes deciding to confess.

I mean – the timing is malleable. The stage directions place this line after the mutual wounding – though certainly one could stage it so that he tries to stop it before the sword touches Laertes. That seems a little out of character for our politic villain, though.

He could also say it the way Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka says his, “Wait. Stop.” – that is, not very loud – and without conviction.

I do not think’t.

This is a peculiar line. It suggests to me that Claudius isn’t entirely sure what to do anymore. His plans are unraveling and he can’t be as directive as he usually is. He’s hesitating, I think. He doesn’t think Laertes should hit him now? He doesn’t think it, he says.  It might not even be a full sentence. I do not think’t – but Laertes is off, already talking to himself, revealing that they are both beginning to question this plan.

If Claudius wanted Laertes to definitely not hit Hamlet, he could say, “No. Abort. Abort.” Or something to that effect. He’s a king; he knows how to give orders. He’s done this sort of thing in public before. He could have them give o’er the game and call for lights. But he just manages to get out, “I do not think’t” – which Laertes either does not hear or interprets to mean “Yes, he should stick Hamlet with a sword now.”

It is too late.

Is it though? I mean. Presumably – she’s just taken a drink. Couldn’t she just spit it out? Couldn’t he give her something to help her puke it up? I mean. It’s clear it’s a pretty fast acting poison – but she probably hasn’t even swallowed yet at the point it’s too late.

Granted, it would be hard for Claudius  to do anything at this point without making a scene. It is not a surprise to realize that Claudius cares more about protecting himself and/or making a scene than saving his wife’s life – but it does feel important to recognize that that is probably the choice he’s making.

It is the poison’d cup.

I can imagine a production wherein this is not an aside – but spoken to a co-conspirator. He could say it to Laertes, for example. Or to Osric – if Osric is in on it. Or just some minion he’s brought into his confidence. If spoken to someone, the line takes on an urgency that the fact stated as an aisde lacks. If he says it to someone, he may still hope that someone can do something about it. And then it is too late. There’s a sort of implied hope in this first sentence of the line if spoken to someone. Not hope, exactly – just, it’s not too late yet. And then it is.

The right actor could probably imbue the line with this even without saying it to someone else. He could be attempting to tell himself to do something, you fool. And then – welp- she’s drunk it, it is too late.

It’s kind of a funny line. We all know it’s the poisoned cup. Laertes knows, too. But perhaps Shakespeare is just making sure that anyone who slept through or was talking during these bits before now gets that Gertrude is about to drink some deadly poison.

Gertrude, do not drink.

Don’t tell a queen not to do something.

It is not an effective way to get something done.

A queen is not inclined to obey.

A queen does as she pleases.

If you want her to do something, you have to be crafty, use your best wiles.

You’ll want to make her think it was her idea.

Don’t tell a queen no.

Don’t give a queen an order.
Don’t make a demand.

Claudius ought to have know this attempt would fail. He ought to have simply taken the cup from her or had a servant do so, for some more official toasting. He ought to have spilled it. He ought to have realized Gertrude would never obey.

Our son shall win.

GERTRUDE: Oh, he’s “our” son now, is he? Last time, it was all “your” son.

Also he’s not our son. He’s my son and your nephew and step-son, your nemesis, your thorn, your pea, your pearl, your trouble – but now, as he’s winning your bet for you, suddenly he’s “our” son.

I think the seed for Gertrude ignoring Claudius’ request that she not drink begins here. I think she’s pissed at him but is never in a position to say so.