To cut his throat i’ the church.

Some critics love to contrast Laertes and Hamlet – to say that lines like these are why Hamlet fails. “See,” they say, “Laertes doesn’t care if his victim is at prayer the way Hamlet does. Laertes would cut Hamlet’s throat in the church and Hamlet would not kill Claudius at prayer (in the church?) when he had a chance. See, this is why Hamlet fails! “
Except – Laertes fails too. I mean, yes, he kills Hamlet – if you can call that success – but he dies in the process and regrets the killing as soon as it is done.

I don’t buy the “Laertes would be a better son, a better hero, a better king” idea. He’s hot-headed, yes. And has a great deal of fierce emotionality – which is, yes, an interesting contrast to Hamlet. But he’s clearly gotten up to a bit of trouble abroad, either through his libertine tendencies or his impulsiveness. And he ends up just as dead as everyone else.


Why ask you this?

This makes me think about a moment in which a friend’s father saw a copy of War and Peace and he was about to be impressed that I was reading such a serious, hefty tome – one that is often used as an example of intellectual superiority. But when he realized the book was not mine and rather belonged to his own son, he did not transfer his impending feeling of IMPRESSEDNESS, no, suddenly he saw the book as an entirely different marker than he had moments before. He asked his son, “Got a lot of time on your hands then?” Which, by the way, the son does not. He manages to squeeze War and Peace into the moments he is on the subway or waiting for a group to arrive. I could not help leaping to the son’s defense – explaining how little time he had, in fact – how he used his commute to boost himself.
But when we spoke about this later, the son had not even registered the underlying judgment of his father. It was so normal to him, it did not even stick to his memory. It did mine, though and now I wish I’d asked his father this question instead of just responding. I wish I’d asked why he asked such a question.

What out of this, my lord?

The note on Genius says that one does not usually interrupt the King. It is not polite. It is not wise for a subject to interrupt his King. This explains a) why kings tend to be so maddeningly long – winded and b) why Claudius is such a jerk to Laertes in the next line.

I wonder if Claudius benefited from his proximity to the King before he was king and learned his longwindedness at his brother’s side, or did he watch his brother ramble on and on and it was this privilege of his that he envied the most, perhaps talking without interruption was his big dream and so when Laertes does it…it really rankles.

The privilege to not be interrupted is definitely enviable. Women know this well. And men who are interrupted by women respond with so much rancor as Claudius. See also Jeff Sessions questioned by Senator Kamala Harris.

I know him well.

Lamond the French horseman and Laertes the Danish traveler.

They meet at a brothel in Paris. Lamond makes fun of Laertes’ Danish accent and Laertes makes fun of Lamond’s stockings. They buy each other drinks, visit the brothel together, maybe engage in some mild homo-eroticisim with a female intermediary.

Two young noble men on the town, preening for each other’s skills as a way of boasting of their own.

It was Lamond who planted the idea of a coup in Laertes’ mind – long before the opportunity arose. Lamond liked to joke that Laertes should be king since he was so self-righteous. It is Lamond’s voice Laertes hears when the crowd shouts “Laertes shall be king.”

Upon my life, Lamond.

There was a kid named Lamont in my classes growing up. I wonder if Lamont was once Lamond and if the Lamont I grew up with was somehow, in his soul, descended from the legendary Lamond that Laertes and Claudius are discussing here. This also begs the question of whether this whole exchange might be a reference to some contemporary figure in Renaissance Europe. Is this Lamond referring to some specific Lamond?

A Norman was’t?

This response could just as easily be uncommitted small talk type question, a way to continue conversation with someone who has been monologue-ing for some time. It would seem to not be that – because in two lines Laertes will identify said Norman. But…in that case – why ask this question? We have two lines of rather unnecessary information. Laertes re-states something Claudius has already said and Claudius affirms it.
Has Laertes tuned out during Claudius’ fawning raptures on this bewitching horseman? Is this his way back in to this conversation?

What part is that, my lord?

This is like a line that a straight man in a comedy duo would use. I can almost hear it like a “How hot is it, Lou?” That heads to a “It’s so hot, the frog’s legs are frying themselves on the lilypads!” Or something.
This is probably an old vaudeville structure, I’d wager. And vaudeville likely came from earlier comedy tropes. But of course this scene isn’t a comedy duo. (Though I would very much enjoy a vaudeville style version of this scene.) It is, though, a masterful shift in status and power. The last time we saw him, Laertes came in all ready to overthrow the king and by this scene, he’s playing the straight man to Claudius’ epic riffs. Claudius has skills. He’s a villain, sure – but like a lot of villains, he is skillful.

The rather, if you could devise it so That I might be the organ.


1) Claudius offers Hamlet pipe organ lessons. Laertes hides in the hollowed body of the fake organ and as soon as Hamlet presses the F# key, releases the pointiest pipe and runs it through him.
2) Death by a giant dressed up penis. Claudius rents Laertes a giant cock costume (like the one Russell Howard’s fan comes out in in his special) and Hamlet laughs himself to death while Laertes chases him.
3) Claudius puts Hamlet on the organ donor list and when someone requests a kidney, after removing Hamlet’s kidney, he replaces it with Laertes who has shrunk himself down to kidney size and wrapped himself in an organ disguise. Once installed in Hamlet’s body, he breaks loose and causes havoc as the Wandering Kidney of Denmark.
4) Claudius brings Hamlet to a giant map of the (as yet undiscovered) United States and they tour the many states of the future. Claudius has hired many people to dress up as each state and then discuss their qualities. Laertes, as Oregon, waits in the West to drown him in micro-brewed beer.

My lord, I will be ruled;

If I were a notebook, I would not be ruled. I would have clean pages – sometimes called plain. I would thrill at the possibilities that might emerge across my canvas.
Words, yes, it could be words. Words in any orientation – large, small, slanting up or down. Sometimes a mix of all.
But there might also be drawings, or diagrams or maps. Those things might be possible on ruled pages but the ruling will always hang out in the background – projecting the words that are expected to fit in between the lines.
Laertes will be ruled.
I will be open pages.