A touch, a touch, I do confess.

Laertes is not a man used to losing.

There are those who think he’s letting Hamlet get those first two points. They think maybe it’s a way to get that poison Claudius has into him. But I really don’t think Laertes wants to let Claudius kill Hamlet – not because he doesn’t want Hamlet dead, he does – but because he wants to do it himself. I think Laertes is losing because he is distracted by his own ulterior motives, and the complex situation and also by his need to win. I think he is genuinely surprised to be losing here. I think he has to concede the point but he really doesn’t want to. And it’s probably fuel for the fire that leads him to jump out of line a bit and let the formality of the game go out the window. He’s losing. The only way to get his sword into Hamlet is to go a little loose cannon and attack.

Of course it could be played other ways. But this way makes the most sense to me and certainly has the most layers.

Well, again.

Well is such a deliciously flexible word. Laertes could be meaning any number of things in using it. It could be a way to say all is well – the ancient Danish way to say, “It’s all good.” Or it could be a way to say “fine” – both the sarcastic and the sincere versions of that flexible word.

It could also express a kind of resignation – a sense of “whatever.” Or it could just be a placeholder – a non-response response to just get back to fighting.

No.

Does he say no because he doesn’t feel it? Or he doesn’t want to believe it? Why would he deny something as tiny and clear cut as a point in a game? A game, by the way, that is rigged to get him what he wants.

But – there are many inferences one could make about his personality based on the reason for this no. It could simply be that he does not like to lose. There are people who could not bear to concede a single point in a single game. Maybe Laertes is built like that? Or he’s so hyped up on adrenaline he can’t feel physical contact. That would reveal something about how he relates to his body.

Or, he doesn’t mean to deny the point – he just really can’t believe Hamlet has enough skill to win it.
Or – it’s an attempt at humor.
Or or or or.

There are a lot of possibilities in a no.

Come, my lord.

I’m not sure I ever really thought through what a weird position Laertes is in in regards to Hamlet. He has to fight him but also has to retain a certain amount of deference. He can’t get into this duel with Hamlet and start doing the dozens. He can’t shit talk him. He can’t REALLY challenge him. He can swing his sword at him because that is the prescribed task here – but otherwise, his hands are tied fairly tightly. No wonder he’s happy to sharpen and poison a sword to stick into him.

This is too heavy, let me see another.

So many Laerteses will broadcast their villainy to the rafters in this moment. They may as well give an evil laugh and wiggle their fingers, it is so obvious that they are up to no good. (Sidebar: two adorable children gave me a tutorial on how to be a “mean guy” a couple of days ago. It involved smiling maniacally and wiggling my fingers.) But it is rather a practical problem that Laertes has here. He has sharpened and poisoned only one sword and if the sword hander-outer hands him NOT that sword, then all his plans of murder are spoiled. In fact, if, by chance, the hander-outer hands Hamlet the sharp poisoned sword, he’ll be in trouble. (I mean, he gets hit with it anyway – but that’s a problem for later.)

Given that Osric is handing out the swords, one might start to wonder if he’s in on it. If he IS in on it, then this bit about the heavy sword is all performance. It would suggest that they’ve thought to make a little production of choosing the poisoned sword accidentally.

If Osric ISN’T in on it, Laertes has to work out how to get the sword he needs for the killing job. He probably has to point to the one he wants while he distracts everyone.

You mock me, sir.

I think that Hamlet is trying to pay Laertes a compliment here. If he is making a joke with a little word play, Laertes isn’t the target. But when you have a mocker’s reputation and then you try to pay a compliment, it is often the case that the complimentees will be suspicious of the compliment, especially if there’s a joke built into it that’s not exactly crystal clear.

Come, one for me.

Just one – you know – one of these foils – not any foil in particular – definitely not this one that I’ve had sharpened into a deadly weapon – that will also, conveniently obscure a little poison hidden in it. You know, just one of these, you know. Like this one, right here.

But till that time, I do receive your offer’d love like love, And I will not wrong it.

See, look at that boys, you can talk about love amongst yourselves! You don’t have to let the patriarchy suppress you! Look at this – Laertes talking about love – talking about Hamlet offering love and him receiving it – even though Hamlet didn’t even say anything about love just now.

I mean, sure, it’s all a bunch of bullshit because Laertes is actually about to kill him so he’s hella gonna wrong it – but talking about love is a step!

And will no reconcilement, Till by some elder masters, of known honor, I have a voice and precedent of peace, To keep my name ungored.

You know what these guys need?

Some legit elder masters.

I’m not sure where they could find some but that might make it a bit less chaotic in Denmark. Like – if there was a coherent system of justice instead of a complicated honor code and revenge killings.

If they had like, a right honorable justice or two, or three, floating around, maybe things wouldn’t go so horribly pear shaped there.

But in my terms of honor, I stand aloof.

I used to be a supportive laugher. I’d laugh to be polite. I’d laugh at any joke that I could tell had been an attempt to be a joke. If you wanted me to laugh – I’d do it – even if it wasn’t funny. Lots of people laugh like this. It’s a kind of socialized politeness that requires that we all pretend to find something funny.

I tend not to do this as much as I used to. I’m not saying I never do it. I do – especially  at cocktail parties and networking events.

When a person is in charge of a big organization, all their jokes are funny.  Ha! Ha! That’s so funny, sir!

But aside from when I’m trying to suck up to someone – I do it so much less than I used to. I’m much less likely to give a performer a polite laugh, for example. If they don’t earn it, they don’t get it. If it’s not funny, I’m not laughing.

This is mostly down to clown training – where we learn how potent failure is – how giving someone a polite laugh only prolongs their agony. They need to feel the joke die in order to move on from it. To not laugh, or rather to only laugh when they are genuinely funny is a kindness. To not laugh when something fails to be funny is a point of honor.

It is the clown’s honor code. That is why it seems as though I stand aloof sometimes.