I’d like to see Claudius at some self-help workshop where the leader asks everyone what they think will make them truly happy.
Some people say money, others say love.
Claudius, when it’s his turn says, “the death of Hamlet.”
And our unflappable workshop leader doesn’t even flinch – she just proceeds to demonstrate how the things we think we want won’t ACTUALLY provide us happiness. Most of her examples are about power and money and love and she struggles to find a way to fold in the murder of a nephew, but she does manage to include it in a list at some point.
It’s just occurred to me now that despite the formality of the king’s language in this bit at the beginning, he has been speaking to England in the informal “thee/thou” throughout. Is this because he’s speaking to a fellow king? Is there some turn of language that would have the king of Norway, say, calling the King of Scotland “Thou?” OR – is it that speaking to a collective – like the entire country of England suggests an informal speech? Like “thou America…thou shalt be forced to welcome me home before too long whether thou wilt or no.”
And of course the writer of this speech is English, speaking this in England – though the character is playing a foreign king – does it implicate the audience a bit more that way? To say “thou must cure me” – not just this abstract country but the one everyone happens to be standing in it at the time.
Like, If I were standing in America, pretending to be a Swedish king and then I said, “Thou, America, it is thy job to take care of my murdery business.”
There’s a lot to consider about this thou-ing here.
I’m in Ireland as I write this and having my first palpable experience of understanding imperialism. I’m from a country that was part of the Empire – but we shook it off – rather a lot sooner than this country managed it – so the effects in my country would seem to have pretty much worn off. We celebrate our independence while simultaneously expressing profound anglophilia. My people will wear their red white and blue while going mad for Downton Abbey. Meanwhile, closer to the bone – Ireland (well, a part of Ireland) is independent and celebrating this year the 100th anniversary of the uprising the made that possible. But the culture is so intertwined with English culture, it is hard for me, as an American outsider, to separate the two.
Here in Dublin, surrounded by Boots and Tesco and Marks & Spencer, I feel as much in England as I feel in London. And I find myself wrestling with conflicting feelings – a sense of solidarity with the people of Ireland and all their independence but also a confusion – due to my experience of Dublin as being very much just like a neighborhood of London I hadn’t visited before.
Has England left the Republic of Ireland only to re-invade economically? And if England is a corporate colonizer then America too is a corporate colonizer. There are as many American corporations here, I’d wager. Are England and America in an imperialist corporate competition for the soul of Dublin? I wonder who will win.
Even in his imagination, in his talking to himself, Claudius speaks like a politician. He winds his way around this political speech to get to the bullet in the gun – which is “the present death of Hamlet.”
It is really extraordinary the way this phrase winds and winds and winds and turns and winds until it finally turns the corner onto its purpose.
And again with Claudius, I have to wonder who this is FOR. I think of political speech as being obfuscation for an audience – but in this case, the only audience (besides the audience of the play, of course) is himself. Is Claudius hiding what he’s about to do to Hamlet even from himself?
He’s talking to “England” and sure, he has cause to obscure his case for England – but England is definitely not really listening at this point.
This speech has a really interesting trajectory…this beginning, full of tangential, obfuscating political speech that leads, matter-of-factly to “the present death of Hamlet” which is crystal clear. Then the speech loses the political tone entirely and honesty starts simplifying the language and filling it with emotion. The rage leaks out and it all shifts in this sentence.
So England is in debt to Denmark after Denmark whooped English butt in some kind of war situation. But I wonder if this was Claudius’ battle that was won over England. Because I don’t think he’s had time to defeat England since he took office. He’s preparing for war, for sure – but it would appear that England is already beat. So it’s really his brother’s favor he’s calling in here. Hamlet Sr. most likely beat England and got it indebted to Denmark…and here’s Claudius using the favor England owes Hamlet Sr., really, to get Hamlet Jr. killed. It’s a little bit funny.
But I suppose it might be possible that Claudius played some role in the English battles…maybe he passed some intelligence to them that kept some key personnel from getting slaughtered or whatever.. and then England would owe HIM, not just the Kingdom of Denmark.
I fear my love for England MAY be unrequited. Certainly England tolerates my occasional visits and my sporadic affections. But when I tried to stay, England very quickly swung its immigration laws into action and I had to return to the country of my birth – which, whether it wanted me or not, had to allow me to return.
I’m interested in this shift in language. Where we once made haste, now we hurry. Hurry being a much more active way to describe what one must do to go faster –but haste…being something you can MAKE is interesting. It places haste alongside other things one can make – peace, water, war, art, way…haste becomes weirdly more inclusive for me when it’s made rather than a thing I do.
Maybe because I am a MAKER and making things feels more significant than doing things somehow.
And by sealed and done he means that he’s already got that execution notice written up and sealed up and ready to go. Here it is.
I bet that was very satisfying for Claudius – let me just go ahead and write up this death sentence here so when I finally get my pesky nephew on a boat to England, I can get this shit DONE!
He probably feels like Hamlet’s already dead because he’s already sealed the documents. I was listening to a podcast about the Death Penalty in my country and how people around the world have become involved in abolishing it. And partly, I cannot believe we still have such a practice. And I learned from the podcast that it was abolished by the Supreme Court in 1972. Which was the year before I was born. So I was likely conceived in a year WITHOUT the death penalty and by the time I was born, it was a world where the people of my country successfully agitated for its reinstatement. So my government is no better than the (fictional) King of Denmark hundreds of years ago.
Everyone in this coffee shop is at least 10 years younger than me. And they also probably make 10 times the money I make. I feel like I like one or the other – I like young people as much as anyone. I like rich people as much as anyone. But the two together is a little hard to take. I’m not sure I prepared for this particular experience of life. I prepared to be poor. I prepared to be older. But there is no preparation for the extremely moneyed privileged entitled youth.
New York didn’t used to be so much like this. I think of Penny Arcade’s bit about young people in NYC now. She rants about how young people in NYC know about WINE. That young people shouldn’t know about wine. They should be living in lofts, drinking cheap beer. But no. They know about wine.
I don’t fantasize about being a queen or king generally. It seems like quite a big burden to carry rather than a series of perks. However, the power to just send someone away without question or discussion – well, that’s a perk I could envy.
You just go, “I’ll have him hence tonight.” And voila – he’s hence. Tonight.
Now, of course you can’t go abusing this power. If you send everyone away who displeases you, you’ll end up with rebellion eventually. But used judiciously? Oh yes – the sweet sweet power to send people away.