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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’m not an athlete but I think most people engaged in sport wouldn’t be inclined to drink wine in the middle of it, not if they were trying to win.
There are lot of great places for wine drinking: parties, weddings, funerals, showers, watching shows, even watching sports – but I’ve never seen anyone stop in the middle of a fight or game or duel or race to take a sip of wine. Marathon runners will stop for some water or Gatorade but wine? Nope. It’s interesting that Claudius thinks this wine poisoning bit is going to work – because almost anyone would be likely to refuse it in the midst of a bout.
Claudius is using the familiar here. Is he attempting to perform some affection?
Or does he feel close to Hamlet now that his death is nigh?
Also – I feel like Claudius probably adds “in hell” to the end of this sentence in his mind.
What was the prep on this pearl and how did it go down?
First – is it actually a pearl or just some poison pressed into a pearl shape?
Or is it actually a pearl – but the poison has been applied to it somehow – like it’s been dipped in some poison coating, like a strawberry dunked in chocolate but less tasty and more deadly. Is it maybe a hollowed out pearl? Like a jewel with a hole drilled into it and then filled with poison. Or a souvenir Claudius picked up somewhere – a little pill pearl – a pearl that opens and holds compounds of any sort – could be aspirin. Making it a little headache pearl, not a murder weapon.
And whatever the case, someone would have had to do the crafting – the dipping or filling of the pearl.
In all likelihood, this is not a task to trust to someone else – so whatever the method, Claudius probably did it himself.
And since he did some other poisoning before this play even began, he seems to have an affinity and a skill for this sort of thing.
It makes me think of the Queen in Cymbeline – practicing her poisoning skills on small animals.
This is probably what Claudius did for fun before he became king.
Are Laertes and Claudius in a little competition over who gets to kill Hamlet? Like, Laertes here is ready to get back to the fighting, which gets him closer to his kill. And Claudius will not let the moment pass without this drink. Both of them must have adrenaline coursing thorugh them – they must be pretty amped up. They’re both ready to kill him at any moment. I wonder if it’s a factor in Laertes losing these points to Hamlet – he’s so focused on the murder game. And Claudius, too, who is normally so smooth, somehow cannot find a way to prevent Gertrude from drinking the poison – which, apart from killing his wife, who he maybe loves, also will spoil his plans and reveal them, too.
If I were directing this show, I’d probably explore a scene before this fight where Laertes and Claudius get themselves psyched up for this. Playing adrenaline coursing through you is not really possible but it is a huge part of having a body and what you do.