I’ve always wondered how someone would KNOW they’d been poisoned . Like – how does it feel different than, say, eating something rotten? When I played this part, I decided that since the poison is so fast acting , it must move through the blood somehow – swiftly freezing as it moved. I tried to play this line as a realization not a report. It’s hard to get that across, though, I acknowledge.
It is curious that Gertrude chooses such a general word for this at this moment. Claudius has specified that the drink is wine – though he, too, generalizes to drink after asking for the wine to be placed on the table at his request.
But – it is the wine that has been poisoned. Has it been rendered a drink by the poison?
Or is Gertrude referring to the act of her drinking? Is the drink the thing she took? Like, the swallow? It is, though, almost more clear in its generalness, I realize now.
For example, if she’d said, “The wine, the wine!” One might assume the wine was bad – like we were just dealing with a bottle gone off instead of poison.
I feel like if I had a sudden bad reaction to something I drank, I’m not sure if I’d go straight to “the drink” – unless it was a fancy cocktail with a silly name – then it would definitely be the drink, the drink that was to blame.
I think there’s a great deal more Gertrude wants to say before she dies. Is this line a simple expression of love for her son – a last cry out for the son she loved? Or is it a realization that he was the target for the death she’s in the middle of? Or the beginning of some death bed speech that she realizes she doesn’t have time to give as soon as she begins.
I think she’s working this out in the moment. She repeats “the drink” four times and I suspect each “drink” reveals a different layer of realization. The drink is doing this to her. She’s feeling it burn. She’s realizing what it is doing to her. She, at some point, works out who gave her the drink – though she doesn’t name him and ultimately declares that she is poisoned without saying who.
I wonder, if Claudius hadn’t attempted to cover his tracks by declaring her swooning to see them bleed if she might have just quietly expired without creating too much fuss.
But she has to respond to his assertion. She has to include one last act of defiance before she departs – due to the drink? The drink. The drink!
Such a mama, such a mom, such a mother moment. Here’s Hamlet, sweaty from the fight – she’s given him her “napkin” already but still, he has not wiped his face to her satisfaction.
Some Hamlets will acquiesce to this moment easily, even eagerly – happy to receive an affectionate face wipe from his mother. Others will resist – just the way almost every teen squirms under the moist thumb of his mother.
What happens here depends a lot on the Hamlet and a lot on the Gertrude and whatever relationship they have forged through the rest of the play.
Note that formal “you” sneaking in there like that. If she weren’t about to be dead, Claudius would have some relationship stuff to work out later. Did it just get real cold in here? She may be saying “pardon me” but she’s probably really meaning “pardon you, you bossy bastard.”
In a few minutes, she will be dead. So – Claudius has, at least, avoided a relationship chat later in the night, and he’s only got a few more minutes than she does so….it’s too late for pardons for all of them.
I love that Gertrude’s last act is one of defiance. It’s a good way to end – by not doing as you’re told. I mean, surely it would be better to live than die – but to die because you refused to do as you were told? Heroic death, in my view.
I just finished reading Miss Ellicott’s School for the Magically Minded (which I enjoyed very much, btw) and the girls in that book are all taught to be “shamefast and biddable.” Their deportment is more important than all their magical skill. Doing as one has been told, especially by a man, is the highest good in that world. And, of course, the heroine discovers her inner rebel. She sets aside all obedience and gets a lot done. It’s very satisfying. Also there’s a dragon.
There really wasn’t much carousing among women back in the old days – or at least not in the classical literature. We have a lot of carousing men. We have Sir Toby Belch, Falstaff and Claudius here in this play but even when women are around in these scenes, they don’t really get to do any carousing themselves. They usually bring the drinks. One of the things I love about Gertrude is this choice to carouse to her son, when carousing is not women’s usual way.
I love that she chooses to do it and that she refuses to yield to Claudius’ order that she not. I mean, sure, it kills her but I love that her last act is one of rebellion. She bucks her gender role twice. One, to carouse in the first place and two, to refuse to obey her husband and her king.
Now a woman carousing has become fairly commonplace. Girls have gone wild at bachelorette parties, showers and brunches and as much as most of those gatherings are repugnant to me, it does signal that a girl CAN get away with carousing now. Carousing is no longer out of our gender lane.
It is of note that Gertrude uses the plural of brow here.
Usually – the brow is the forehead and the most likely part of the body to dab with a handkerchief if one is sweating.
But she says “brows” plural. And the word brows, when it is this plural, usually suggests the eyebrows – as in “that model has her brows done at the local salon.”
Is Gertrude telling Hamlet to rub his eyebrows? Or is she speaking to both fighters suddenly – wishing for Laertes to rub his brow as well?
I doubt that.
It is most likely that she means brow.
And according to my friend ETYMOLOGY online – we get the word brow for forhead from the eyebrows – that brow meant eyebrow first and expanded to cover the entire forehead in around 1200.
So maybe Gertrude is just a 1200 girl with her “brows.” Also – I’ve just realized as I wrote these words how weird English is – because browse sounds exactly like brows and means something entirely different.
While the word “napkin” apparently came from the French, the French themselves abandoned it in exchange for the much classier sounding “serviette.” This was a good decision as far as I’m concerned , as serviette is a much sexier word than the flatfooted napkin.
Interestingly, though I’ve almost always seen this instance of the word “napkin” here as a synonym for handkerchief, the etymology site does not mention the word’s period as a handkerchief.
Shakespeare seems to almost always use napkin in this sense. Even the very most famous handkerchief in the canon is called a napkin. (I’m talking about Desdemona’s “napkin” here.)
One of the origins of the word relates to the material so that it basically means little linen. (“Kin” being a diminiutive.) I wonder if, in Shakespeare’s time, a napkin like you use at dinner was actually the same as a handkerchief. Like, were they both just little squares of linen?