Today feeding people blood inevitably calls to mind vampires. But when Shakespeare was writing, vampires weren’t really invented yet. They weren’t yet a THING. A bird that feeds with its blood is just a noble bird, not a weird creature sacrificing itself to vampires.
I’m not sure one could talk about blood feeding in this day and age without conjuring a vampire image, so vivid is the vampire in the cultural imagination. Pelicans, not so much.
As far as I know, my father doesn’t have any enemies – except maybe injustice and war. And even they don’t have any particular argument with my father – he’s just a lover of peace, he might not call them his enemies. I don’t know what it’s like to have a father with enemies. I can’t imagine who would wish mine ill. The only possible exception would be his ex-wife – who, due to their sharing of some children, has to keep her ill will in check. If she has any – I don’t know.
I’m not a big maker of enemies myself. I doubt I have any mortal ones – though I have pissed a lot of people off. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t want to kill me, though. And given how a lot of people have to live in the world, that’s probably a privilege.
Husband as a verb came after husband as a noun, apparently – so one has to imagine that has was somehow related. The act of being a husband somehow being equivalent to limiting resources.
The patriarchy is baked right in!
Oh sweet young man, with so much confidence. I once felt that myself as a young woman. I believed I could bend the world to my will. In high school, I remember thinking “If I don’t like my college, I’ll change it!” And I fully believed I could. And I didn’t like my college as much as I thought I would and I tried to change it and it didn’t budge. I feel it must have been somewhere in that year when my understanding of the limits of my will began.
There are some young men who never run into their limits. The bubble of privilege means that they never encounter a stop – and then, as time goes by, they think everyone else’s wills are weak, since those people did not achieve all that they aimed at.
It makes me think of that cartoon of a race where a straight white dude has a clear course and the woman of color has a dozen treacherous obstacles. The caption says something like, “But the race is the same!”
Anyway – I suspect that until this moment, Laertes has never known an obstacle he couldn’t get past with his will.
And a million academic dudes cream their pants for this straight up counterpoint between Laertes and Hamlet. It feels like 99% of Hamlet analysis lives in this territory. Hamlet is a coward; Laertes isn’t. Hamlet hesitates. Laertes doesn’t. Hamlet fails to get revenge; Laertes tries more. And then you see how faulty this is. Laertes, yes, kills Hamlet, who killed his father. Which, I guess, in the revenge scales is right on point.
But Hamlet kills Claudius in the same scene. Effectively doing the same thing.
Laertes is no paragon. And yet so much of the academic literature of this play LOVES to compare how much more effective Laertes is at this revenge thing.
But he’s not any more effective than Hamlet.
He’s more emotional certainly. More impulsive, for sure. He starts shouting and creating a coup immediately.
But he ends up just as dead as Hamlet.
So there’s not, like, a better strategy for revenge.
MAYBE the whole notion of revenge is faulty.
MAYBE anyone who pursues revenge ends up getting his own sword turned on him.
I’m writing in November of 2016. It’s a moment of reckoning here in my country. Women and people of color have been thrown under the bus. And next to me, the news is playing. Channel 7 is attempting to be objective but being objective in this climate is to tacitly accept that fascism is an acceptable choice. I feel compelled to watch the horrors unfold, to mitigate the disaster where I can (support the Southern Poverty Law Center, the ACLU, Standing Rock and Planned Parenthood) but every encounter with the wider world triggers anxiety and renewed despair.
There’s a world of madness and a world of outrage and somehow we must continue between them. I plant myself on the ground of imagination, of art and transformation.
And normally, I’d be fine to neglect all other worlds, like Laertes here. But – the conditions demand a kind of vigilance. So I stand on imagination and reach out to make a difference when I can.
And I post here two years later. Two years have gone by in this madness. It feels different than it did but also the same. It is both worse than I imagined and also not as bad.
Yeah, damnation. I dare you. What’s it take? Some pleasurable moments with my body? With someone else’s body? That can’t really damn you, can it? If so. I dare you.
Some bad language? I dare you.
Some unkept vows? Some cursing?
The real tempting of damnation would be the raping and murdering. That’s really asking for it. The other stuff. Maybe to the real big believers…but….
I understand this impulse. When shit gets bad, it feels like it’s time to start knocking heads, to let go of niceties.
But when things got especially tough for me last week, I felt the slide toward horror. I was freaking out. My body locked up like a series of knots. I did not know how we were going to proceed. I didn’t know how we were going to get it all done. And I didn’t know how I could stay calm.
But I took a step back and examined my own values. I asked myself what was really important to me. Luckily, I had previously articulated my values. I had written them down. I knew what was most important to me because I had clarified it in calmer times. And all it took for me to find my calm was to re-commit to my previously held values and commitments. I didn’t send grace to the profoundest pit, I held it ahead of me to light my way. And it made all the difference.
For some reason, Laertes usually seems the sexiest at just this point in the play. He’s vibrating with the power he’s gained by bursting into the king’s chamber. He’s ready to be king or kill one or just start laying waste to whatever comes into his path. He’s pure machismo.
Hamlet – Hamlet we love. We want to marry Hamlet. We want to have deep conversations late at night, under the covers, at the kitchen table, snuggled up on a rainy night.
But Laertes – well, with all that raw strength – you sort of want him to pick you up and ravish you. You want to be swept up in that devil be damned energy.
It’s like that Fuck, Marry, Kill game.
Hamlet, you marry.
Laertes, you fuck.
Claudius? That’s the obvious one. You kill.
I am definitely no patriot. If the wind blows funny over my country, I am ready, in an instant, to pick up sticks and leave it. If what it means to be an American becomes repugnant to me, I feel very immediately ready to toss aside my allegiance.
And yet. When my country took a terrifying turn a couple of weeks ago, I did not run. I didn’t turn away. I felt somehow determined to stay. As if, since this culture is now affirming that women have no place or voice in it, then I must stay and shout with my voice – make plain my presence.
My allegiance, then, is with the women of my country. And beyond.