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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Until the current administration took over the government in my country, I would have said I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. I mean – I don’t really believe in the devil so…it’d be sort of toothless – but even so – now, there are quite a few people I could see shouting this at now.
There’s the obvious doofuses at the top – but also, of course, Sessions and Miller and Mnuchin and Pruitt, especially. He’s who I’m really thinking of. And because he’s an evangelical Christian, such a curse might land very nicely on him.
A couple years later, Sessions and Pruitt are gone. Still stuck with Miller and Mnuchin, though. Booo.
This is a funny moment for Greece and Greek geography/mythology to show up. Most other references to such things were part of the Players repertoire – and that was largely from the point of view of the Trojans. We see the blood covered Greek laying waste to the woeful royal family in the player’s speech. But that’s the only other Greek reference I can think of offhand.
This is a Christian Denmark – we are living with Christian symbols and rules here – but Laertes calls to mind a tall mountain in Greece – a mountain built on top of another mountain to get closer to the gods on Olympus.
Maybe Laertes is longing for another paradigm, a way to get closer to Heaven together with his sister.
This just goes to show that Laertes doesn’t have the support network necessary to help him handle his grief. It also suggests that the rituals prior to this burial were not sufficient to Laertes’ needs. He ought to have had an opportunity to hug Ophelia before they put her in the ground – or at least to have spent some time with her body. But it feels clear he has not had such a time – nor has he had anyone to grieve with. He has followers. He has friends, one supposes – but he probably doesn’t have a girlfriend. His father is dead and he didn’t handle that so well either. If anyone ever needed a grief counselor, it’s that guy.
If I could go back in time and ask Shakespeare to write another play, I’d have a few requests – but one of them might be the play of Hamlet but from Laertes’ perspective. I mean – here he is asking for three times the woe to fall thirty times on Hamlet’s head and his perception of Hamlet’s deed is not actually wrong.
Hamlet did do something terrible that made Ophelia go crazy. And he didn’t even seem sorry.
We’re on Hamlet’s side, of course, because we have all of his information and we see things from his point of view and he’s articulate and sensitive and smart. But Laertes has quite a journey too – he’s just on the edges of this story. And it ends with as much tragedy as Hamlet’s story. The Tragedy of Laertes.
Fuck yeah, Laertes! You tell him!
This is probably why Shakespeare made the priest such a dick so that we’d be on Laertes’ side to read the priest the riot act. And getting Laertes riled up by this churlish priest is useful because it means when Hamlet reveals himself in a minute, in a pretty churlish/dickish way himself, Laertes will be amped up and already furious.
Shakespeare doesn’t need the priest to be a dick for Laertes to mention his sister – he could just as easily say something like “Lay my sister in the earth” but he does need to get Laertes good and furious so he and Hamlet can have a dramatic grapple in a grave.