There is symmetry here, too. The them, them, him. And it is actually a little tricky to say.
It is curious how much music is in these few lines of the messenger – this line, like the ending of a song.
And in looking at the text on Genius, it is oddly printed. (Where does Genius get its texts? Which text are the editors editing? What is the baseline?)
The way it’s broken down on Genius, the messenger has a 10 syllable line, then a 13 syllable line and then a 5 syllable.
There is no reason for this that I can see, especially when it could just be a silly breakdown as 10, 9, 9.
But one can only annotate lines on genius, one can’t, say, re-organize the scansion.
“So this guy Shakespeare, he says to me, he says, ‘I’m gonna put you in my masterwork. This play, Hamlet, is going to be the best I’ve ever written and you, Claudio, you will make a little appearance.’
I don’t mind telling you, I got a little excited. Is he going to make me a king? A priest? A noble pirate? I stayed up, staring at my ceiling, imagining what sort of character I might be. I was all pumped up when the show final opened and I got to find out what character he meant me to be.
At first I thought maybe he’d made me the murderous king, but his name is Claudius. Which is close but not quite. I would have been happy with that, though, even if he is the bad guy.
But then the messenger says this and it turns out I’m just a guy who gets handed a message and passes that message to a messenger. All offstage. I mean….a year or two ago, he named the young lover after me. I thought it would at least be as good as that.
We’re going to have to have a little chat. I’m going to push for a juicier part in the next one – like a guy who goes to prison or has his life threatened or something. I’m not saying I’m going to do that to Mr. Shakespeare – but he’s got a lot of nerve. I’m not even a real character in Hamlet. Just a name.”
I like an I statement from a messenger. Often times a messenger seems to have no sense of selfhood. They deliver the news and the news takes center stage. But when an I turns up, then there must be a full person behind it. In this case, an I that definitely did not see the sailors, no sir, that has no connection to this (potentially) dangerous message whatsoever.
When people talk about the Bard’s poetic sense, they’re usually talking about the meter, the rhyme schemes or the images. I see it here as well. Roll this line around in your mouth and you’ll see that it just feels good. There is rhythm and a satisfying symmetry to “Sailors, my lord, they say.”
And yes part of that satisfaction is how it fits (and doesn’t fit) into the Iambic Pentameter but part of it is the balance of Ss and Ls. The assonance, the alliteration in a 6 syllable sentence. A word like lord sits comfortably near a sentence with sailors and saying. So pleasurable. Sssssso pllllllllleasurable. Letters. Words. Even in the mouth of a lowly messenger.
It would be funny if letters were expressed in dance. Like, as a messenger delivered his letters, he had to dance their contents. So first he does “this” to your majesty – a short polka, featuring horse hoof stamping and a brief chicken wing arm gesture.
Then “this” to the Queen – an arms up ballet twirl, followed by an Isadora Duncan frolic and finishing with a Merce Cunningham roll across the floor.
And every time anyone received a letter, there would be a dance message included. The play would get awfully silly. But lots of fun, too.
Ah ha! One letter. The king gets ONE letter. All the talk of LETTERS from the sailor is reduced to A letter to the king. The other is for The Queen, of course.
But…there has been no mention of the queen in previous talk of these letters. I wonder if there’s some sort of plurality in The King.
Is there some sense of “The King” meaning both King and Queen? Like, what Hamlet says when he calls the king his mother, but with royalty.
I don’t THINK this is a thing. But given the tendency of patriarchal culture to obscure, minimize and objectify women, I wouldn’t put it past it. The way mankind means everyone. The way MAN means everyone. I can see it working like that.
This, I believe, is the first appearance of a Messenger in the play. Not that it is the first message – but every message before has been delivered by a character.
It is interesting how many layers of remove this Messenger is from the origin of the message. Shakespeare makes a point of those layers as well. The sailors (who have direct contact with Hamlet and Horatio) have passed the letters to “Claudio” who has passed them to “Messenger.” Who is Claudio? A guy with a similar name to the king…but otherwise, his only purpose in this play is to receive letters from nameless sailors and deliver them to a nameless messenger. I don’t think it’s insignificant that “Claudio” has a name – but is not important otherwise.
In some sense, it would be a protection for the messenger to be somewhat anonymous. His motives are less questionable if he is simply his job.
I am always delighted to see a Messenger in a play for obvious reasons and this one is especially delightful.