This line makes me wonder if Osric might be on the autism spectrum. Or rather this description of Osric reminds me of what I’ve come to understand is a coping mechanism for neurodivergent people, particularly those on the spectrum. If you can’t quite read people or loud social encounters intuitively – then learning a few outward expressions is a great way to survive.
Does Osric think that Hamlet hasn’t understood the proposition? Is he genuinely trying to clarify the wager? Or is he just flustered by Hamlet’s refusal to play the game? Of course he doesn’t have an answer for what would happen if Hamlet answered “no” – finding a response to that question would require a much higher pay grade.
It’s like asking the most rule-following cultural-norm-fulfilling, rote society-participator what would happen if you broke the rules; he doesn’t know and cannot even begin to imagine a world where people don’t follow their expected roles.
It is kind of wild that this match happens with no notice at all for Hamlet. Like – what if the current Prince William of England were approached suddenly in the hall and told that he should join a boxing match immediately. No time to change his clothes, no time to stretch just – strap on your gloves and go.
I’m not sure what Shakespeare’s trying to tell us here with this. The numbers don’t necessarily add up. There are twelve rounds, I guess? And if Laertes is only three points ahead of Hamlet, Claudius still wins. Is this twelve to nine? That this is meant to be the final score? That he’s laying odds on the final score being Laertes = 12, Hamlet = 9? Or is it that the odds are that?
But if they only play twelve rounds, how could Laertes get 12 points and Hamlet 9? They’d have to play 21 rounds to get that score. Or – points would have to be worth more than one on occasion. Is a hit worth three points? So Hamlet gets three hits and Laertes four in order to win? Or maybe it’s twelve somethings?
The math is funny.
But maybe that’s on purpose. To make it obvious that this weird competition is a set up and Hamlet’s about to get screwed with a sword.
I just read Samuel Johnson’s note on this and it makes me like Samuel Johnson a lot. “This wager I do not understand” and “It is sufficient that there was a wager.”
I’d like to have a text-off with Samuel Johnson.
I mean, I know he’s dead.
His attack on the text- and by attack – I mean approach – is something I quite connect to. On Genius, the commenter has labeled Johnson’s comment as “cranky” and maybe that’s why I like it – though I don’t see it that way.
I likewise do not understand the terms of this wager. They are quite complicated and it is not clear how anyone wins or loses. It is sufficient that there was a wager.
When it comes to hanging, Shakespeare is USUALLY making a joke. He’s usually making a dick joke and/or a joke about execution.
So I’m trying very hard to make this line a joke somehow – even if only a joke at Osric’s expense.
Hangers could also be a reference to balls.
Could carriages as well? I mean – it’s just too good of an opportunity – a totally meaningless conversation about sword paraphernalia and you’re NOT going to include some dirty jokes? I just don’t see how Shakespeare could resist such a thing.
But I also don’t see a way to make this line work in a dirty way with any real likelihood.
I could deliver it as such – but it would require the laughter of Hamlet and Horatio to really sell it.
This is a rather rapturous response to some sword paraphernalia. And this does rather suggest that Osric has had the opportunity to peruse them all. That suggests they have been on display, more or less. Perhaps having the swords out and touched and admired adds the opportunity for plausible deniability. The plan is, after all, to cut Hamlet with a poisoned sharp sword and if the swords have been lying around in front of just everyone – their carriages fondled considerably by men like Osric, then men like Osric will be the most likely to be fingered in the crime once it has happened. Clever really. If it had gone off as planned – Claudius might have had Osric arrested for Hamlet’s murder.
So this is what Laertes is staking in this bet?
The pronouns don’t make this whole situation especially clear.
But also – it is a very odd amount of specificity.
Like – why does Osric know about all the accessories of these swords?
Has Laertes made a display of his swords? Has he brought them out and paraded them around?
Is Claudius doing the same with his six Barbary horses?
Are the horses walking around a track with Laertes’ swords on their backs?
I think this section is often cut in most productions so I’ve not really paid it much attention before but it is wholly bizarre.
And the fact that Laertes and Claudius are doing it all for show so they can kill Hamlet without discovery is even more bizarre.
The use of “with” here makes me wonder what the conditions and rules of this duel actually are.
The king has wagered with Laertes.
Does this mean he has bet Laertes? That is – if Laertes wins, he’ll give him six Barbary horses? Is that the deal? And then this whole swords with their carriages is what Laertes will give Claudius if he loses?
Is that right?
It’s not just a simple “Let’s see who wins” situation. There are stakes. But not for Hamlet – at least not in the public set up. It’s odd to frame it that way. The conditions are sort of needlessly complex. But maybe that needless complexity is on purpose – to distract from the murdering they’re planning on doing. If everyone is busy thinking about Barbary horses and carriages of swords, then they might not notice the murdering.
I’m curious about what this choice of weapons says about Laertes.
Does it reveal something about his character?
A quick google shows me that rapier and dagger was considered something that only a master fencer would use. My research on this matter is one academic style blog on the internet so it’s not extensive – but if it were so…it would suggest that simply by choice of weapon, Laertes is a skilled swordsman. It’s like – if you hear that someone is a doctor and then hear what kind, and he’s a neurosurgeon and also you were invited to have a doctoring contest with him.