It’s funny that Osric describes the hit as palpable – with its sense of touch, its tactile sense. I don’t THINK the hit is judged with touch. It is almost always reckoned by the eye in this scene. Though suddenly, I am very interested in Osric investigating the hit with his hands. To see him palpate Laertes wheresoever Hamlet hit would be a) possibly hilarious b) homoerotic c) a bit of surreal staging.
It might be that the hit causes a tear in clothing so it could, in fact, be palpable in a literal sense – not just a figurative one.
Osric is a classic yes man.
If Hamlet wanted an honest answer to this question, he could not be sure with a question like this. If Osric can answer “yes” he will.
“Are they all the same length? “ “Yes!” “Are these swords all different lengths?” “Yes!”
You’d have to ask “What are the lengths of these swords?” to get something besides yes.
One of things I learned from teaching is what kinds of questions are fruitful and which are dead ends. Questions that lead to Yes or No are not very useful in that, aside from motivations to agree or disagree with the asker, they tend to stop the conversation.
“Is Osric complicit in this plot?” is not as productive a question as “How might Osric be complicit in this plot?”
Then you get some goods. And then you can ask its opposite, “In what ways might Osric be innocent?”
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.