That I am guiltless of your father’s death, And am most sensible in grief for it, It shall as level to your judgment pierce As day does to your eye.

While I COULD buy that Claudius is upset about Polonius’ death, he doesn’t actually seem too bereaved. His principle response when he heard the news was to think of himself and how it might have been him. This is the first mention of any actual grief for the man – for this chief advisor. So while he MIGHT have felt some grief for Polonius’ death, this is the first we’re hearing about it – so this grief seems more like a performance of grief than any actual feelings.


Why, now you speak Like a good child and a true gentleman.

It’s interesting that this line works on Laertes. There is a tiny hint of patronizing in it – calling Laertes a child really shouldn’t work. But I suppose in reminding Laertes of his status as the child of Polonius, the aspect of calling him a child gets subverted and Laertes has to accept the compliment of being a good child or deny being a gentleman. And this is how Claudius wins him over.

To his good friends this wide I’ll ope my arms, And like the kind life-rendering pelican, Repast them with my blood.

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.

None but his enemies.

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.

Good Laertes, If you desire to know the certainty Of your dear father’s death, is’t Writ in your revenge, That, swoopstake, you will draw both friend and foe, Winner and loser?

Swoopstake! I know Claudius has said a lot of very important words here but they all fade into the background with a word like SWOOPSTAKE there in the middle. I mean…SWOOPSTAKE!
It’s like sweepstake but past tense? Or like sweepstake but with more movement?
My god English was exciting when it was in this uncodified stage! SWOOPSTAKE.
It is so much fun to say or to write or even just think!
Maybe I should get a cat and name it SWOOPSTAKE, then I could say it everyday.
“Come here, Swoopstake! Here’s your dinner, Swoopstake! Swoopstake, have you caught a mouse?”
Swoopstake, yeah.

My will, not all the world:

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.

Who shall stay you?

Oh ho. The king has switched from “thou” to “you.”
What has caused this shift from informal to formal language? Is this a signal of respect? Is the king, by calling Laertes “you” all of a sudden, signaling that he is treating Laertes’ potential threat of taking the crown seriously? Is this a leveling of the playing field? A status move? It is a good one. And it works.

Only I’ll be revenged Most thoroughly for my father.

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.