A Shakespearean Glance at the People and Issues of the Day.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Hamlet #22 - Garlands Did She Make

(Note: Bardseye is currently doing Hamlet, and taking a break from our usual hallucinatory Shakespearean commentary on current events. If you're entering the theater late, Hamlet: Act I, Scene I started fifteen posts ago - just scroll down and catch up!).

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Laertes is no sooner rumored to be arriving in a vengeful mood from France than he arrives in a vengeful mood from France. Directing his vengeful mood first at Claudius, he says:

Lae: "How came he dead? I'll be not juggled with.
To hell, allegiance! Vows, to the blackest devil!
Conscience and grace, to the profoundest pit!"

In other words, Laertes, finding himself suddenly dealt a hand similar to Hamlet's, with a dead unavenged father, hardly hesitates to proclaim his murderous intent, if only someone would tell him who to kill. Claudius assures Laertes that he himself is "guiltless," but before he can tell him who is guilty, Shakespeare like a good workaday dramatist has Ophelia step in:

Oph: (sings):
"They bore him barefaced on the bier,
Hey non nonny, nonny, hey nonny,
And in his grave rained many a tear -,"

OK, she's still the same barrel of laughs she was the last time we looked in on her. Laertes of course is appalled, seeing the loss not only of his father but also of his sister's mind. He's certainly been primed to receive Claudius' counsel. But again, Shakespeare instead has Claudius only invites Laertes to return later to hear Claudius' version of events. Why? Basically, Shakespeare has in mind a major plot shift from the royal court to the traveling Hamlet, and he wants to build in a bit of suspense over on the court side of the story.

We are taken, then, to a room where Horatio is approached by two sailors who have a message for him from Hamlet. Hamlet writes:

Ham: "…ere we were two days old at sea, a pirate
of very warlike appointment gave us chase. Finding
ourselves too slow of sail, we put on a compelled
valor, and in the grapple I boarded them. On the
instant they got clear of our ship, so I alone became
their prisoner. They have dealt with me like thieves
of mercy, but they knew what they did: I am to do
a good turn for them. Let the King have the letters
I have sent, and repair thou to me with as much
speed as thou wouldst fly death. I have words to
speak in thine ear will make thee dumb….Rosencrantz
and Guildenstern hold their course for England. Of
them I have much to tell thee."

OK, so now we have a pirate story added to the mix, one in which Hamlet is separated from his two tour guides, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who were carrying a letter that instructed its recipient in England to kill Hamlet. Hamlet instead needs, apparently, to be ransomed, and seems to be asking his step-dad, whom he intends to kill, to come through for him. A full explanation for this, of course, will have to wait. We certainly have to give Shakespeare full marks for building suspense in this instance.

The Bard returns us to Laertes and the King, and this exchange might be the only place in Hamlet that seems to have more words than necessary, so Bardseye will summarize about two pages of dialogue. Reading Shakespeare So You Don't Have To! Claudius persuades Laertes to kill Hamlet. The king suggests that Laertes challenge Hamlet to a fencing match, the implication to be given Hamlet being that this is to assuage Laertes' honor. In fact, Claudius urges Laertes to tip his foil with poison so that any scratch upon Hamlet will kill him.

Lae: "I will do 't,
And for that purpose I'll anoint my sword."

And so does Laertes turn out to be his overly-sneaky father's overly-sneaky son. Just for kicks and giggles, Claudius suggests they add a poisoned refreshment for Hamlet to drink during a break. With handshakes all around, Laertes and Claudius are interrupted by Gertrude, announcing that Laertes' sister has been found drowned:

Que: "There is a willow grows askant the brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
Therewith fantastic garlands did she make
Of crowflowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples,
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do dead men's fingers call them.
Thereon the pendent boughs her crownet weeds
Clamb'ring to hang, and envious sliver broke,
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide,
And mermaidlike awhile they bore her up,
Which time she changed snatches of old lauds,
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and endued
Unto that element. But long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pulled the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death."

To be continued….

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