Hamlet Does His Laundry

Does it not, think thee, stand me now upon—
He that hath killed my king and whored my mother,
Popped in between th’ election and my hopes,
Thrown out his angle for my proper life
(And with such cozenage!)—is ’t not perfect conscience
To quit him with this arm? And is ’t not to be damned
To let this canker of our nature come
In further evil? Hamlet Act 5 Scene 2.

For Hamlet’s plot till now, see Hamlet So Far.

Act 5 Scene 2. I could easily subtitle this one: The Stuff Hits the Fan. But we’re not there yet. First Hamlet must do laundry. Everybody knows that you can’t go to a duel in dirty clothes.

Hamlet retreats to the basement. That part of Castle Elsinore where the dragons are hidden. But Hamlet has dealt with dragons. On the ship to England, he stole into Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s cabin. He read Claudius’ order to chop off his head. So he wrote a new order. It would be Rosenstern’s heads to roll.

“How did you seal the document?” Horatio asks.

“I had my father’s seal,” Hamlet says as he slips out of his clothes. As he stands in his altogether, he throws his doublet, his breeches, his underwear, his collar and his ruff into the washing machine. “The next day our ship was attacked. I escaped to the pirate’s ship. The pirates befriended me as they felt I was escaping from capture. Thus I returned here.”

“So Rosencrantz and Guildenstern went off to their death?”

“They got what they deserved. It is indeed dangerous for lesser men to play with great events.”

“What a king Claudius is,” Horatio concludes.

“Wouldn’t I be damned to let this canker of our nature come in further evil?”

“He will soon know of England and his pawns,” Horatio comments.

“It will be short. The interim’s mine.” Hamlet then moves his laundry to the dryer.

Osric, a courtier, enters the room. “We are so glad you’re back, my lord. The whole court is.”

“Thank you. It’s good to home,” Hamlet lies.

“If you have a moment,” Osric says, “I have a message to convey to you from the king.”

“I can’t wait to hear all the king has to say.”

“His Magnanimousness has placed a large bet on you.”

“Now why would he want to go and do that?” Hamlet asks Horatio. Turns back to Osric and gestures. “You can return your hat to your head as a gentleman should.”

“It’s okay just where it is at the moment. I feel I am in the company of friends. Am I not?”

“Oh, yes you are,” Hamlet says enthusiastically. “Oh, yes you are.” He winks at Horatio.

“A gentleman has arrived at court,” Osric imparts more information. “A fine swordsman this Laertes is.”

“I know him very well. And he has many good qualities.”

“The king believes you are the better man,” Osric assures the prince. “In fencing. So he has wagered a bet that you will defeat this Laertes in a match. In a dozen passes, he will make three hits less than you.”

“What if I say no?” Of course, Hamlet won’t say no. Not only is he confident that he will win the bet, but he will also find a way to do Claudius in.

“The king, and Laertes, would be so disappointed. And myself as well. The court hasn’t of late had much entertainment. Things have been a bit gray around here.” Guess that’s what it’s like when you have no HBO or Internet.

“Then let’s entertain the troops,” Hamlet says, “I’ll finish my laundry. Then take a walk for exercise.”

“I will let His Magnanimousness know. He will be overjoyed.” Osric places his hat on his head and leaves.

“Gee, you just can’t get good courtiers these days. Such riff-raff,” Hamlet says, referring to Osric.

‘Tis true,” Horatio agrees. “A courtier is riff-raff by any other name.”

“Looks like my doublet is done.” Hamlet goes to the dryer and takes out his clothes. “Thank God, I am feeling a bit if a chill.” A fast dresser, Hamlet is all dressed up and ready for a duel before Horatio can say two shakes of a spear.

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Hamlet: Ophelia’s Finale

Gertrude: Sweets to the sweet. Farewell! (scatters flowers)
I hoped thou shouldst have been my Hamlet’s wife.
I thought thy bride-bed to have decked, sweet maid,
And not have strewed thy grave. Hamlet Act 5 Scene 1.

For Hamlet’s plot till now, see Hamlet So Far.

Act 5 Scene 1 (continued). Everything has conspired against Ophelia. She can’t even get a decent burial. The priest won’t bury her in consecrated soil. She was a suicide, or so everyone believes.

She is so like Shylock. At the end of it all, she is a woman without family or country or love or even religion.

She is ultimately the tragic hero of Hamlet. Hamlet has choices. She does not.

Gertrude has choices. Ophelia does not.

Everybody gets to choose. Not Ophelia.

This is why Ophelia is so hard to play.

Think about this. Ophelia’s mother is dead or maybe she went insane. Now Ophelia is at the mercy of her father and her brother. Polonius and Laertes are a lot to handle.

Again and again Shakespeare reveals the terrible plight of women. Ophelia and Juliet are at the mercy of the pleasure of their fathers. They command their daughters to marry Paris or leave Hamlet out standing in the rain. Hero is falsely accused of indiscretion in Much Ado About Nothing. Only Benedict, a man, proves her innocence. Kate in Taming of the Shrew has to marry Petruchio and then is at the mercy of his abuse. Hermia in Midsummer must marry a man she does not love. Thanks to her father. Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, too must have been commanded by her father to marry Hamlet Senior. Then there is Ophelia. Poor Ophelia. It seems daughters just can’t win.

Laertes and Hamlet throw themselves onto the Ophelia’s wooden coffin, proclaiming their love for her.

“My poor dead sister,” Laertes cries out.

“I loved her,” Hamlet cries out.

“You scoundrel,” Laertes protests, grabbing Hamlet by the throat. “You killed her. You are responsible. You did not love her at all.”

“Did too.”

“Did not.”

The two are pulled apart.

They have given Ophelia what she wanted. Love. But it’s kinda late, fellows.

 

Hamlet and Interlude 5: Civil War(s)

There are more things in heaven and earth. Hamlet Act 1 Scene 5.

For Hamlet’s plot till now, see Hamlet So Far.

Elsinore is beginning to smell of death. First Hamlet’s father. Then Polonius. Now Ophelia. And who knows who will be next. As I said, Elsinore is beginning to smell of death.

It is beginning to look like Civil War. Laertes and Claudius against Hamlet. Is this any way to run a kingdom?

Folks are beginning to doubt Claudius. He had a good run at king-ing. Now, not so much. Even the queen has started grumbling. A “I’m not in the mood” kind of grumbling.

Shakespeare’s England had been through this before. The War of the Roses between the Red Rose of the Lancaster family and the White Rose of the York family in the 1400s. The Elizabethans knew what this led to. Chaos.

It had taken a Tudor to bring order to England. He did that in 1485 at Bosworth Field.

So seeing “Hamlet” on stage was a reminder of what could happen. And they didn’t like it. They didn’t like or want another Civil War.

With the chaos of a Civil War came a country that couldn’t prosper. No one got rich, only poorer. A lot of folks didn’t get to die in bed. It meant brother against brother, father against son. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

The Elizabethans didn’t think it was fun. This is one of the reasons many Elizabethans remained Protestant. They weren’t happy about the persecution of the Catholics. But the Pope and the Jesuits couldn’t leave well enough alone. They had to go and stir the pot and persist in overthrowing Queen Elizabeth Numero Uno. The Elizabethans remembered Bloody Mary, and they were not ready to go back to that. Above all, the English wanted order. Elizabeth gave the English something the Roses and Bloody Mary did not give them. Order.

The Danes under Claudius were seeing order break down. At the beginning of Claudius’ reign, Denmark prospered. Now crops started to fail. Parts of the country suffered from drought. Seemed like somebody had an Oedipus Complex. They weren’t sure who. But one thing was sure. Either Claudius and Laertes buried the hatchet with Hamlet or all hell might just break loose. The Danes knew how that turned out, and they were not happy that there’d be a mess to clean up in the end.

Hamlet: This Week We Mourn

For Hamlet’s plot till now, see Hamlet So Far.

Act 4 Scene 7 (continued). A sadness has fallen upon Elsinore, sadder than the day King Hamlet died. A sadness has fallen upon Elsinore. Ophelia is dead. The coroner’s report says she drowned. But we know the True Cause. She died of a Broken Heart.

Gertrude tells us how with these sad lines:

There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
There with fantastic garlands did she come
Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do dead men’s fingers call them:
There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide;
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes;
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element: but long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.

Could it be that with these lines Shakespeare is mourning his son, Hamnet?

As “Much Ado About Nothing” illustrates, love always overcomes hatred. But where is the love in “Hamlet”. It is only Ophelia who loves and there is none who would love her. She has a pure heart. When thinking of Ophelia, for some reason I recall another play. “Antigone.” If Lear is Oedipus, Ophelia is Antigone.

Ophelia is not mad. She has no one. She is lonely. But it is not just lonely the way you and I get lonely. It is an existential loneliness that goes to the depth of who she is. It is a loneliness without the hope of love. It is a loneliness without God. So she dies. This little girl lost. Alone.

The priest says she committed suicide. Since when does falling from a tree and getting your clothes caught on a rock in the water add up to suicide. Ophelia is Catholic. And though she may have stepped out over the edge, I don’t think she commits suicide. No, she drowns and let’s leave it at that.

Alas, Ophelia is dead. Laertes is heartbroken, and he is mourning. Mourning for the sister he never paid much attention to. Mourning for the sister he did not know.

Hamlet: Spies, Spies and More Spies

It is a wise father that knows his own child.
(The Merchant of Venice Act 2. Scene 2.)

For Hamlet’s plot till now, see Hamlet So Far.

And now on to Act 2. Here a spy. There a spy. Everywhere a spy spy. R&G spy. Ophelia spies. Gertrude spies. Claudius spies. Polonius spies, and we know how that turned out. Not good. Even Hamlet does a bit of spying.

Hamlet should get used to it. He’s a royal, the son and the nephew of aking. Royals are always spied upon. Just ask Elizabeth I. But she, like most rulers, is both the spyee as well as the spyer. She may not do it herself. She has minions whose business it is to spy.

Why do I bring up all this spy business up? Act 2 opens with Polonius asking a servant, Reynaldo, to take off for Paris and spy on Laertes. Either Polonius knows his son well or he doesn’t know his son well. It must be important for him to find out. Otherwise he wouldn’t spend a pretty penny to spy on Laertes.

Perhaps Laertes will spend all his money gambling and whoring and getting himself in a real pickle. It will cost Polonius all the money and goodwill he can muster, money and goodwill he has spent a lifetime collecting. Polonius wasn’t always an important official. He was born a poor farm boy who had ambition. He was a regular Danish Horatio Alger.

Polonius wants to make sure that his boy is worthy to be his heir. Otherwise he will have to do the unthinkable and will his fortune to Ophelia.

Just as Act 1 established that there was something rotten in Denmark, Act 2 establishes that nobody trusts anybody. Soon we will see that suspicion turns into suspicion run amok..

“So, Reynaldo,” Polonius stands above Reynaldo. “You go off to Paris. Check out what my son is doing. Then come back and let his father know what dynamite he is playing with.”

“But, Sir,” Reynaldo always calls Polonius Sir, “Laertes is a good kid. He’ll sow his wild oats, then come back home and be your loyal son.”

“The kid wants to be the next Van Gogh. That’s all he talks about.”

“Yes, Sir. But what’s wrong with that?”

“You know how Van Gogh turned out. A missing ear he cut off his own self and poorer than a church mouse.”

“He might turn out to be the next Hans Holbein. Then he could paint the king’s portrait and the queen’s too. And even the prince’s.”

“Not him,” Polonius says.

“Sir?”

“Just take my word for it. The prince isn’t going to be around long enough to have his portrait painted.”