Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Hamlet Read-Along: Act IV, Scene 5 -- Part Two

Picking up where we left off yesterday, here comes Laertes!  You may have noticed that I have a great and abiding fondness for Laertes -- I not only feel very sympathetic toward him, but when he's played well, he's such an inspiringly good older brother.  Of course, a lot of times he's kind of left in the dust, treated like a sort of extra dude to have around, but once in a while a production gets him really right, and then I'm very happy :-)

Okay, so in comes Laertes, with this big mob behind him that wants to make him king instead of Claudius because they think Claudius is involved in Polonius' death or whatever.  I am never quite sure why they think Laertes should be king, to be honest, other than that maybe they don't like how Claudius is managing things, and with Hamlet gone, they just pick Laertes as the likeliest candidate?  Hmm.  Anyway, Laertes is pretty riled, isn't he?  Even reading the words, you can tell he's yelling and gesticulating and probably brandishing a sword, can't you?

I've got to shake my head at Claudius, though.  He makes this nice little speech about how "[t]here's such divinity doth hedge a king" that treasonous people can't hurt them (124).  But, dude, you totally killed a king yourself, Claudius!  So you're just an old faker with that line -- trying to keep convincing Gertrude and everyone else that you had nothing to do with your brother's death. 

Back to Laertes -- he's such an energetic contrast to Hamlet.  He says, "I'll be revenged Most thoroughly for my father" (134-35).  He's making all kinds of vows about it, behaving in every way like a stereotypical vengeance-seeker, isn't he?  And then he drops all his ranting and threatening when Ophelia returns.  I absolutely love how tender and kind he is toward here, and how sad he is about her affliction.  "O rose of May" (156) is one of the loveliest nicknames I can think of for the flower-loving Ophelia.

Speaking of flowers, I'm sure whatever edition you're reading probably talks all about the fact that back when Shakespeare was writing this, people had assigned meaning to various flowers, and these were common knowledge, so his audience would totally have known what Ophelia meant by giving various things to the other characters.  There are no stage directions for who she gives them to, so different productions assign them differently.  Just for your personal knowledge...
Rosemary = remembrance
Pansies = thoughts
Fennel = flattery and deceit
Columbines = ingratitude and infidelity
Rue = sorrow and repentance
Daisy = springtime and innocent love
Violets = spring and youth
Also, remember that Laertes mentioned violets to Ophelia back when he was warning her against falling in love with Hamlet.  Later, he'll mention them again at her graveside.  Violets are one of my favorite flowers, so tiny they get hidden by the grass, but when you find one, it's like a little hidden treasure.  I like the idea of them representing Ophelia, that most people overlook or ignore her, but Laertes and Hamlet see her for the treasure she is.

Ophelia wanders out again, and Claudius promises to prove to Laertes that he had nothing to do with Polonius' death, and we're done with the scene!

Favorite Lines:

"And where the offense is, let the great axe fall" (211).

Possible Discussion Questions:  When Claudius tells Laertes that Polonius is dead, Gertrude jumps in with "But not by him" (128).  Why does she defend Claudius and throw the blame on Hamlet?  Just because Hamlet isn't here to get attacked by Laertes for it?  Or does she still love Claudius after all that Hamlet has told her?

Who of the characters present here do you think Ophelia should give each of her flowers to, based on what they signify?


  1. One factor that interests me in this play is the ways in which characters manipulate other characters (and their motivations for doing so). Claudius must never be underestimated. To do so would be a tragic mistake. Hmmmm.

    1. My post about flowers is back on Part 1.
      Regarding Gertrude: She is one mixed up lady. It seems she wants to be Somebody, but what would that be? Her "not by him" goes along with her attempt to get between the men. if Hamlet doesn't come back from England, she'll still be the Queen. If Hamlet does come back and kills the King, she could be the Queen Mother, but what if neither one of them survives? In Gibson's production Glenn Close is eerily, slowly realizing the wine is poisoned, *And she makes her decision*:she offers the cup to her son. When he refuses it, she essentially opts for suicide by drinking from the cup herself.

    2. RT, yes, they're a whole lot of stinkers, these characters. Manipulators, liars, poisoners, and spies... yikes!

      Kelda, yes, Gertrude is rather a cipher, isn't she? I don't know if she really knows what she wants, either. Perhaps she's one of those discontented types, grass is always greener and so on?

      I prefer the ending of the Ethan Hawke version, where Gertrude realizes the cup is poisoned and quick drinks it in a desperate attempt to save her son.

  2. for Hamelette, & anyone else who has seen the Chinese Hamlet (The Banquet,The Red Scorpion, The Black Scorpion): What did you think of Laertes & Ophelia in that production? Ophelia is so very innocent, delicate and wistful. Never any madness. She dreams that Hamlet speaks to her in her dreams ":Do not eat too many sweets...but I know young girls will." What a 'sweet' dream. Certainly not the dream of a more worldly-wise young woman.
    Laertes, in full armor, changes from a strong soldier to a loving brother in a blink, wrapping his arms around her. His grief is overwhelming when she dies.A review & caveat: This production is gorgeous & lavish.The characters are readily identifiable & well developed,with the exception of two elderly courtiers who are briefly confused with Who's Polonius. The end, no matter how many times I've seen it, is a shocker. The caveat:This film is the most violent, ghastly film I've ever seen ahead even of Welcome to Sarajevo which includes actual civilian warfare. Make up & special effects surpass anything I've seen in a domestic film.Spoiler: Hamlet rapes Ophelia - they're shown struggling as Ophelias screams, the scene jumps to Hamlet asleep while Ophelia strokes his long hair. I despise any media that presents a raped woman as liking a rape after the fact. There's sensuous, non-explicit sexual interaction between between the Emperor & Empress. Find your body lotion & significant other. There's brief distant shot of nudity as the Empress walks into a created pool full of water lilies.

    1. Kelda, Ophelia was lovely in that version, so innocent and gentle. Laertes was quite great, I approved of him.

      Thanks for the caveats and warnings on The Black Scorpion. I also have a great distaste for stories of rape-and-instant-forgiveness, and the violence is startling, but overall I think TBS is pretty fascinating for adults with a strong stomach.

  3. I like that line too.

    That's super neat about the flowers and that it doesn't say who she gives them to. I like that a lot. It seems like is isn't a totally obvious answer to who gets what. So do adaptations generally mix it up, or do the same thing?

    1. Sarah, yes, I love that the flowers could be sort of distributed at the director's discretion. I do wonder if Shakespeare had a specific distribution in mind, but that we've lost that information. Different productions give different ones to different people, though I think Columbines generally go to Gertrude, and Fennel to Claudius. I just watched the 2000 Ethan Hawke version, and in that one, Ophelia is a photographer, and instead of flowers, she has Polaroid pictures. She shows them to Laertes one by one, and just kind of tosses them aside, not handing any of them to anyone in particular until she gets to Rue, which she gives to him, and keeps another for herself.

    2. Oh, and also, I've seen them use actual flowers, or just sticks and twigs, or have it entirely be a pantomime with her handing out pretend flowers. And they all work, since she is mad.

  4. The impression I received is that the populous is somewhat in a state of confusion ..... the old king is dead, there is a new king (perhaps wondering why Hamlet didn't get this position), and now Hamlet is sent to England. Perhaps they just chose the first trustworthy (or apparently trustworthy) person to come along because they were suspicious of Claudius' actions ....????

    So far, I've liked Laertes, but his reaction in this scene rather disturbed me. I'm guessing that having a strong feeling of vengeance is not going to be good for the party seeking revenge. And now here Laertes is exhibiting the same tendencies as Hamlet. He didn't even seem to want to try to figure out what actually happened, placing all the blame on Claudius. Uh-oh! I have a bad feeling that it won't play out well.

    Ah, I didn't know the flowers were arbitrary. Thanks for the information!

    1. Cleopatra, you're probably right -- Denmark is a total mess by this point.

      Laertes is a hot-head. It's that foil thing -- he shows an opposite version of the vengeful son from Hamlet, who is all internal thinking and not given to ranting.

  5. I've always liked the thought of a flower language. Also, that desciption of Ophelia being like a violet was spot on!

    1. Rose, yeah, I used to try to memorize what different flowers meant and use them to decorate valentines and stuff. And thanks! She's very violet-esque, isn't she?


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