A Hamlet timeline – chronicle of events

      Setting the Timeline – considerations

Claudius – planning my foul murder

King Hamlet's funeral – where was Hamlet?

Gertrude & Claudius – adultery or not?

Horatio – Hamlet's friend?

Horatio – is he passion's slave?

Polonius – the evil that men do

Ophelia's love? – did she love Hamlet?

Ophelia closetted – Polonius on love

      O help xxx ....... – Olivier's version

Ophelia's change – is Hamlet suspicious?

Hamlet feigns madness – protective "cover"

Is Hamlet mad? – Polonius's opinion

The Trial of Claudius – Hamlet's prosecution

Hamlet kills Polonius – stabs the "Voice"

Laertes v Hamlet – poisoned foil

Ophelia's death – a recipe

Hamlet's age – digging up the past

Yorick – something rotting in Denmark

Betting on Hamlet – the fencing match

Hamlet's fencing skill – better than Laertes

Hamlet's revenge – the rest is silence

Betting on Hamlet

The fencing match

Claudius: We'll make a solemn wager on your cunnings:
This is part of Claudius's scheme as a cover for Hamlet's murder. If things go according to plan, Hamlet will appear to have been killed accidently by Laertes's unbated foil. By wagering on the contest, it is given the air of plausibility and normality. Although it is unlikely anyone would suspect Hamlet had been killed by foul play, such thoughts would be allayed when it was realised there was a solemn wager on the contest. It is a brilliant idea by Claudius, but having decided to do it, and to preclude the least suspicion, it requires that the wagering makes sense when it comes to assessing the odds.
Osric: The king, sir, hath laid, that in a dozen passes between yourself and him (Laertes), he shall not exceed you three hits: he hath laid on twelve for nine;
Claudius: Cousin Hamlet, you know the wager?
Hamlet: Very well, my lord. Your grace hath laid the odds o' the weaker side.
Claudius: I do not fear it; I have seen you both: But since he is better'd, we have therefore odds.

Laertes is nominally the better fencer but Claudius, 'who has seen them both', wagers on Hamlet. He is not concerned, because this is a handicap event in which Laertes has to score 8 hits whereas Hamlet need only score 5. Hamlet is considered to have less chance of scoring 5 than Laertes has of reaching 8, and so Claudius has been compensated by being given odds of 12 to 9.

Despite the apparent simplicity of the wagering, not one of the many attempts in decades has managed to explain it in a meaningful way. It is not complicated. Every day, thousands of bets are wagered on matches between two players or two teams. In any contest, it is not possible to determine each contestants precise chance of winning. A guesstimate is made as to the likely outcome and odds are calculated to fit this outcome. Only after these initial odds are tweaked, to the satisfaction of both bettors, will any wagering be made between them.

In the Laertes versus Hamlet match of 12 passes, Laertes was considered to be twice as good as Hamlet with a scoreline of Laertes 8 hits, Hamlet 4 hits. If Laertes were mathematically twice as good as Hamlet, then the chances of Laertes getting 8 hits or Hamlet 4 hits are equally likely and the odds are EVEN MONEY.

But assume the punters who want to bet on Laertes believe Hamlet is actually a bit better fencer than those odds suggest, and thus more likely to get his 4 hits before Laertes gets 8 hits. They would not bet on Laertes at even money. They would ask for more favourable odds or else not bet at all.

Claudius wants to bet on Hamlet and therefore has to get punters wanting to bet on Laertes. He cleverly solves this problem by changing the winning scoreline. Hamlet has to get 5 hits rather than 4 hits – a much, much harder task. Those who want to bet on Laertes are now being offered a very favourable bet and it is Claudius who is disadvantaged. The disadvantage of Hamlet's lesser chance is compensated by an adjustment to the odds:
Osric: he hath laid on twelve for nine;
This means that if Hamlet wins the contest, Claudius will win 12 units (of whatever the wager is) but if Laertes wins, Claudius will only lose 9 units.

Claudius appears to be a shrewd gambler and understands the value of odds. In the actual fencing match, despite the acknowledged skill of Laertes, Hamlet proves to be far better.

How come that suddenly Hamlet has become an expert swordsman?