Home

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

Planning Hamlet's murder

Laertes: have I a noble father lost;
A sister driven into desperate terms,
.............. but my revenge will come.
Glowing reports of Laertes' fencing skill have come from France. This gives Claudius the idea of Laertes killing Hamlet in an apparent fencing match accident. He suggests Laertes use an unbated foil to stab Hamlet. Laertes instantly agrees to the plan and says he will put poison on the point of his foil so that if it merely grazes Hamlet he will die.
Claudius: ............. bring you in fine together
And wager on your heads. He, being remiss,
Most generous, and free from all contriving,
Will not peruse the foils; so that with ease,
Or with a little shuffling, you may choose
A sword unbated, and, in a pass of practice,
Requite him for your father.
Laertes: I will do't!
And for that purpose I'll anoint my sword.
I bought an unction of a mountebank,
So mortal that .............. if I gall him slightly,
It may be death.
Because Laertes is a skilled swordsman the poison seems unnecessary. Claudius is not now confident of success. Actually, he is exceedingly pessimistic. Despite Laertes skill, Claudius worries he won't succeed: "if this should fail" and "if this should blast in proof".
Claudius: Let's further think of this;
Weigh what convenience both of time and means
May fit us to our shape. If this should fail,
And that our drift look through our bad performance,
'T were better not assay'd: therefore this project
Should have a back or second, that might hold,
If this should blast in proof.
— Soft! let me see: —
We'll make a solemn wager on your cunnings, —
I ha't. When in your motion you are hot and dry,
(As make your bouts more violent to that end)
And that he calls for drink, I'll have prepared him
A chalice for the nonce, whereon but sipping,
If he by chance escape your venom'd stuck,
Our purpose may hold there.
"We need a back-up plan that MIGHT work," he says. What a joke! Doesn't he mean a back-up plan that WILL work? Claudius's lack of confidence in Laertes to hit Hamlet is so pronounced that he dreams up the poisoned cup plan. He tells Laertes "If he by CHANCE escape your venom'd stuck, run him around until YOU (!) are hot and dry. If Hamlet should ask for a drink he will be dead. He may choose not to have a drink but then again he may in which case 'Our purpose may hold'." Once again Claudius is not sure. He doesn't say this WILL hold but only it MAY hold. Note also that Claudius says Hamlet by 'chance' may avoid the poisoned sword. The mere mention of CHANCE means it is not 100% certainty that Hamlet will be hit. Claudius holds that view and, despite his skill, Laertes doesn't disagree. All in all, they cannot be 100% confident of killing Hamlet. In summary, the murder weapons:
  1. an unbated foil
  2. poison on the foil tip
  3. a poisoned chalice.

Ophelia death reported

These plans to kill Hamlet are completed in every detail but in no way whatsoever are they in response to Ophelia's death. They can't be, for a very simple reason. When they are made Ophelia is still alive!

A few moments after the King and Laertes have finalised their murder plans, the Queen enters to announce that Ophelia has just drowned. Laertes blames nobody for Ophelia's death nor does he respond to it by dreaming up a 4th, 5th and 6th way to kill Hamlet.

The next day, at Ophelia's funeral, Laertes curses Hamlet (although not naming him) for killing his father and thus being the indirect cause of Ophelia's madness.

Laertes: O, treble woe
Fall ten times treble on that cursed head
Whose wicked deed thy most ingenious sense
Depriv'd thee of!

Laertes's remark tells Gertrude (and we, too), that on the previous day, Claudius had let Laertes in to the closely-held court secret that Hamlet killed Polonius. Laertes also learned Ophelia was never told what happened and so she believed her father died of natural causes. Laertes knows daughters do not go mad when their fathers die and so would realise it was the continual neglect of their father's grave that had induced her insanity.

Later, in his dying moments, Laertes blames the King for the Queen's death, then says:

Laertes: Exchange forgiveness with me, noble Hamlet.
Mine and my father's death come not upon thee,
Nor thine on me!
Laertes never got around to blaming Ophelia's death on anyone and, given what he ended up saying, it seems unlikely he would have blamed Hamlet for anything.
top
©