The Swordplay of Hamlet and Laertes
The Swordplay of Hamlet and Laertes
Dramatic scenes in plays are of natural occurrence whether the play is a satire, a romance, or a comedy. Such scenes almost always points to the climactic scene that either solves the conflict or makes it more complicated and which leaves the audience in bated breath. But whether the play is a light-hearted genre or a romantic one, those which are of tragic in nature are almost always the ones which presents the best dramatic of scenes.
And who else presents the best tragedies than that of the greatest playwright himself, William Shakespeare? Shakespeare has created the best comedies and tragedies that the literary world has to offer and since he has so many great plays linked to his name, there can be not just one, single play which can be considered as his best tragedy or his best comedy. From Othello to Macbeth to Romeo and Juliet, tragedy after tragedy have left a mark in people with famous lines, famous characters and famous plots.
One of these tragedies that have left a mark in the literary world is Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark wherein revenge, murder and death are of inevitable events. Hamlet is the young prince of Denmark who tries to find out the murderers of his father and avenge his father’s death. Through supernatural events wherein the ghost of his father visits Hamlet and tells him that he was murdered by his uncle and mother, Hamlet makes it a point to prove that his uncle, Claudius and his mother, Gertrude, are guilty of the crime they have committed and that they have to pay for it.
The play continues on with Hamlet and Claudius plotting against each other, until it finally comes to the climactic scene of the play (which is probably the most dramatic) when Hamlet and Laertes challenge each other with a sword match through careful arrangement of Claudius: Laertes emerges with a poisoned sword while Claudius poisons a cup which are both intended for Hamlet.
However, through the chaos and confusion of the duel, Gertrude drinks from the poisoned cup, Hamlet and Laertes are both wounded by the poisoned sword and Claudius eventually dies when he gets stabbed by Hamlet. In the end, it is only Horatio who remains alive and who promises to retell the tragic story of Hamlet and the other tragic deaths that happened in Denmark.
Though the play presents many dramatic scenes such as the confrontation between Hamlet and the ghost of his father, the confrontation between Hamlet and his uncle, and the confrontation between Hamlet and Ophelia (and her death), there is still something more poignant and impacting in the scene between Laertes and Hamlet probably because finally, both parties are given a chance to purge their anger and in the course of a very physical (and supposedly fair) match of swordplay, this anger would be given a healthy outlet.
And yet, what happens is that one side of the players (Laertes with Claudius) are plotting to have the other killed (Hamlet) while the Hamlet himself who has harboured ill feelings from the very beginning is the one who is innocent in the whole swordplay since he has not thought of using the duel as a means of vengeance. On closer scrutiny, though Shakespeare uses such simple language in trying to paint the dramatic scene of the play and even the dialogue of the characters are not that dramatic, it is the underlying mood of anger and melancholy which makes the scene in act 5, scene 2 as the most dramatic.
Even Queen Gertrude’s death and the realization of Claudius that Gertrude drank from the cup was illustrated without much ado, a plain line of, “it is too late” simply dramatizes the whole death of Gertrude. (25. 2. 235) The dramatic scene itself does not show that much drama. When Hamlet realizes that his mother is poisoned, he exclaims with absolutely no hysterics that his mother has just died: “O villany! Ho! let the door be lock’d/ Treachery!
Seek it out” (5. 2. 307-308). But this rather detached exclamation actually explains so much—that Hamlet is not that affected by his mother’s death since she is one of the murderers who killed his father. It can even be supposed that though Hamlet is not that entirely happy over his mother’s death, he is also not entirely sad about it since her treachery to his father is now avenged by someone else’s treachery done unto her by the poisoned cup.
As Hamlet calls on for the villain to be found, the wounded and very much dying Laertes reveals that it is Claudius who plots the whole thing, from the poisoned cup to the poisoned sword that unfortunately wounded both Hamlet and Laertes. It is here, Hamlet: Hamlet, thou art slain; No medicine in the world can do thee good; In thee there is not half an hour of life; The treacherous instrument is in thy hand, Unbated and envenom’d: the foul practise Hath turn’d itself on me lo, here I lie, Never to rise again: thy mother’s poison’d:
I can no more: the king, the king’s to blame. (5. 2. 309-316) This revelation of Laertes is Claudius’ undoing as Hamlet stabs the King and the crowd cries out over this act as it is considered as treason. The betrayal of Laertes is the last proof that he is good as he admits that Claudius is the one who is all to blame making Hamlet’s act of killing the King Claudius justifiable as the King now becomes a criminal who kills the Queen Gertrude (albeit accidentally) and plots to kill the Prince Hamlet (which succeeds).
Hamlet’s outrage over his father’s death increases as he feels outrage over the further evil nature of Claudius and though Hamlet eventually dies, still he manages to fulfil his father’s wish and his own purpose as he successfully kills Claudius with his own hands while revealing to everyone what an evil person his uncle is. This dramatic scene in act 5, scene 2 which is the last scene in the play is not the most dramatic just because the tragic hero has died and the rest of the royal family of Denmark has also died because of such villainy.
Aside from the unfortunate and tragic deaths, it is the fact that the deaths can actually be foreseen and are inevitable are what makes it the most dramatic of all. Since Hamlet was judged as mad and the rest of the royal family depicted as plotters and murderers, then there is no other way to redeem their characters except to kill them off. Hamlet had no choice but to avenge his father and this can only be done by the death of the late king’s murderers but if the hero of the play commits murder then he is not worthy of being called a hero.
Thus, the best way is to have his revenge fulfilled while also killing him in the end, making Hamlet a true tragic hero. The drama of this last scene in the play is best described by Horatio when he does his monologue: And let me speak to the yet unknowing world How these things came about: so shall you hear Of carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts, Of accidental judgments, casual slaughters, Of deaths put on by cunning and forced cause,
And, in this upshot, purposes mistook Fall’n on the inventors’ reads: all this can I Truly deliver. (5. 2. 380-387) The fact that Horatio wants to inform the world regarding the tragedy that occurred in Denmark since the other characters are all dead makes the scene all the more sad and dramatic—this is because of the reason that Hamlet cannot tell his story, then another person will have to do it for him.
Hamlet can never speak again, feel the feelings of fury over such “casual slaughters…(and) cunning and forced cause” since he is dead; instead, he has to rely on another person’s voice to tell the tragedy of life and the villainy of the people around him—and this is what makes the scene melodramatic. Works Cited Shakespeare, William. “Hamlet”. The Norton Anthology of World Literature, 1500-1650, 2nd ed. , vol. c. Ed. Lawall, Sarah et al. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2003. 2828-2918