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In Secret Conference: The Meeting Between Claudius and Laertes

From The Riddles of Hamlet by Simon Augustine Blackmore. Boston, Stratford & Co.

We now come to a remarkable and vivid portrayal of the king 's ingenious villainy. With crafty skill he forms and fashions Laertes to his nefarious will, as clay in a potter's hands. If in a former brief appearance, Laertes left a good impression, he now destroys it by actions which disclose his real character. Naturally impetuous, fiery of temperament, and ruled by passion rather than by reason, he reveals himself, on returning from his libertine life in Paris, as indifferent to noble ideals of honor and of justice, and willingly agrees to become the base tool of a crafty criminal. If, of the two conspirators, Claudius is the master villain, Laertes by his own suggestion of the use of poison, proves himself no mean adept in the ways of infamy.

By forcing upon our notice the deep contrast between Hamlet and Laertes, the Poet in the present scene seems intent upon a further glorification of his hero. If the one is characterized by a love of truth, sincerity, virtue, justice, and of all that is honorable; the latter in contempt of them all, enters ignobly into an alliance with falsehood, treachery, and crime. The whole scene is a strong sketch in black and white, in which the evil traits of Laertes, serve to illuminate all the more the nobility of Hamlet's nature.

The curtain rises on the two conspirators in secret conference. The King is supposed to have narrated to Laertes what the audience knows well already: namely, that in an attempt at his life, Hamlet had in mistake slain Polonius. In consequence, Claudius claims the friendship and alliance of Laertes; since both are animated by the same purpose of revenge. Laertes, however, cannot understand why the King, even when impelled by his own safety, did not vindicate the law against so capital an offence. Claudius assigns two reasons: the one on the part of Hamlet's mother, and the other on the part of the people. "The Queen lives almost by his looks," and, as a star can move only within its sphere, so was he held in check by her. On the other hand, "the general gender," or common people love him so highly that his faults seem graces in their eyes; and any attempt to punish or restrain him, would appear as so many injuries perpetrated against his innocence and good qualities: to put gyves upon him was only to endear him to the people.

Laertes in smothered feelings of disgust at the fears and weakness of the King, recounts his dual loss as motives for insisting on revenge, and in reference to his sister's perfections, makes a beautiful allusion to an olden ceremony at the coronation of the Kings of Hungary. It was customary for the newly-crowned monarch to stand on the Mount of Defiance at Pressburg, and unsheathing the sword of State, to extend it towards the four quarters of the globe, challenging the world the while to dispute his claim.

Claudius in reply, protests that he is not a dull weakling to be branded with fear in face of danger; and when, in the hope of speedy news from the ambassadors, he proceeds to offer proof, he is interrupted by the sudden entrance of a messenger with letters for the King and Queen from the lord Hamlet.

In a refinement of irony, the letter to Claudius shatters his dream at the moment when he is gloating over the prospect of soon communicating to Laertes the news of Hamlet's execution. The letter, formal and diplomatic, informs him that Hamlet has returned alone to Denmark, and promises to recount to him on the morrow the occasion of his sudden and strange return. The King, surprised and startled, is scarcely able to believe his eyes, and in sheer bewilderment turns to consult Laertes. He, though equally lost in surprise, rejoices at the news; the prospect of challenging on the morrow the slayer of his father causes his heart to glow still more with its mad sickness for revenge.

How to cite this article:
Blackmore, Simon Augustine. The Riddles of Hamlet. Boston: Stratford & company, 1917. Shakespeare Online. 2 Aug. 2011. < >.


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