In the last five weeks, I have read Hamlet out loud four times, and watched most of Branagh’s version four times, as well. While Hamlet is a great many things, during these readings, the play more and more struck me as a story about a series of very terrible plans. I am willing to credit Fortinbras and the Devil for fitting, cunning plans. Everyone else, however, is quite lost. Here are the dumb plans of Hamlet, ranked.
11. Claudius’s plan to kill King Hamlet and marry his wife: No plan is effective for longer than this, nonetheless, Claudius later confesses to Laertes that the divine has set a hedge of protection about the crown which stands to avenge all wrongs done the king.
10. Claudius and Laertes’s plan to “accidentally” stab Hamlet with a real sword: I mean, this is kind of how Brandon Lee died. Perhaps Claudius and Laertes could look convincingly surprised when Laertes “accidentally” shanks Hamlet with an honest weapon which somehow ended up on the rack of foils. Nonetheless, when Hamlet and Laertes tussle at Ophelia’s funeral, Claudius really should back off the plan for Laertes to “accidentally” kill Hamlet. However, Claudius does not care if Laertes gets pinned for murder. When Laertes and Hamlet shake hands before the bout, Laertes really should generously forgive Hamlet everything and embrace him, but instead says, “Fine, you have nothing against me personally, but I’ll see you in court for the death of my father.” If Laertes could see more than two moves ahead, he knows such a forgery of kindness would reinforce his claim to have accidentally killed Hamlet later.
9. Claudius and Polonius hide behind the curtains to spy on Ophelia and Hamlet, then Gertrude later: Polonius loves to hide behind curtains, whether there is a need to do so or not.
8. Hamlet’s “antic disposition,” which will not help him kill Claudius, but will help him mess with Polonius: This plan is partially effective. Still, Hamlet complains he is “too much in the sun,” which suggests he is tired of being observed, picked apart, and asked, “How are you doing?” While the “antic disposition” grants him a little more leeway to taunt Polonius, he ultimately attracts far more negative attention to himself than he had before.
7. Claudius and Gertrude’s plan to send Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to search out Hamlet: Gertrude and Claudius have absolutely no idea who Hamlet’s friends actually are. Hamlet clocks these losers for spies within ten minutes of their arrival
6. Claudius’s plan to deal with the Fortinbras problem by appealing to his deaf, decrepit uncle: Hot blooded prince will certainly respect the wishes of a dying patriarch who does not keep track of international affairs.
5. Polonius’s plan to spy on Laertes by spreading nasty gossip about his son around Paris to see if any of it sticks: Just the daftest thing he could think of at a moment’s notice.
4. Hamlet’s plan to send Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to England to die there: Risks international incident with England, although the Danes are probably willing to let two dippy diplomats die without getting too huffy. Still, as Horatio points out, sending them to their deaths puts Hamlet on a tight schedule, for as soon as word gets back to Denmark they’re dead, Claudius knows Hamlet knows he tried to kill him.
3. Hamlet’s plan to “catch the conscience of the king” with his play The Mousetrap: If you publicly insinuate the King committed murder, he’s going to blanche whether he did it or not. Hamlet’s impatience with the play to do its work is later mirrored in Claudius’s impatience with the poisoned sword. Neither Claudius nor Hamlet can wait for their schemes to unfold, so they rush into Plan B’s.
2. Claudius and Laertes’s plan to dip the sword in poison, then poison his drink, too: Why they don’t use a Predator drone to drop a dozen Hellfire missiles on Hamlet just to be extra double sure he’s dead, who can say?
1. Claudius’s plan to send Hamlet to England and have him murdered there: After acknowledging Hamlet is a favorite of the people, what does Claudius expect the people of Denmark to do after hearing their favorite son was beheaded by a tributary country?