In Shakespeare's Hamlet, what is the significance of the passage where Osric delivers a message telling Hamlet that Laertes wants a duel? (Why does Hamlet treat Osric as he does?)
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In Shakespeare's Hamlet, Hamlet has little time for Osric when he comes to invite Hamlet to engage in "playful" sport with Laertes. A clue to why Hamlet has no respect for Osric is found when Hamlet describes the way he rewrote the orders from Claudius for the King of England. Hamlet says:
...I sat me down,
Devised a new commission, wrote it fair.
I once did hold it, as our statists do,
A baseness to write fair, and labour'd much
How to forget that learning; but, sir, now
It did me yeoman's service. (33-38)
Hamlet explains that he has to mimic the manner of writing in the new orders so they will sound official. He says he tried for years to forget how to write that way—thinking it vulgar. However, in this instance, he is glad he remembered, for rather than being executed as Claudius had wished, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern take his place.
Knowing that Hamlet is not a snob, we can understand why he doesn't have time for Osric—for the same reason he had no time for Polonius or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern: they all ingratiate themselves to their "betters," in order to advance their positions at court. They engage in foolish behaviors, as Hamlet notes with disgust at the start of the play when he complains about the canon fire. Each time the King takes a drink, a canon is set off—Hamlet thinks this kind of "tradition" makes the Danish look like drunks.
These people are mindless. Hamlet told his schoolmates this same thing earlier in the play when they did whatever Claudius asked—which included spying on Hamlet; and in playing with Osric, we can see what Hamlet means about these type...
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