Who does Old Hamlet fight against?
Now, there are two answers. One of which is clearly Norway. The other, it would be England. But I do have a point to argue.
Here was a gentleman of Normandy.
I have seen myself, and serv'd against, the French,
And they can well on horseback; but this gallant
Had witchcraft in't. He grew unto his seat,
-Claudius (talking to Laertes about Lamord, and how to kill Hamlet)
Now I interpreted the line "I have seen myself, and serv'd against, the French" as meaning, Claudius has served against the French. Is that correct? Or does it mean Lamord fought against the French?
Now, my logical reasoning was if Claudius had served against the French, it would refer to military service for Denmark. Which, if Old Hamlet was king, would automatically mean Old Hamlet was fighting against the French.
But again, my whole argument is based on whether I interpreted that sentence correctly. Someone with a better grasp of Shakesepare, clarify.
2 Answers | Add Yours
Good detective work! And I think you've got something...
Old Hamlet definitely does fight against the Norweigans, the sledded Polacks, and so on - as you know. Though I'm not sure you can assume that a king would always serve in military service. Moreover, I'm not sure you can assume that a king would always fight in a military conflict.
But the real crux is this: the actual line reads like this -
Two months since
Here was a gentleman of Normandy -
I have seen myself and served against the French
And they can well on horseback - but this gallant
Had witchcraft in't...
It was two months ago that Claudius saw the gentlemen from Normandy, but probably many, many years before - as a young man - that he served against the French. So no guarantee that Old Hamlet (not that much Claudius' elder, presumably) would have been king back then.
But oddly - there is no other reference to this French war in the text. Maybe it was a composite army (an allegiance between France and another country). Maybe they were French mercenaries. Maybe Shakespeare was accidentally or deliberately voicing the anti-French feeling of his time! Who knows?
Europeans wars were, like today, fought with complex shifting coalitions. It was not unusual for half a dozen countries to join together to make an army. Some countries would hire out their troops and there were many private battalions (ie the famous Irish Wild Geese). In Act V when threatened with insurrection Claudius yells "Where are my Switzers?" i.e. where are my crack Swiss troups? He didn't say, "Where are my Danes?" because it was very normal for soldiers to fight in armies other than their native one for money and promotion.
So, I think, Claudius fighting against French troops does not mean that Denmark fought a war against France.
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