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billwic
07-24-2009, 04:25 PM
Upon careful analysis of the murder, there appears to have been a conspiracy to kill King Hamlet. Too many things had to happen for Claudius to accomplish his goals for him to have done it alone: get access to King Hamlet, murder him and cover up the murder by making appear an accident. The ghost hints at a conspiracy: “Tis given out that, sleeping in my orchard, a serpent stung me, so the whole ear of Denmark is by a forged process of my death rankly abuse’d.” (1.5.35-38). This is in the passive voice. We do not know who made the statement. However, it does imply someone in authority gave a false story to cover up the murder. The logic of situation points to a conspiracy:
(1) Where were king Hamlet's attendants and guards while he was asleep? It would be unlikely for the king to be left alone unguarded and unattended while asleep. Thus, his attenants and guards must have been bribed to permit Claudius access to King Hamlet. Their part of the conspiracy was to give Claudius the opportunity to kill the King.
(2) Having access, Claudius poisoned King Hamlet:
"Upon my secure hour thy uncle stole, with juice of cursed hebona in a vial, and in the porches of my ears did pour the leprous distillment, whose effect holds such an enmity with blood of man that swift as quicksilver it courses through the natural gates and alleys of the body, and with a sudden vigor it doth posset and curd, like eager droppings into milk, the thin and wholesome blood. and so did it mine." (1.5.60-70)
(3) The poison left very obvious marks on king's body. ”And a most instant tetter bark’d about, most lazar like, with vile and loathsome crust all my smooth body.” (1.5.71-73)
(4) Upon the King’s lifeless body being discovered, the king's physicians would have been called. A competent doctor would immediately see that he had been poisoned. They covered up the crime by "giving out that . . . a serpent stung me" (1.5.34-35). Their part of the conspiracy was to cover up the murder by falsely saying it was an accident.
There may have been others who were aware of the conspiracy and plan to kill the King and who helped Claudius become elected King. For example, Polonius, about whom Claudius says to Laertes: "The head is not more native to the heart, the hand more instrumental to the mouth, than is the throne of Denmark to thy father" (1.2.47-49) Is Claudius merely praising Polonius as his chief advisor, or in addition, for helping him become King?
Hamlet seems to realize there was a conspiracy, that his life is in danger and that he can trust no one. At the end of the scene, he is about to tell Horatio of the murder and stops himself: “There’s never a villain dwelling in all Denmark . . . but he’s an arrant knave.” To which Horatio replies: “There needs no ghost, come from the grave, to tell us this” (1.5.123-26) Hamlet realizes that the only way to save himself is to pretend to be mad and he forces Horatio and the others to swear to secrecy that they had seen the ghost and that they will not give him away if “I perchance hereafter shall think meet to put an antic disposition on.” (1.5.171.72) Thus, it can be argued that Hamlet pretended to be mad to protect his life.

Ray Eston Smith
07-25-2009, 05:52 PM
I wouldn't call it a conspiracy. The Ghost himself said Claudius did it. Probably a lot of people, including Hamlet ("Oh, my prophetic soul"), suspected that Claudius had murdered his brother. But nobody was foolish enough to accuse the king of murder. That would be suicide. Only Hamlet was crazy enough to contemplate that form of suicide.

Ray Eston Smith
07-25-2009, 06:33 PM
“Tis given out that, sleeping in my orchard, a serpent stung me, so the whole ear of Denmark is by a forged process of my death rankly abuse’d.” (1.5.35-38).

That leads to an interesting question - are there any poisonous snakes in England? A quick google revealed that that question has been asked and answered many times. Yes, the European viper, Vipera berus, is common in Europe, including England and Denmark. (In Denmark, it's called a "huggorm.") It is poisonous, but rarely fatal.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vipera_berus
Relatively speaking, bites from this species are not highly dangerous.[2] In Britain there have been only 14 known fatalities since 1876; the last a 5-year-old child in 1975.

http://www.afpmb.org/pubs/living_hazards/snakes.html#Viperaberus
Mainly hemotoxic, w/ neurotoxic factors. Envenomation usually causes sharp pain or severe burning at bite site, followed by swelling & inflammation of lymph system. Victim usually develops nausea, headaches, vomiting, chest pains & labored breathing. Humans are sometimes bitten, and fatalities have been reported, but are not common.

The bite of the European viper does not cause "a most instant tetter bark'd about, / Most lazar-like, with vile and loathsome crust, / All [the] smooth body," but neither does any known poison.

In the play "Arden of Feversham" (sometimes ascribed to Shakespeare, but more likely written by Marlowe), the murderers consider using a painting as a murder weapon. Supposedly a certain artist could paint with such deadly poisons that just looking at the painting would be fatal.

http://www.archive.org/stream/ardenoffeversham00bayn/ardenoffeversham00bayn_djvu.txt
Mosbie. I happened on a painter yesternight,
The only cunning man of Christendom ;
For he can temper poison with his oil,
That whoso looks upon the work he draws
Shall, with the beams that issue from his sight,
Suck venom to his breast and slay himself.

Forensic science would face some unique challenges in the world of the Elizabethan imagination.

Gladys
07-27-2009, 02:53 AM
Too many things had to happen for Claudius to accomplish his goals for him to have done it alone: get access to King Hamlet, murder him and cover up the murder by making appear an accident. Although the circumstantial evidence you give adds up, couldn't one equally argue that Claudius, as the brother of the murdered king, long held a privileged position in the palace and was well placed to make regicide seem an accident. Perhaps the Elizabethan doctor had little or no experience with 'juice of cursed hebona'. Presumably the influential Claudius was early on the scene of the murder to declare his brother's death an accident, daring any to contradict him.