Ruffians

From Hamlet OnLine
Jump to: navigation, search

In the original Second Quarto publication of Hamlet, the term "others" appears in some stage directions. The affected Scenes are 13, 16 and 17.

I do not use the term Others on this site, for those extras. I use more specific terms. The "others" of Scene 13 are one or more guards, and one or more servants who are helping Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as they search for Hamlet. In the stage direction for Scene 13 I use specific terms.

The comments below apply to the "others" of Scene 16, the only Scene in which the originally-specified "others" speak. They are Ruffians - as I term it - who assist Laertes in storming the Castle. The identical characters appear in the background in Scene 17 but do not speak there.

Role

The Ruffians of Scene 16 are some of the rabble that follows Laertes to storm the Castle. They are irate townsmen who have had enough, and heard enough, and who are ready to fight. They enter the Throne Room briefly, and protest when Laertes requests they remain outside while he confronts Claudius, but they do agree to wait outside the door and bar the doorway.

The "townsmen" - as I term them - of Scene 17 are the same persons, as we find them in the Lobby, after they are outside the Throne Room, barring the doorway. As explained in the Explication, and on the individual Scene pages for 16 & 17, Scene 17 is actually intrascene during Scene 16. The Sailors (pirates) of Scene 17 have joined the rabble to get into the Castle, and they approach Horatio, in the Lobby, while Laertes is talking to Claudius in Scene 16, in the Throne Room. This is why Horatio, himself, cannot take the letters to Claudius, and Horatio must leave the letters with someone else for later delivery: Laertes's followers, the Ruffians/townsmen have blocked the Lobby doorway, under Laertes's orders, and they are not admitting anybody. (By the way, when Ophelia enters the Throne Room in Scene 16, it isn't from the Lobby, but rather through the doorway to the Royal Apartments.)

It is important to observe about the Ruffians that they are not trying to help Laertes get revenge for the death of his father (although they are probably not careless of that.) Their motivation, as the messenger of Scene 16 expressly states, is revolution. Primarily, they want a different King. The primary motivations of Laertes and his followers are different, but are both directed against Claudius. Hamlet made a pertinent statement, on that sort of situation, in the Closet Scene, about "two crafts" meeting in "one line."

Name

The Ruffians are an anonymous group, from Elsinore Town and its immediate environs.

Lines

The Scene 16 lines they have are ordinary, not memorable. Indeed, the lines are probably not intended to be exact for the numerous voices, because one would not expect several persons to say the identical thing. The lines as printed are probably to summarize what the group says. Having the crowd recite "we will" in unison is too robotic to be natural, and Shakespeare already had Hamlet make the point, in the Mousetrap Play Scene, Scene 9, that a play performance should seem natural. One has to suspect, based on what Shakespeare, himself, wrote in Scene 9, and also based on common sense about groups, that the Ruffians are supposed to express the sentiments of their lines, but with some variation in wording from one speaker to another, to make it seem natural. Of course it wouldn't be practical to print half a dozen variations of the same thing, all spoken simultaneously.

Despite the above, since Madness is a Theme, one could try it on stage to have the Ruffians of Scene 16 all recite in unison, and see how it plays. The main point is, as always, to entertain the audience. Does it "play?"

Themes and Motifs

The Themes and Motifs most immediate to the Ruffians in Scenes 16 and 17:

Madness (of crowds,)

BOOKMARK

On Stage

As mentioned, the Ruffians appear in Scene 16 and Scene 17, although in Scene 17 where they don't speak I only call them "townsmen."


© 2014 Jeffrey Paul Jordan

All rights reserved. See the Copyright page for further information.