Voltemand

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Voltemand is one of the Danish ambassadors dispatched by King Claudius to negotiate with the King of Norway. (The other ambassador is Cornelius.)

Role

Voltemand is one of the minor speaking roles. In Scene 2 he has only one line, in which he pledges to do his duty. In Scene 7 he speaks 21 lines as he reports the result of the diplomatic mission. He has no further part in the play. It's therefore difficult to assess his personality, except to see that he is decidedly subservient to Claudius. Claudius has probably done a clean sweep of his brother's government, or pretty close to that, so Voltemand is probably a new appointee, and not an experienced diplomat. Judging by the agreement he brings back, he is neither experienced nor wise at diplomacy.

  • Costume - ambassadorial, that is, elegant looking and expensive looking. He must look like a person of high status.

Name

The name Voltemand suggests "turned hand." The first syllable, Volte-, can be read as in the French phrase 'volte-face' which means to do an about face, or a reversal. The second syllable, -mand, can be read as in the word "mandate," which comes from Latin for "hand." The name, so read, can be understood to relate to the fact that what Voltemand reports back from Norway is exactly opposite to what Claudius originally said he wanted his negotiation to achieve. Voltemand is a character, or one of them, along with Cornelius, who "turns" Claudius's own "hand" against him, in the matter of the diplomatic agreement. (Voltemand is not a traitor, he is a dupe, and his "betrayal" is unintentional.)

So, Shakespeare may have used the name, Voltemand, to imply "turned hand," going along with the Voltemand character reporting a diplomatic result contrary to what Claudius said he wanted when he sent the ambassadors on their mission.

Lines

None of his lines is famous. The following is his most discussed line, not because of the Voltemand character himself, but because of the amount of money.

#07-077    Gives him threescore thousand crowns in annual fee

Some in the history of Hamlet commentary have viewed the number as impossibly large, as indeed in the context of the times it is quite large, but it is the correct number in the play, as I explain in the Note for the line.

Voltemand's lines 081 and 082 in Scene 7 are especially pertinent to the flow of events in the play, since they speak of the Norwegian Army being permitted to enter Denmark unopposed. Is it really a good idea for the Danes to agree to that?

Themes and Motifs

Those most relevant to Voltemand:

Duty, and War.

He pledges to do his duty, and his mission is intended to prevent war.

On Stage

Voltemand appears in Scene 2 and Scene 7. It is then possible for him to appear silently among the King's entourage in later Scenes.