7 of Swords - Laertes & Claudius
Dramatis Personae: Laertes; Claudius, King of Denmark; Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.
Roman à clef : Thomas Cecil; Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester.
Text & Context: Hamlet is a play about a myriad of things. One of them is Might vs. Right. With wings as swift as meditation, Hamlet's words turn to swords, pointed inwards. Men like Laertes, Claudius, Hamlet Snr., the Fortinbras, are men of might; Hamlet, a man of what might or might not.
Claudius's role in his brother's poisoning becomes conspicuous when he suggests Laertes poison his nephew, Hamlet. Laertes, meantime, in revenging his father's death, has come to resemble not only the young Fortinbras but also the young Hamlet. Claudius manipulates the young man's sense of nobility and emotional state for his own projected ends. Laertes is not only compromised in Claudius' scheming but recriminates himself by failing to acquit himself of it upon Hamlet's apology [V.ii.226].
Traditional interpretation of the 7 of Swords suggests prudence and forethought on the one hand in facing a powerful adversary, manipulating his vulnerabilities and disarming him in advance, while on the other, surrender just when victory is attainable and failure to act at the crucial moment. Here Claudius and Laertes contrive to fool Hamlet, the idiot savant, relegating him to poor Yorick's fate. Hamlet, for his part, appears surely half-aware of their machinations and the greater implications of his defiance of augury.
Claudius, in his way, is a unifier. Gertrude, as his imperial jointress, is symbol of this, "our sometime sister, now our queen". Hamlet, for his part, divides. From the first scene, Claudius does all the talking, but all eyes are on the man in black. Hamlet's first line, "A little more than kin, and less than kind" comes not to send peace but a sword. It is for him that time is out of joint. His setting it right is contrary - he knows not "seems" yet it seems that's all he knows; he is to leave his mother to heaven and repeatedly damns her to hell; he will not stab a defenseless man and stabs a defenseless man; his father returns to him and yet death is "the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns..."
Claudius, with increasing desperation, attempts to bind together the splintering characters on stage. Hamlet, from his first words, cuts them all down the middle. The division runs straight to the audience, uniting it and him; the two complicite.