Anonymous asked in Arts & HumanitiesBooks & Authors · 1 decade ago

Laertes, the life-rendering pelican?

In Act 4, Scene v of Shakespeare's Hamlet, Laertes says while talking to King Claudius that to his father's "good friends thus wide I'll open my arms and, like the kind life-rendering pelican, repast them with my blood."

What exactly is Laertes saying here? Is he suggesting that he would give his life, his blood, for his father's cause?

Please clarify! Thanks! =)

1 Answer

  • emilia
    Lv 6
    1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    Doesn't what King Claudius say here :

    [Good Laertes,

    If you desire to know the certainty

    Of your dear father's death, is't writ in your revenge,

    That, swoopstake, you will draw both friend and foe,

    Winner and loser?]

    . . . mean that he's asking Laertes whether, in his desire for revenge, he will kill both his father's friends and enemies without making any distinctions? [swoopstake = indiscriminately; draw = disembowel]

    And Laertes answers no, only his enemies? And then the king asks him if he'll know them, which probably means "will you be able to tell the difference between friend and foe?" Laertes then says the line you're asking about,

    [To his good friends thus wide I'll ope my arms;

    And like the kind life-rendering pelican,

    Repast them with my blood.]

    From what I found through searching, mother pelicans were thought to pierce their breasts and feed their young with their own blood, to give them life. So, the pelican became a symbol of life-giving. Laertes, I think, is saying that he would sacrifice his own blood for the lives of his father's friends. [repast = to give as food (in the way the pelican was thought to give its blood as food to the young pelicans)]

    Here's the part about pelicans:

    [The Physiologus, a second century work of a popular theological type, described animals both real and imaginary and gave each an allegorical interpretation. It told of the pelican drawing the blood from its own breast to feed its young. The physical reality which probably resulted in this legend is that the long beak of the pelican has a sac or pouch which serves a container for the small fish that it feeds is young. In the process of feeding them, the bird presses the sack back against its neck in such a way that it seems to open its breast with its bill. The reddish tinge of its breast plumage and the redness of the tip of its beak prompted the legend that it actually drew blood from its own breast. ]

    So, I guess what I tried to say here is that you seem to have the right idea. Then again, I've never read Hamlet before :)

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