Pelion and Ossa in Hamlet

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (Act 5, Scene 1)

LAERTES: O, treble woe
Fall ten times treble on that cursed head,
Whose wicked deed thy most ingenious sense
Deprived thee of! Hold off the earth awhile,
Till I have caught her once more in mine arms:
[Leaps into Ophelia's grave]
Now pile your dust upon the quick and dead,
Till of this flat a mountain you have made,
To o'ertop old Pelion, or the skyish head
Of blue Olympus.

(....)

HAMLET: 'Swounds, show me what thou'lt do:
Woo't weep? woo't fight? woo't fast? woo't tear thyself?
Woo't drink up eisel? eat a crocodile?
I'll do't. Dost thou come here to whine?
To outface me with leaping in her grave?
Be buried quick with her, and so will I:
And, if thou prate of mountains, let them throw
Millions of acres on us, till our ground,
Singeing his pate against the burning zone,
Make Ossa like a wart!

These references to the gigantomachia in the last act of Hamlet are reinforced by the earlier exchange of Laertes with Claudius:
CLAUDIUS What is the cause, Laertes,
That thy rebellion looks so giant-like?
(Act 4, Scene 5)

Shakespeare's Hamlet, like the gigantomachia, concerns the rights of rulership, of fatherhood and of inheritance as these are fought over between generations. In the end, Hamlet and Laertes kill each other with foils in a denoument recalling the end of the rebellion of the twin Aloadai giants against the gods (when they piled Pelion on Ossa): "Artemis finished off the Aloadai in Naxos by means of a trick: in the likeness of a deer she darted between them, and in their desire to hit the animal they speared each other." (Apollodorus, Library 1.53)

Just before their final duel Hamlet says to Laertes:
Let my disclaiming from a purposed evil
Free me so far in your most generous thoughts,
That I have shot mine arrow o'er the house,
And hurt my brother.
(Act 5, Scene 1)

Later still: "I'll be your foil, Laertes: in mine ignorance...." (Act 5, Scene 1)


July 14, 2004 in Gigantomachia/Titanomachia, Shakespeare | Permalink

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