Who Will Rid Me Of This Turbulent Step-Son?

The word “turbulent” occurs only three times in Shakespeare, once in Timon of Athens, once in Pericles, and once in Hamlet, when Claudius asks Rosencrantz and Guildenstern,

And can you by no drift of circumstance
Get from him why he puts on this confusion,
Grating so harshly all his days of quiet
With turbulent and dangerous lunacy?

Claudius is, of course, referring to Hamlet, on whom he has commissioned Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to spy on – to no effect as it transpires.

When Claudius refers to Hamlet‘s apparent condition as a “turbulent and dangerous lunacy,” we are inevitably put in mind of Henry the Second‘s alleged description of Thomas Becket as a “turbulent” priest when he is said to have cried out:

Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?

Henry II, or The Tragedy of Thomas Becket, is one of the great plays that Shakespeare never wrote, perhaps because the subject would have been too much of an ideological and confessional hot potato, but the use of the word “turbulent” in Act III Scene i of Hamlet is surely no accident when we consider that Claudius, like Henry, wants to neutralize a subject who is near him by blood or affection, and yet who is resisting the royal will and therefore becoming unreadable, unpredictable, willful and “dangerous”.

David Hurley