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Hamlet Scene Summary

Act I

Scene 1

The Battlements of Elsinore Castle. The atmosphere of suspicion and uncertainty is set
with the first words of the play – Barnardo says, “Who’s there?” (1.1) This first line also
sets up the idea of being and seeming. The watch tell Horatio of the ghost, which
explains their fears but also indicates that “Something is rotten in the state of
Denmark.” (1.4) But who is the ghost exactly? “Who’s there?” also sets up the search for
real identity, the truth behind the masks of the characters inhabiting Elsinore.

Scene 2

Claudius opens the scene as King, and sets about showing just what a skilled public
speaker he is. Later we’ll see how this public persona is at odds with his private
thoughts. He carefully speaks of the proper amount of feeling that has been shown in
grief and joy, in King Hamlet’s funeral and his marriage: “In equal scale weighing delight
and dole.” He then turns to the matter of Norway and Fortinbras and shows his skill as a
politician by sending Voltemand and Cornelius to Fortinbras’ uncle to curb his nephew
who has been pestering Claudius for the lands his father lost to King Hamlet. Fortinbras
assumes Denmark to be weakened by the death of King Hamlet – Claudius’ message is
palpably designed to show that the change of king has not weakened Denmark at all.

Claudius then grants Laertes his request to go to France, and assures Hamlet of his
status as heir to the throne of Denmark by calling him “my son” and “the most immediate
to our throne.” He uses these as justification for keeping Hamlet near, rather than
allowing the Prince to return to Wittenberg. All of this shows Claudius as a shrewd, oily
politician whose main aim is understandably securing the ill-gotten throne of Denmark.
He deals with the matter of his marriage following hastily upon the funeral - and how
the public might see this - and the matter of the outside threat of Fortinbras skillfully.

It is only when he tries his ‘kind words’ on Hamlet that he falters and something of his
true nature is revealed. Hamlet’s resistance is embodied in his refusal to get rid of his
mourning clothes, and his insistence that he is a man who is as he seems: “I know not
seems.” Claudius seems somewhat irritated by this and he insults Hamlet for his
“stubbornness” and “unmanly grief.” This shows Claudius is a little rattled as he loses his
‘cool’ and ‘smoothness’ and succumbs to personal attack. You can also take Hamlet’s
funeral garb as a visual reminder of the past, and his continuing grief over it. This grief
is understandable – he’s just lost a father he thinks of as “Hyperion”. The hyperbole
here indicates the extent of Hamlet’s regard, and that his grief matches this is no
surprise.

Set up in this second scene then is the conflict between remembering and forgetting –
Claudius and Gertrude want to forget, and later we see the extent of their feelings of
guilt – but Hamlet remembers.

Indeed, he still feels his loss intensely as indicated in his first soliloquy: “O that this
too, too solid flesh would melt.” Hamlet’s grief is so unbearable it drives him to thoughts
of annihilation, and his anger at the swiftness of his mother’s and uncle’s forgetting is
palpable: “Hyperion to a satyr” and “frailty, thy name is woman.” He also feels intensely
the burden of memory: “Must I remember?” But he cannot deny it like his mother and
uncle are so ready to do, but nor can he speak of it – after all, his uncle already seeks to
obliterate King Hamlet’s memory with oily words of reconciliation, oily because he also
harshly rebukes Hamlet for clinging to the past. Hamlet now knows he lives in a court
with a dissembling king. All is not what it seems, and his agony at how this alienates him
is clear: “But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue.”

Scene 3

This scene focuses on the second family enmeshed in the double standard at the court
of Elsinore. Laertes gives advice to Ophelia, warning her to be careful of her chastity
around Hamlet. His aim is to protect her because “in the morn and liquid dew of
youth/Contagious blastments are most imminent.” His use of the word “contagious” is
portentous in terms of the disease imagery in the play, and his own youth, Ophelia’s and
Hamlet’s prove vulnerable to the “blastments” he refers to. All are a product of the
corruption that spreads from the conflict between remembering and forgetting.

Polonius reveals himself to be somewhat foolish as he in turn gives Laertes advice before
the latter’s departure for France. His ‘eight sentences of advice’ read like a shopping
list from a book of platitudes.

Scene 4

Back on the Battlements of Elsinore. Hamlet awaits the ghost with Horatio and
Marcellus. When the ghost appears Horatio warns Hamlet lest the ghost “draw you into
madness.” He doesn’t realise it as his intention in these words is focused on the
immediate danger, but progressively through the play Hamlet’s memory of the ghost
does push him to the brink.

The Ghost is the manifestation of memory. It is all Hamlet’s suspicions confirmed (“O my
prophetic soul!” [1.5]), and it confirms also that “Something is rotten in the state of
Denmark.” Marcellus’ words are important. A minor character who represents the more
ordinary folk of Elsinore speaks them. People other than Hamlet feel the atmosphere of
wrongness that surrounds King Hamlet’s death. Marcellus indicates that this ghostly
manifestation of memory is a visible sign of disease in the state – it is implied then that
to banish the Ghost is to free Denmark from corruption. It falls to Hamlet to confront
the past, keep it alive as it were, in order to purge Denmark of the disease that infects
the kingdom. Marcellus’ words imply Claudius is the begetter of the disease, because the
ghost is Claudius’ foul deed come back to haunt Elsinore.

Scene 5

Hamlet is alone with the Ghost on the walls of Elsinore Castle. The Ghost commands
Hamlet to “Remember me.” Hamlet’s anguished awareness of the burden of memory
(“Must I remember?”), which in 1.2 was based on his suspicions only, is now reinforced by
the weight of what the Ghost tells him is truth, and the ghost’s insistence that he

in keeping with someone who in 1. meaning that it can get out of control. Hamlet’s suspicions about the Ghost’s true origins have not surfaced yet. and this paranoia breeds surveillance.remember.” At this moment Hamlet. Claudius is shrewd. His concern now is with protecting himself. Revenge is “wild justice” as Bacon puts it. . Act II Scene 1 This scene begins the main thread of Act II – that Elsinore is a world of growing paranoia. And thy commandment all alone shall live/Within the book and volume of my brain.” At the end of Act I Hamlet is a sympathetic character. . and gives his anger justification: “pernicious woman” and “smiling damned villain!” Hamlet swears Horatio and Marcellus to secrecy. At the moment Hamlet is resolved. he does not trust Hamlet. what if the ghost is a devil sent to tempt Hamlet by telling him exactly what he wants to hear? And even if the ghost is who it says it is. His father’s Ghost confirms his suspicions. His last words are not born of arrogance: The time is out of joint: O cursed spite/That ever I was born to set it right.” This is simply Hamlet’s awareness of the burden his father’s Ghost (memory) has placed on him. there is still the matter of revenge – and in this Hamlet seems a reluctant revenger. affirms his remembering. It is easy to feel for his loss.2: “my son”. his own son. it is little surprise that Hamlet is initially moved to take it at its word. Hamlet’s grief is still raw. He says he’ll “wipe away all trivial fond records . However.2 said. things are less certain than they seem to Hamlet at this moment. This impulsive act is understandable in the circumstances. He decides to fight double act with double act. But the ghost’s command that he “revenge his foul and most unnatural murder” is a command fraught with problems. confirmed in his lonely suspicions about his father’s death. This act in itself shows the lie in Claudius’ words of reconciliation to Hamlet in 1. Claudius’ real intent in keeping Hamlet at Elsinore is proved – to have him watched. noble. . It is easy to admire his cunning – the plan to “put an antic disposition on” – and to admire his commitment to putting things right. In scene 1 we see Polonius hiring Reynaldo to go and spy on Laertes. Because the ghost confirms suspicions already present in Hamlet’s mind. yet he accepts the responsibility “to set it right. to understand his grief and the anger he directs at his uncle and mother. “Must I remember?” He sees it as a “curse”. He tells them he will “put an antic disposition on”. sad. and introduces Rosencrantz and Guildenstern who the king has hired to spy on Hamlet. a reluctant ‘hero’ of revenge tragedy. Also. commits himself to the single-minded pursuit of revenge. who rules supreme. He sees his uncle may “smile and smile and be a villain. Scene 2 The scene opens with the king and queen in court.” He cannot trust the king. which he must do doubly because he is the living vessel of memory. of the truth of what happened. He takes up the burden reluctantly. He seeks to control Hamlet by surveillance.

It is both a disguise and a way to vent his grief and anger. The allusion Hamlet makes to “conception” is interpreted by Polonius as proof of Hamlet’s ‘lust’. while playing the role of the ‘mad’ prince also directly and stunningly exposes Rosencrantz and Guildenstern for what they are – spies: “You were sent for”. It says a lot about Claudius that he will stoop as low as hiring former friends of Hamlet to spy on him. is equally applied to himself.2). However. even if in his uncle’s court its actuality angers him. and he fans the ashes of his self-accusation into an inferno against his uncle: . 1.” Claudius and Gertrude then exit. his interpretation says more about his obsessive control of his daughter’s chastity than about Hamlet’s motives. and it is contemptible that his former friends are only too willing to do so for cash. The immediate stimulus for his thoughts is the players. Polonius. and what follows is the famous scene in which we first see Hamlet’s “antic disposition” as he tears Polonius’s affected intectuallism apart. whose passion he compares to his own. “Use every man after his desert. Buoyed with the good news that Fortinbras swears he will never again take arms against Denmark.5. and he finds himself wanting. Hamlet feels shamed that an actor in a play can show more passion for a fictional character than he is able to for revenge in real life. in service to his uncle.” Hamlet’s third soliloquy reveals his thinking since his resolution to fill his mind with revenge in his second soliloquy in 1. His disillusionment with humanity as stated to Polonius 20 lines earlier. and instead intends on attacking Poland. He is able to both play a role and to express his feelings through his “antic disposition”. The way Polonius puts it is crude. and Polonius no doubt thinks he is the height of cleverness when he says: “Though this be madness. Claudius and Gertrude conspire together to watch Hamlet’s reaction to Ophelia when he is out walking. It is also important in that this illustrates how vulnerable Hamlet’s position at court is. Hamlet is then informed of the arrival of the players.“Denmark’s a prison” and “what is this quintessence of dust?” – although each comment he makes also manages to reveal that world weariness we know stems from his burden of memory (refer to notes on first soliloquy. He accuses himself of being “unpregnant of my cause” and “Am I a coward?” He then goes on to turn this self-doubt into a motivating force. Polonius shows Claudius and Gertrude a ‘love letter’ and offers his opinion that Hamlet is mad for love of Ophelia. Soon he melds the art with the actuality in the play “to catch the conscience of the king. Hamlet. as is often true in this play where interpretations reveal more about interpreter.Polonius enters to tell Claudius his ambassadors from Norway are returned. This serves to expose Hamlet’s growing alienation – and all this before he has started any measures of his own at Claudius. Even his former friends might turn on him. and we see his excitement about drama – Hamlet loves the art of acting. Claudius hears of Hamlet’s ‘madness’ from Polonius. and shows a shameless willingness to exploit his daughter to satisfy his own and the king’s and queen’s curiosity: “I’ll loose my daughter to him. (Although he hits the mark. and who shall scape whipping”. yet there is method in’t”. This is further seen when Hamlet is with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Hamlet’s sometimes witty ridicule of the dishonest Polonius can be taken as further evidence of Hamlet’s anger and contempt at the double standards Claudius’ lackeys play at. He plays the stereotypical melancholic . quite by accident).

There. feels an impulse towards self-annihilation – to end all his grief in suicide. Claudius and Polonius hide. and lay the Ghost of the past to rest. more palpably than this. He compares himself to a whore who must “unpack my heart with words” when he is motivated to revenge by “heaven and hell”. which is a result of his past crime. the fact he has to stir himself up shows how far his weariness has set in since his resolution in Act I. he felt “Must I remember?” Now.5 his impulse to revenge has lost impetus on a new wave of uncertainty – what if the ghost is not honest? It is to his credit that in the midst of terrible self-doubt and reluctance he can find the will to plan and to act. and the hideousness of the crime it hides. treacherous. kindless villain! O vengeance!” However. and how these make him vulnerable to “a pleasing shape” his plan is a sensible one. His love of acting as an idea will meld with reality to reveal the truth. He compares the ugliness of his deed to his “most painted word”. The play will show both the king’s guilt. But God’s .2 and 2. there were signs of reluctance – he felt “cursed”.2. Claudius. That he cannot also reveals that memory will not be so easily repressed.5 chokes on self-doubt. and at once also show therefore that the Ghost is honest and not a devil. It seems to follow directly from 1.2 in that it continues his feeling of self-doubt and his struggle with his mission to remember. This aside shows us at last that he cannot entirely deny the past. He asks whether it is more noble to endure the status quo or to take arms against a “sea of troubles” (metaphor for his anguish and despair) – does it take more character to endure the heartache or to act on it? To remember or forget? He again. using Ophelia as bait. Gertrude and the Lords disappear to make way for the conspiracy to proceed as Hamlet enters. This picture of courtly corruption through double standards is further strengthened by Claudius’ first admission of guilt. as in 1. and ends “O heavy burden!” Claudius is fully aware of his deceit. in an aside. Hamlet will have “grounds/More relative than” a Ghost’s word for it. This is what it appears. Act III Scene 1 The Great Hall of Elsinore Castle. Note also the willingness to involve the ‘innocent’ Ophelia who is the willing pawn in the play. a ‘ganging up’ to expose the truth of Hamlet’s ‘madness’ through ‘experimentation’. in order to test Polonius’ theory of Hamlet being ‘mad’ with love. the revenge tragedy hero of 1. Nevertheless.“Remorseless. has widened. even as we try to hide it or distract ourselves from it in lust and drinking (as Claudius also does – in the Zefferelli film the camera shows us the night’s revels as Hamlet looks on all in black). Gertrude. The gulf between the powers that command him. Ophelia and Lords all plot to spy on Hamlet. of conscience. and his feeling of personal inadequacy. He wants the proof of his own eyes. lecherous. and the nastiness of Claudius’ court. Guildenstern. The contrast in cosmic and personal forces is striking – he is like a “whore” but has been commanded by “heaven and hell”. He wants to prove the accuracy of his memory to himself. Polonius. to dispel all doubts – after all it’s the uncertainty about the truth of our memories that adds to the anguish they can give us. in the midst of his self-doubt he gets to thinking – and he hits on the plan to prepare a play to dispel all his doubts. Given Hamlet’s own awareness of his “weakness’ and “melancholy”. Nothing highlights the prince’s alienation. He also feels the burden of memory. Hamlet’s famous fourth soliloquy follows: “To be or not to be”. It is always there. Rosencrantz. Since I.

law and doubt about the “undiscovered country” stop him. Then his thoughts were bound by resolution. His “antic disposition” fools her into believing this is a different prince from the one she knew prior to King Hamlet’s death – and indeed he is. but do we in the audience? His blaming himself is in character. as he accepted. and “Get thee to a nunnery”. we still get glimpses of Hamlet’s “noble mind” in his tender sentiments (“Nymph. if not in quite the ways she imagines. and of the burden of memory. where thought (read for thought. Hamlet sees the temptations of oblivion. Ophelia’s reaction to Hamlet’s display shows her enduring tenderness for him: “Oh what a noble mind is here o’erthrown”. . This reveals a man in touch with his soul deeply. aware of his grief. his acceptance that do what we will as human beings. It is a profoundly human thing to want in the circumstances and reminds us of Hamlet’s loneliness.5. creates both revulsion and pity. On another level we can understand his seemingly cruel behaviour in terms of the spying going on at this time – he puts on an ambiguous display for any would-be watchers. a little too easily. “the readiness is all” (5. He probably does still love her. He feels the world is filled with too much calamity.” Note his use of adjectives here – resolution is “native”. in thy orisons/Be all my sins remembered”) and even in his self-questioning which reveals a moral courage his uncle entirely lacks.2). filled with conscience. for his crisis at the moment is understandable – the burden placed upon him by the ghost is a huge one. another’s prayers. as he cannot say this to Ophelia lest she tell Polonius. This shows us his desire for another’s comfort. We pity Ophelia because she is told by Hamlet that “I loved you not”. In this case he is only “cruel to be kind” as he seeks to remove her from the corrupt world he feels threatened by. both from him and from the wider world of Elsinore. This “noble mind” is still fuelled by intense grief – not a surprise since his father was murdered and he finds out his uncle is the killer! However. but frustrated by it at the same time because conscience makes things more difficult. but his conscience draws him back from the edge – he sees this as “cowardly”. as his tender words at the end of the fourth soliloquy suggest. in 1. self-doubt) is “pale”.” This quiet reaching after another is touching – Ophelia has lost this side of Hamlet as he must protect himself from his uncle’s spies. now they dissipate in doubt and an awareness of the emotional complexity of the issue of memory and identity – for Hamlet is well aware that he is far from perfect: “The fair Ophelia – Nymph. but at the same time we understand Hamlet’s desire to have her safe. as the following events show. Hamlet’s ‘abuse’ of Ophelia. Hamlet is well aware that Ophelia is the willing agent of her father and the king. natural. and he identifies that “the native hue of resolution/Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought. The soliloquy shows us a man painfully aware of his present limitations. while Polonius and the king watch on. in thy orisons/Be all my sins remembered. which at once protects him from being ‘found out’ and allows him to vent his grief once more in bitter jesting. Hamlet is already beginning to see that life and vitality lie in surrendering to action and that thought paralyses. This gives us some indication of the esteem in which she holds Hamlet. This foreshadows his resolution in Act V. sickly and unnatural. Conscience forces him to face life. and to remove her affections from himself because he is aware her attachment to a melancholy ‘revenger’ puts her in danger. even if Hamlet himself does not see this facing up to himself and his dilemma as courage.

Both these interpretations are continuations of Polonius’s and Claudius’s own thoughts – Claudius has had Hamlet watched from the outset.” This shows what a total hypocrite he is. in his fifth soliloquy: “I will speak daggers to her but use none. perceiving him rightly as a threat to the stability of his position. Claudius.” He resolves also to hold on to his ‘nature’ and not become a matricide. However. He develops this idea further with Horatio: “Give him heedful note. Finally. from Claudius’s guilt-stricken aside in 3. frighted with false fire?” Horatio confirms that he too saw the king’s reaction: “I did very well note him. /And after we will both our judgements join/In censure of his seeming. discomforted. let not ever/The soul of Nero enter this firm bosom. and we can sympathise with the rage that accompanies this confirmation. Claudius’s paranoia is spot on. and his sixth soliloquy is his blackest and angriest. He fears Hamlet because Hamlet single-mindedly remembers what Claudius so much wants to forget. and Claudius. Notice how Hamlet connects seeing with truth here. as he will also do in 3.” The play appears to have succeeded in confirming the ghost is a true one: “I’ll take the Ghost’s word for a thousand pound. but cannot repent and surrender his ill-gotten throne. Polonius appears to tell Claudius Hamlet is on his way to his mother. He then hatches his plan to send Hamlet to England to be rid of him. Hamlet then enters on his way to his mother. but he will not kill her: “O heart. Scene 2 This scene picks up on Hamlet’s plan in 2. /For mine eyes will rivet to his face. and he says he’ll spy on what proceeds between them. it smells to heaven”. He resolves to start with his mother. This reveals his greed exceeds his piety – he simply hopes he may be forgiven and keeps the throne: “All may be well. and therefore the demons it raised for Claudius. lose not thy nature.4 with Gertrude. that the Ghost is true. to strengthen the proof.” Horatio is to bear witness also.” He resolves to confront her with the unpleasant truth. The play proceeds.The using of Ophelia as bait reveals the success of Hamlet’s ambiguous “antic disposition” – Polonius still believes his ‘madness’ is the product of “neglected love” while Claudius sees it as “There’s something in his soul/O’er which his melancholy sits on brood”. This is not surprising as he is still new-fired by the confirmation of his uncle’s guilt revealed by the play. . and Polonius from the outset has seen Hamlet’s ‘madness’ as caused by love. rises to leave calling for light. Now. as he is fully aware his “offence is rank.2 to meld acting with reality to trap “the conscience of the king”. Both interpret Hamlet’s act according to their own fears – Claudius for his position and Polonius for his daughter’s chastity.1. which is significant on a symbolic level as light banishes the shadowy play. prays for forgiveness. Claudius looks very agitated and pale as he stumbles from his throne. alone. all that remains is Hamlet’s resolution for revenge.” In the Zefferelli film. And we already know. Hamlet’s memory is vindicated. Hamlet reacts with glee: “What. Scene 3 Claudius plots with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to send Hamlet to England.

opens himself to just this kind of casual cruelty. Hamlet. intruding fool. We can understand why it happens. Hamlet asks his mother what on earth could possess her to marry Claudius. farewell. memory that since the play scene has been confirmed in Hamlet’s mind as fact. and from the cloying environment he has had to endure since his uncle started his campaign of surveillance to bind Hamlet. Of course. and you could argue it is his own eagerness to ‘poke his nose in’ that undoes him. These two actions thus are a continuation of the pent up anger he finally releases in the justification he feels the play has given him by its confirming the truth of the Ghost. in giving way to righteous rage. spontaneous act of violence. “is it the king?” but it is only the king’s spy. However. the conscience of his mother. and shows the kind of “wild justice” revenge is.” Gertrude sees her imperfections: “there I see such black and grained spots/As will not leave their tinct. was she blind: “what judgement/Would step from this to this?” His “glass/Where you may see the inmost part of you” works: “Thou turn’st my eyes into my very soul. to crush his potential as a threat to his throne. given what his uncle has done and given how his uncle has treated him (constant spying etc). good mother. will be the mirror.” This is Hamlet’s “You go not till I set you up a glass/Where you may see the inmost part of you. Hamlet asks. Polonius risked himself by spying here. First. Scene 4 In this scene Hamlet kills Polonius in a brutal. The rage Hamlet feels and his desire to relish Claudius’s damnation are an expression of the revenger re-awakened in Hamlet. From Hamlet’s sixth soliloquy where he wishes to make sure Claudius is damned forever it is easy to see what mood he is in.” Up until this point we have not been able to tell just how much Gertrude knows about the murder of King Hamlet. while he is praying. Hamlet does spare a moment for the pitiful Polonius. /As kill a king and marry with his brother. is he revenged? Does this satisfy the Ghost’s idea of revenge? This is unclear in Hamlet’s mind. They are also a release-valve for his burden of memory. We see it again in Laertes’ extreme rage in Act 4. in his righteous fury. his murder of Polonius is the tragic result of a spontaneous act of violence. It would be fair to say that here Hamlet’s grief spills over into blackest anger – however. Hamlet now relentlessly exposes his anger at her for so quickly betraying the memory of the father he worshipped: “Here is your husband. However. like a mildewed ear/Blasting his wholesome brother. Hamlet’s extreme hubris at this point stems from grief. but here Hamlet is at his nadir – this is simply the tragic result of excessive anger spilling over into wanton violence. and confronts his mother with the truth of her deeds. but his desire to see his uncle’s soul condemned to Hell is also the play’s most overt demonstration of Hamlet’s rage. He is dutiful in that he wants his revenge to be thorough.Hamlet asks himself if his uncle’s soul goes to heaven if he kills him now.” Hamlet. rash.” Claudius is the disease that destroyed King Hamlet. Gertrude is right when she exclaims: “what a rash and bloody deed is this!” Hamlet immediately pounces on this in his “wild justice” and turns it around on her: “A bloody deed? Almost as bad. one can still make sense of this anger.” . and his words show momentary compassion if not repentance: “Thou wretched.

and that she has acknowledged (“black and grained spots”) can be ascribed to his ‘madness’. making things worse. and is true to her word as in 4. The Ghost’s reappearance certainly invites more questions than answers. One can understand. but it does provide fine drama – in the midst of Hamlet’s tirade to his mother the ghost enters and Hamlet appears to be responding to thin air to a bewildered Gertrude. Hamlet has sought the truth from the outset. mining all within. but worse remains behind. rather than Claudius’s.5) Gertrude. Is it any wonder Hamlet desperately assures her he is in his right mind? Also. “something rotten”. Hardly is Claudius even established on his throne when he is organizing spies to watch Hamlet. to Hamlet. and be a villain.” Healing can then begin. despite his oily “my son”. and smile. After the reappearance of the Ghost Hamlet is desperate to assure her he is not mad: “Lay not that flattering unction on your soul. been suspicious of appearances with good reason.” If Gertrude can convince herself Hamlet is mad – “This is the very coinage of your brain” – then all of what Hamlet has confronted her with. which is a place of conniving. forgetting is simply covering up.” (I. She agrees. /Stewed in corruption. his argument shows his understanding of the results of denying the truth of the past – it will “but skin and film the ulcerous place”. Forgetting is lying to oneself regarding the truth. it doesn’t make the past go away. lies and spies: “that one may smile. (1. the rot spreads unseen beneath the surface. and to repent: “Thus bad begins. Hamlet says the combination of the Ghost’s appearance and plea for justice would make even stones feel .” Not for the first time Hamlet associates forgetting with animals – pigs here (“nasty sty”). to become less than human. It is tragic therefore that Hamlet subsequently feels he must threaten his mother into silence (194-7). Claudius’ denial of his sin has bred literal corruption in the court. In the light of this brilliant disease metaphor his confrontation becomes the anguished pleading of a son to his mother to end the alienation and lies. /That not your trespass but my madness speaks. Hamlet reveals in this gross but stunning image. Some small measure of reconciliation is hinted at with Gertrude’s “O Hamlet.Hamlet drills her with more images of disease and rottenness: “the rank sweat of an enseamed bed. is to debase your human nature. Does he want his mother to remember so he can respect her again. /It will but skin and film the ulcerous place. going along with it all. Forgetting. at least between them. In other words. Early on even Marcellus feels “something is rotten in the state of Denmark” because of what the ghost presages. and the court becomes a place of dishonesty. thou hast cleft my heart in twain” and “What must I do?” In her despair she is willing to surrender herself to her son’s keeping. /Whiles rank corruption. is complicit by association if not deed. Instead. a desperate need for catharsis based on mutual sharing with his mother of the sins of the past. given his quest for the truth of his memory why he has such contempt for the act of forgetting.1 she deceives Claudius about the extent of Hamlet’s ‘madness’ in order to try and protect him in regard to the murder of Polonius. Hamlet “must be cruel only to be kind” because he sees that in continuing to try to forget the past only lies and deceit result. honeying and making love/Over the nasty sty.2) This makes the atmosphere at Elsinore increasingly paranoid. /Infects unseen. so there can be reconciliation? The extreme imagery he uses smacks of desperate alienation.

On the other hand. Claudius’s and Gertrude’s relationship. Just as Hamlet perceives Claudius as a “canker” (cancer) spreading corruption through Denmark. This feeling is consistent with his self-doubt and his awareness of the burden of memory in his soliloquies of 2.1). been indulging Hamlet’s liberty as generously as he claims here. in regard to Hamlet. Claudius has also begun using disease imagery.” (3. but she is protecting her son who has just slain Polonius and spoken slanders against the king. but we must not forget the rottenness began with Claudius. we know from 3. that it hides “something in his soul” (3. . Claudius’s claim that he has indulged Hamlet’s “liberty” far too long out of “love” is straight hypocrisy – his ‘love’ is soon to be expressed by ordering Hamlet’s murder: “Do it England. to be replaced by caution and deceit.” (4.” In other words Gertrude will keep the truth hidden. and Gertrude’s private anguish in response. so Claudius views Hamlet as a “foul disease” infecting “even the pith of life”. As she says in 3. Claudius is the cancer. The central metaphor of the play is predominantly used by its ‘hero’ and ‘villain’ and to a certain degree both are right. . preaching to stones/Would make them capable. Gertrude says Hamlet is “Mad as the sea and wind”.1. The ghost that Marcellus takes as the palpable evidence of rottenness in the state is a product of Claudius’s foul murder.pity: “His form and cause conjoined. Gertrude’s inability to see the Ghost may indicate her moral blindness – she cannot see it because it is the memory she seeks to forget. is at least part show – Gertrude plays here the distraught mother and Claudius the supportive husband. as it is the visible manifestation of a terrible memory. weigh on Hamlet to the extent that he sees its overwhelming aspect as too much to bear if he is to carry on. Hamlet’s disease that makes Claudius feel so uncomfortable is a product of Claudius himself – Hamlet is right. Claudius and Gertrude’s marriage is full of dishonesty.1) He has hardly. we now know what guilt lies beneath this veneer of happy couples – both have expressed their burden of guilty memory.3) Also. even if Hamlet has become infected.” The Ghost’s power over Hamlet is palpable.1 that Claudius has been suspicious about the true nature of Hamlet’s “antic disposition”. built as it is on murder. Act IV Scene 1 Gertrude’s private room. now become dissembling in the presence of Claudius. However. She appears to accept Hamlet’s explanation that he is not mad in 3. She herself called his action “rash” and “bloody” but never did she call it mad until now. he is filled with anger and darkness in 3.4: “I have no life to breathe/What thou has said to me. Claudius in his aside and Gertrude in her private room with her raging son. therefore. In other words.” Hamlet’s brooding and potential for rage do threaten the stability of Claudius’s reign. She dissembles to Claudius – gone is the brutal honesty and anguish of 3.3 especially: “Now I might do it pat .” Its presence torments Hamlet who begs it turn away its gaze lest it weaken his impulse for revenge: “Do not look upon me/Lest with this piteous action you covert/My stern effects. The pity and fear it invokes. The rottenness in Denmark has spread to Hamlet. That’s why he has had Hamlet watched: “Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.4. .4 and is ready to trust his advice: “What shall I do?” Now she tells Claudius Hamlet killed Polonius out of madness. The very private anguish shown by Hamlet.2 and 3.

especially as he does it consciously. 3. Hamlet follows it up with “seek him i’th’other place yourself”. and shows us at the same time his willingness to be extreme: “Diseases desperate grown/By desperate appliance are relieved. and back into the face of Claudius. lose not thy nature” (3. It is Hamlet’s deliberate flouting of the king’s authority. The worms are “politic” because they infiltrate the body in the same way as Polonius has insinuated his way into Hamlet’s privacy.7) This reveals Claudius for what he is. Claudius “knows no bounds.2) and “I will speak daggers to her but use none.” . Death makes no distinctions. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern pursue Hamlet for the whereabouts of Polonius’s body. not just have him watched. and exposing through clever pun and metaphor the nature of the corruption in Elsinore more intensely than before. by Hamlet’s joking about the worms’ progress through Polonius’s body. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are simply a reflection of the king’s desires.” (4. limits that he tries to set on himself. Claudius then hatches a plan to ‘cure’ the ‘disease’ of Hamlet. They are on the king’s business. Claudius then cannot obviously attack the prince because it would make his own position more precarious. This makes Hamlet’s flagrant flouting of Claudius’s authority even more grating – the people still love him.2) Hamlet’s revenge knows limits. he at least shows conscience. Why has Hamlet taken Polonius’s corpse? Firstly it continues his “antic disposition” and secondly he is trying to get at Claudius. He combines an image of corruption (“worms”) with the word “politic” to link the rottenness in Denmark with its court of spies (Polonius). Claudius is further convinced of the need to rid himself of Hamlet. in other words ‘go to Hell’. a man willing to break with his better nature (we do see he feels remorse in the Chapel scene. A very dangerous man indeed.” (3. Hamlet is growing bolder. The implicit threat here is obvious. it is the great leveler. nastier (a reflection of the anger we see in him in 3. when he wanted the kingdom and lusted for his brother’s wife he murdered for it.3) and use murder to get what he wants.” He is now attacking Claudius directly.3 and 3. Scene 3 We learn from Claudius how uncomfortable he feels: “How dangerous is it that this man goes loose.” He then refers to Hamlet’s enduring popularity with the common folk of Elsinore. Scene 2 A corridor in the castle.” The extremity of Claudius’s solutions is in character. Hamlet describes Rosencrantz through metaphor to a sponge that “soaks up the king’s countenance”.4) in his “antic disposition. After all. Even if we don’t condone Hamlet’s actions. Here Hamlet taunts Claudius by stressing corruption (“worms”) feeds on both beggars and kings. Contrast Claudius’s lack of boundaries with Hamlet: “O heart. Hamlet throws their king-sanctioned authority back in their faces. He later tells Laertes: “revenge should have no bounds.

is partly why he berates himself so much for his indecision. he sees cause and effect. . .4 as “Bestial oblivion. infinite in faculties” (2. Scene 4 The sea coast near Elsinore. He wants to get rid of the ‘disease’ Hamlet to cure himself: “England . forgetting. It is harder to be decisive if you are aware of cause and effect. Harold Bloom says Hamlet is not the tragedy of a man who thinks too much. It appears Hamlet as a disease mainly afflicts Claudius.2). but surely desirable in a human being.” Hamlet’s contempt for forgetfulness is again associated with animals. Note: denying the past.2). Life becomes the day to day business of self-avoidance.So. Hamlet can act impulsively (and disastrously). Fortinbras seeks permission from Claudius to traverse Denmark on his way to war with the Poles. The soliloquy is consistent with his previous ones. of course.” Nasty. in that it shows a man of deep thought. This shows how low he thinks forgetting is – it is to become sub- human. However. This shows us Claudius’s selfishness. There is little awareness of cause and effect here. of pretending everything is all right. is an attempt to be rid of the burden of conscience – by forgetting. who admires the intellect. such a person may cease to be conscious of this process even though their life is dominated by it. but the tragedy of a man who thinks much too well. at odds with the very faculty he exhalts because it is thought that leads to ‘cowardice’. the guilt you feel over past actions can be postponed.” Hamlet wants to get rid of the ‘disease’ Claudius in order to cure the whole state: “And is’t not to be damned/To let this canker of our nature come/In further evil?” (5. It is our capacity for thought that raises us above what he describes in 4. Hamlet contemplates forgetting here.” Claudius consciously packs Hamlet away to be killed. this awareness is a hallmark of conscience – a weakness in a revenger. while still saying he is “Thy loving father. Compare this to Hamlet who sees Claudius as the source of the corruption in the whole of Denmark.2) Whatever we think of murder and revenge Hamlet is motivated in the end by more than just a personal desire for ‘satisfaction’. More light is thrown on Claudius’s feeling that Hamlet is a disease: “For like the hectic in my blood he rages. as he did in his “To be or not to be” soliloquy.” Claudius feels infected by Hamlet’s defiance. This. and filled with a melancholy and weakness he is fully aware of (see 2. Earlier he described human beings as the “paragon of animals” because they are: “noble in reason . Claudius orders Hamlet to England. even as he spurns it in the phrasing he employs: “Now whether it be/Bestial . I agree. This also perpetuates the guilt. However. maybe. and turns you into a person who is not what they seem as they must continually disguise the ‘truth’ about their guilt to prevent others from finding out. . and his jests can be cruel – he isn’t perfect. thou must cure me. the inaction Hamlet feels dishonours him. . he also thinks beyond himself. Hamlet responds with a glib: “Good” but also hints at his suspicions when he says: “I see a cherub that sees them. Eventually. Hamlet arrives on his way to England and in his seventh soliloquy he compares the warmonger Fortinbras’s actions to his own pursuit of revenge. he’s human.

However. and the specter of memory in the form of his father’s Ghost.” Hamlet feels shamed by his inaction. Initially Gertrude refuses to see Ophelia.” He will become a man of violence. Ophelia goes mad. thinking makes you a coward. Forgetting is to become bestial.2) This smacks of resignation – the man of thought feels himself forced to take up the mantle of revenger. . which he despises. It is implied by what follows that Hamlet associates courage with action. He is caught between the temptation to forget./Excitements of my reason and my blood. Scene 5 The Great Hall of Elsinore Castle. even though he has contemplated where it might lead: “Now I could drink hot blood. a simile for how easily they are willing to die “for a fantasy and trick of fame”. and his capacity to think. even though he sees the futility of it. /And do such bitter business as the day/Would quake to look on” [3. they die for “a trick of fame. of action. Hamlet comes to dwell again on his feeling of shame at the end of the soliloquy – he sees Fortinbras leading twenty thousand men who “Go to their graves like beds”. sensitivity to the consequences of violence and an obligation to fulfill his honour and exorcise the Ghost through that same violence. but note his awareness that the deaths of Fortinbras’s soldiers are futile.” (3. A fitting comment on . Gertrude then makes her aside. a man who is reluctant to act because he sees how disastrous that might prove (“Now could I drink hot blood. As a mirror to us. in being a man of violence. Gertrude makes an important aside. a mother stained. This scene is important for three reasons. or some craven scruple/Of thinking too precisely on th’event”. and Laertes returns. /And do such bitter business as the day/Would quake to look on. /My thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth. which is becoming a war in that it is kill or be killed (“Do it England”). his feeling torn between oblivion and thought and his aversion to both because the first is bestial and the second craven. Hamlet is being ripped apart by the battle between remembering and forgetting.” At the same time as he berates himself for holding back he also sees the senseless waste of life in leading men to war. lurking behind it all is his increasing political power struggle with Claudius. and he asks: “How stand I then. / That have a father killed. The content in this last major soliloquy follows from the previous ones – we have a man who is tempted to forget but refuses to lower himself to the level of the animals. in which she expresses guilt and fears: “Each toy seems prorogue to same great amiss. Hamlet shows just what a bunch of contradictory impulses a human being can become.2] – note the qualifiers “could” and “would” here: Hamlet is imagining the possibilities. and in terrifying personification predicting the consequences). Yet Hamlet resolves that “from this time forth.oblivion. . given how torn he has become in his circumstances we can empathise with his feeling impelled to commit himself to some course. but a man who feels a coward for not acting. He says that Ophelia may help spread bad rumours about the court of Elsinore./And let all sleep . a quality he has shown admiration for but also despises because it makes action difficult. She agrees to see her only on Horatio’s advice. Anything to escape his feeling of shame.” Every small thing leads to great misfortune. And don’t forget. Hamlet feels trapped because he feels a seemingly equal contempt for forgetting and for “thinking too precisely” which he describes as “craven”.

” Not for Laertes the drawn out ‘testing’ of a revenge-prompting Ghost’s genuineness. Hamlet is right in seeing Claudius as the cancer – himself. Both families end up destroyed. and unlike Hamlet he is all too ready to “dare damnation. Hamlet was also enraged at women in general because of his mother’s willingness to forget. The sins of two people ripple out to affect. Claudius. and her presence also shows us “something is rotten in the state of Denmark. “Let come what comes. would not have happened if he hadn’t been spying. Which revenger do we prefer. hell itself. It reminds her that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” In her words can be seen the immediate cause of her sickness – her father’s death and Hamlet’s abandonment of her.” (1. It is Laertes. haunting the castle. Also.” Elsinore feels at this time in the play like a sinking ship. was also a result of his “antic disposition” to protect himself from this environment of surveillance. Throughout the play Gertrude is a person intent on satisfying the desires of the moment. only I’ll be revenged”. /You promised me to wed. upon returning to Elsinore. Perhaps her initially not wanting to see Ophelia is that then Gertrude must face a living manifestation of the wrongness in the court of Denmark. the other members of the two most important families in Denmark. It takes Hamlet four Acts to get to this point. speak of a person who feels her “sick soul” but does not wish to face that sickness in others.” What a hypocrite. and we can trace back the start of these symptoms to Claudius’s cover-up through the traditional methods of a police state – surveillance. passion. Laertes are the tumors that result from this cancer. while deplorable. and her reluctance to see Ophelia. The extent to which she was complicit in the plot to murder Claudius. but Hamlet’s anger was a consequence of Claudius’s and his mother’s actions. Remember. struggling for the helm with Hamlet. and it is this personality trait which kills her in the end as her sudden impulse to drink Hamlet’s health leads to her poisoning. Ophelia is a victim of Hamlet’s anger. This would be in keeping with her tendency to forget. Hamlet’s treatment of Ophelia. and satisfy her pleasure in incest. Laertes says. She is a “document in madness” entirely different from Hamlet’s “antic disposition”. if we look harder another obsession appears in her riddles – that is broken trust: “How should I your true love know/From another one?” and “Before you tumbled me. and how much she realises about it. /She turns to favour and to prettiness. is ever the correct politician in public. He shows appropriate sadness at Ophelia’s state. When she sings “He is dead and gone” she might be referring to either. a reluctant one or an eager one? Laertes’ language in describing Ophelia demonstrates the hysteria and heightened sense of despair engulfing Elsinore: “Thought and affliction. Polonius’ murder.5) Ophelia is the growing illness and hysteria in the court of Denmark made manifest. Ophelia. her expression of guilt here.the growing corruption in the court of Elsinore. However. and then he is calm and contemplative about it rather than incensed. She is undone by spontaneous self-indulgence. “this is the poison of deep grief”. Unlike Hamlet he needs no prompting Ghost. The “poison of deep . who cries revenge: “I dare damnation. spies and lies. as Hamlet is ‘dead’ to her. and is reasonable and calm in his dealing with the threat of Laertes’ rage: “Why now you speak/Like a good child and a true gentlemen. she has been let down and is now unhinged.” Ophelia has lost her father and Hamlet. She is a symptom of what is happening at Elsinore. however rash. is not made clear.” Just like Hamlet he is angered by his father’s murder and wants revenge. one by one. She too is a kind of ghost. However.

For it has become a war insomuch as war is kill or be killed. fortune. in keeping with his lack of consideration of consequences. even if he sometimes acts with impulsive violence (the murder of Polonius). . Laertes. Scene 6 Horatio reads a letter from Hamlet with two pieces of important information on it. Hamlet places boundaries on his revenge at least in his thoughts (“I will speak daggers to her but use none”). Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are more casualties in the war between Hamlet and Claudius. he is there because of Laertes’ desire for revenge and Claudius’s desire to see Hamlet dead. Claudius’s more traditional rules for revenge – that there are none – ends the play in a bloodbath. forethought and action combine in a victory over Claudius’s machinations. Here we see Hamlet the man of action – resolute in his impulsiveness./It warms the very sickness in my heart. A messenger arrives telling him Hamlet will present himself “to see your kingly eyes”. at least in principle (he doesn’t expect Hamlet to come back). is eager at the news of Hamlet’s return (he did not know that Hamlet was not supposed to return and that Claudius up to this point is simply ‘drawing him on side’): “But let him come . And that someone else happens to be the very person he was supposed to kill.” Claudius ends the scene again all too ready to murder. a game Claudius knows well. becomes a victim of Claudius’s poison. For Hamlet has exchanged the letter Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were bearing – “Do it England” – so that it is his two betraying ‘friends’ that will be executed upon their arrival in Britain. in the end. like Laertes and Gertrude. This is manipulation. secondly. for a father that Claudius himself killed! His flattery of Laertes is simply a means of seeing him honour his desire for revenge on Hamlet. and with Hamlet still alive and in Denmark. It is very ironic that Hamlet. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. let the great axe fall. The pirates took him prisoner and are returning him to Denmark. Scene 7 Claudius continues his fanning of the flames of Laertes’ thirst for revenge. and he has already so kindly offered his support to Laertes’ thirst for violence. dies as a victim of someone else’s revenge plot. His action was a violent one – “my thoughts be bloody” – but also clever.grief” is in Hamlet too. whose thoughts have been so troubled by revenge through the play. what would you undertake/To show yourself in deed your father’s son.” This satisfies Claudius: “Revenge should have no bounds. Hamlet.” Claudius intensifies Laertes’ resolve by playing on his sense of duty (honour) to his father: “Hamlet comes back. Claudius turns even more to Laertes as the instrument of Hamlet’s demise. are still bound for England on the original ship. Hamlet is flawed. His plans foiled. The first is that he’s headed home to Denmark after single-handedly boarding a pirate ship that attacked his ship bound for England. Laertes is a gentleman if he follows his course of revenge "And where th’offence is. Thus.” Laertes replies with: “to cut his throat i’th’church. Hamlet is not at the duel to kill Claudius and get revenge.” This exchange touches off the ultimate irony in the play. the literal poison and the metaphorical poison Claudius has spread from his cup of murder. but thinks about consequences.

The existential absurdity of death comes through palpably here. Here we see that Hamlet has not lost his enjoyment of wit as he puns on the word “fine”: “Is this the fine of his fines and the recovery of his recoveries. His extremity is in keeping with a man willing to “dare damnation” (4. The joking of the two clowns about death fits in with one of the play’s wider concerns – human mortality. . tenderness that results from remembering the dead. Note here how Ophelia’s flowers become weeds – “weedy trophies” – another symbol of the growth of corruption through the play. The scene as a whole is a meditation on human mortality. leaping into the grave and using big allusions as hyperbole: “Now pile your dust upon the quick and dead/Till of this flat a mountain you have made/T’o’ertop old Pelion or the skyish head/Of blue Olympus. In the end Hamlet is torn away by the progression of events. or as somewhat gestural and therefore artificial. his deceit – he lies to his wife regarding Laertes: “how much I had to do to calm his rage. This can be seen as the extremity of his grief. which is immature. At the same time the memory of Yorick repels him because of what he has become – a skull: “he hath borne me on his back a thousand times – and now how abhorred in my imagination it is!” This exclamation shows how a pleasant childhood memory can be tainted when we are faced with our own mortality. foreshadows the slaughter to come which results from the corruption in the state fed by Claudius’s dangerous “revenge should have no bounds” (4. Hamlet shows tenderness for the dead jester. the tone alters here. his father’s court jester. It’s perfectly possible to see it as both. are swallowed in the end by death: “Alexander died. our identities. This mutability is perhaps best illustrated by the play’s biggest irony – Hamlet turns up to fight a duel and ends up dead as the result of another’s thirst for revenge.The scene ends with Gertrude’s telling of Ophelia’s drowning. memory. to have his fine pate full of fine dirt. Implicit here is that all our memories. . However. The setting is important. Laertes is trying to prove the extremity of his grief.” He was in fact doing the opposite. Act V Scene 1 A graveyard near the castle. death is the only end. as Ophelia’s funeral procession arrives. The graveyard scene shows the burial of Ophelia move from pathos to the absurd. Here the characters’ different attitudes to grieving are exposed. Hamlet is prompted to dwell on this by the Gravedigger’s casual tossing of skulls from his digging.” Hamlet reflects that in spite of all a lawyer’s legal documents entitling him to land. pile dirt on Ophelia’s grave until there’s a mound the size of the mountain home of the Greek gods there. Alexander was buried. Laertes is over-the-top. and grief. although this brooding continues when the skull is that of Yorick. Physically it illustrates the nearness of death to us all. It illustrates the proximity of death/human mortality to the lives of those occupying Elsinore. Claudius’s closing words are again indicative of his hypocrisy. reflecting the jests that begin the act between the two clowns. “ Horatio warns Hamlet away from such brooding. to no avail.4) for revenge.” In other words. . Alexander returneth to dust .7). It brings together these key threads of the play.

His emotion then causes him to spill over into similar extreme hyperbole and gesture. Claudius says Hamlet’s actions are mad but in 3. He is not to be outdone. and most recently in his plot with Laertes. and is actually planning to do. This is not ‘madness’. on the other hand.” She recalls her hopes that Hamlet might have married her. Hamlet’s ‘madness’ in 5. Her words here are interesting. during Act IV Hamlet made his danger to Claudius increasingly obvious: “seek him i’th’other place yourself. as the pair fight over (or in) Ophelia’s grave. So we must suspect Claudius’s simplistic “he is mad” as Claudius himself suspects the ‘madness’ hides something else in Hamlet. This echoes 3. These swings are typical of a melancholic character.1 is prompted by his grief and rage. He grieves for Ophelia and is enraged at what he sees as Laertes’ overdone grief.” The funeral becomes an absurd competition between Laertes and Hamlet over whose grief is more real. Is Hamlet’s behaviour a continuation of his “antic disposition” coupled with his anger and grief: “Yet have I in me something dangerous”? The wrestling match is fine drama.Gertrude. and plots to have him removed. and his grief and rage at it.1 he suspects his ‘madness’ hides “something in his soul”. too: “I loved Ophelia. Interestingly. Claudius calls it madness but again calls for Hamlet to be watched at the act’s end: “Gertrude. and are consistent with Hamlet’s behaviour throughout the play. and increases the tension between Hamlet and Laertes before their duel.” The burial of Ophelia raises many questions. Gertrude echoes him: “This is mere madness.3) Claudius then decided to kill him. We might also contrast his anxious. Perhaps they reflect increasing understanding of her son. is more restrained and dignified: “Sweets to the sweet. Claudius is silent except for “Oh he is mad Laertes”. We must suspect his order to have Hamlet watched is a stopgap until the time that he and Laertes can act. Hamlet is prone to such hyperbole. There is more going on behind the public façade – suspicions about what Hamlet’s ‘madness’ hides. perhaps she is continuing her . but its context gives it an absurdity which somewhat insults the memory of Ophelia which Gertrude so tenderly evoked with her flowers.” (4. Dramatically it serves to show us that Hamlet is still prone to ‘outbursts’ of extreme feeling. set some watch over your son”. After all. first through his failed plot with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. he’s way beyond simply watching Hamlet now – he’s having him watched and planning to kill him. but extreme emotion boiling over. farewell. forty thousand brothers/Could not with all their quantity of love/make up my sum. and her gesture of scattering flowers on the grave hearkens back to an earlier time of innocence.1: “Madness in great ones must not unwatched go. a contrast to his melancholic brooding over Yorick’s skull earlier in the scene.” However. We know this from the soliloquies.” This something is his knowledge of Claudius’s crime. However.1 by referring to “I have in me something dangerous. contemplative “To be or not to be” soliloquy with his ranting at Gertrude. And what of Gertrude and Claudius’s remarks that Hamlet is mad? Let’s put it all in context. Hamlet’s grief is obvious – he is offended by Laertes’ too prettified woe: “What is he whose grief/Bears such an emphasis?” Hamlet suspects Laertes’ grief because it is too strongly emphasized. Claudius’s public declarations and orders are an oversimplified version of what he actually suspects. which is ongoing. Hamlet himself alludes to this in 5. Gertrude’s calling Hamlet ‘mad’ also can be explained.

” We must prepare ourselves for death – this is our lifelong mission and all that really matters. Hamlet asks: “is’t not perfect conscience/To quit him with this arm? And is’t not to be damned/To let this canker of our nature come/In further evil?” Hamlet is as speculative as ever – and even if he’s rhetorical here. and counter-plots. Should Claudius. It brings together two sons’ extremity of grief and rage and the corrupt political environment in a place of death. His attitude to death has become one of stoic acceptance. the fact he has to ask Horatio “Does it not. the “canker” (cancer) be allowed to spread his corruption further? Hamlet wonders if it is “perfect conscience” to “quit him” because of the damage he might spread in this world.4 to say nothing and protect him. His frame of reference for revenge has enlarged – he gives five reasons for revenge here: because Claudius killed Hamlet’s father.promise in 3. Remember she lied to Claudius in 4. stand me now upon” shows yet again his reluctance and uncertainty regarding revenge that has dogged him through the play. think thee. especially in Elsinore where words are weapons used to hide the truth. a marked change from his from now on “my thoughts be bloody” (4. Right from the opening of the scene he says: “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends.1. took his mother to bed. Hamlet is saying.1 who felt disgust at what Yorick had become. pushed in front of Hamlet’s own claim to the throne. The Stoics believed in patience and preparedness. /Rough hew them how we will – “. Whatever we do. Hamlet wonders if it’s a bigger sin to let Claudius live to cause more harm. the two revengers. Hamlet shows he despises Osric’s affected language and manner by making up. Hamlet refers here to Christian patience. Is Gertrude showing awareness that Hamlet’s fits subside readily and then he is harmless? Or is she saying that he’s ‘mostly harmless’ to protect him from how Claudius might react to his ‘madness’? Certainly the latter explanation fits with her resolve to protect her son in 3. They reveal that such terms cannot always be taken at face value. then she compares him to becoming as meek as a dove with new chicks. It combines the ingredients and hints at the end for this tragic mixing. This is a change from Hamlet only a scene ago in 5. “inventorially”=as . 5. forces beyond our control shape our ends: “the readiness is all. Here she says: “awhile the fit shall work in him”. the tone is not one of full certainty. words (“definement”=definition. The balanced Horatio agrees. However.4 and her demonstration of that resolve in 4. to the suspect nature of the court of Elsinore with its watchers. Hamlet’s fate is in the hands of ‘divinity’ – or in non-Christian terms you might say chance. in lines 106-112. is plotting against Hamlet’s life and might yet cause further evil in the state. As for revenge. Osric’s appearance to invite Hamlet to the duel serves to highlight Hamlet’s admirable qualities – Shakespeare builds up our admiration for the doomed prince so that we might feel his loss more intensely. Scene 2 This scene shows us Hamlet’s development from “bloody” thoughts (4.1 about Hamlet’s murder of Polonius being an act of madness to protect him.1 moves from human mortality to the open wounds of Laertes and Hamlet. The above brandings of Hamlet as ‘mad’ are then much more than what they seem.4) to stoic acceptance of the mutability of life. and provoke it into revealing itself.4). its hidden plots.

Osric. Even Horatio calls Osric: “This lapwing runs away with the shell on his head”. Horatio. and from cup to Gertrude and himself. Yay. Certainly in the play rushing is often a result of passions running into extremes. dies due to revenge. it is his actions which prove most damaging – to Ophelia especially.an inventory/list). it was not part of his “antic disposition” which he appears to have abandoned. but not directly here because of his own obsession with it. The pathos of the ending is tempered by our knowledge that Hamlet was coming to accept that “the readiness is all. His reluctance. and all of Hamlet’s least admirable moments in the play are a product of his acting on his thoughts of vengeance. More than that. events spiral out of control. The “fanned and winnowed opinions” are the wise. supported by Horatio. Hamlet goes on to say. revenging sons and incestuous mother. and accepts that events move beyond our control. and this justifies Hamlet’s new view that no matter what we do some outcomes seem due to ‘divinity’ or events beyond our control. Osric is a representative of Elsinore’s fashionable society who will outlive people like Hamlet. even if these two are reacting to Hamlet’s own misdeeds in his pursuit of revenge. Note also Hamlet’s regrets about his behaviour towards Laertes in the graveyard: “But I am very sorry. in the play’s biggest irony. carefully considered opinions that people like Osric simply ignore. appears to make him more heroic than his often awful actions. using pompous phrases (“the verity of extolment”=the truth of praising) and repeating himself (“a soul of great article”=the list of his attributes is too long). This is a sincere expression of regret. Both families. It’s already been stated how Claudius. therefore. is typical of the flock of frothy. and . murdering uncle.” This was progress. certainly not the statement of a madman. and Hamlet’s reasons for despising him are good ones. In this last one he proves correct as Hamlet turns up for the duel without any plans other than to beat Laertes. Hamlet is fully aware that he ‘lost it’ in the graveyard. And Hamlet.” He was at last coming to terms with human mortality: “a man’s life’s no more than to say ‘one’. His “revenge should have no bounds” returns to hit him ironically as the poison spreads from sword to Hamlet and Laertes and himself. The ending shows the damage wrecked by boundless revenge. and Laertes his blade. In the end it is Claudius’s boundless willingness to kill and Laertes’ willingness to “dare damnation” that directly destroy Hamlet. are destroyed. superficial people fashionable in these frivolous (“drossy”) times. Claudius’s poison spreads to kill them all.” Claudius’s plans go awry. ‘Mad’ becomes a more and more ridiculous label. His reluctance. The exact plans of Claudius are unknown to him. This statement also tells us he did genuinely succumb to rage and grief. and be patient. For all Hamlet’s own despising of himself for his inaction. he wishes he hadn’t. although Hamlet accepts that “a man’s life’s no more than to say ‘one’. How many people like this do you know? Osric is a mirror on the times. brings the metaphor to life in his act of poisoning the wine. ironically. /That to Laertes I forgot myself”. metaphorically the poison (“canker”) in Denmark throughout the play. prepare yourself for it. So Hamlet has developed – he sees preparedness for death as the main purpose of life. As an argument against revenge the play is a strong one. makes him seem better than the eager Laertes and murderous Claudius. and perhaps this is what human life comes down to – accept the inevitable.

The end result of murder. and on a global scale to help condemn humanity. Remembering is the first step to progress that has foundations sunk deep and lasting. Also.ending in disaster. to endless recapitulation of what has been before. Wow. which is sad as it’s too late. incest and the society of double standards and surveillance that these breed is a stark warning. In a sense if we remember Hamlet – a play (ghost) from the past – we just might learn from it! To forget is to condemn yourself. M L Turver 2000 . revenge. 20 th century psychoanalyst and author said: there is already so much truth in the world – what a pity so few in any generation ever seek it out. As Otto Rank. But Claudius dies – sigh of satisfaction. Hamlet and Laertes exchange forgiveness. In the end the overall carnage overwhelms us with a sense of waste.

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