SHAKESPEARE: Hamlet [Act III-V]

  • R and G inform Claudius and Gerturde that Hamlet admitted he feels distracted but did not discuss the cause of his sorrow. R and G also say that Hamlet’s spirits seem to cheer up at the news of the players’ arrival. Polonius tells them that the players will put on a play tonight, and that Hamlet has requested the king and queen to be in attendance. This news delights Claudius, and he tells R and G to give Hamlet a further edge to this delight.
  • Claudius asks all to leave because he and Polonius have contrived to observe Hamlet and Ophelia interact with each other whilst Claudius and Polonius are hidden behind an arras. Polonius tells Ophelia to walk in a particular corridor whilst reading a book so that Hamlet will be inclined to think that she is lonely (more deceit).
  • Hamlet enters and gives his most famous soliloquy about suicide. He concludes that men do not commit suicide because they are frightened of what awaits them in the afterlife; for without such fear, what reasonable person would live in this world full of toils, hardships, pains, injustice, etc.? He describes life as suffering, and death as potentially a restful sleep, which is very similar to one of Socrates conjectures about what awaits people in the afterlife (i.e. unconsciousness and dreamless sleep).
  • Ophelia enters and tells Hamlet that she has longed long to redeliver love tokens that Hamlet gave her. Hamlet denies having given any such tokens to Ophelia, and denies that he ever loved her. Hamlet tells her that the power of beauty will sooner transform chastity to promiscuity than the force of chastity can change ugliness to beauty. Then Hamlet admits that he loved her once, but that she should not have believed him when he told her that because men are sinners. He says that he never loved her. He commands her to go to a nunnery (house of nuns or whorehouse) because he does not want her to become a breeder of sinners (maggots metaphor). All men are sinners, even Hamlet has more offenses at his beck than thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, and time to act them in. If Ophelia does marry, then Hamlet will give her a plague for her dowry. She shall be as chaste as ice, but will not escape calumny. He tells her that if she will marry, the she would do well to marry a fool because wise men know what monsters (cuckolds) women make of them. He mocks her and other women for painting their face, dancing lasciviously, giving sexual names to creatures, and making their wantonness their ignorance. Then he says that all who are now married shall live but one – meaning Claudius (Hamlet seems to have noticed Claudius and Polonius were observing him because he makes a subtle comment about Claudius here, and also states that Polonius should have the doors of his house shut upon him so that he can play the fool nowhere but in his own house). Hamlet exits.
  • Ophelia laments the drastic transformation of Hamlet from an admired intellectual, soldier, and courtier to a raving lunatic.
  • After observing the interaction, Claudius concludes that Hamlet is not mad for scorned love, nor mad at all. Claudius sees through Hamlet’s deception and fears that there’s something in Hamlet’s soul over which his melancholy sits on brood, and Claudius fears that the hatch and disclose of it will be dangerous; therefore, he determines to send Hamlet to England to collect the neglected tribute owed to Denmark. Claudius knows that madness in great ones must not unwatched go because great ones have the power to enact great danger and calamity to a man like Claudius. Polonius suggests that after the performance of the play that night, he will disclose himself within the room of Gertrude whilst she speaks with Hamlet and seeks out the cause of his grief.
  • Hamlet gives advice to the players about how to act. He tells them to fit their actions to the passions that the scene calls for – do not be too tame, but do not be too melodramatic either. The purpose of theater is to hold a mirror up to nature. He also admonishes the clowns from speaking more than is written for them because some fools have a bad habit of drawing attention away from a necessary question of the play that is then to be considered. Hamlet dismisses the actors.
  • Horatio enters, and Hamlet tells him that he is the most just man he has conversed with. Hamlet ells Horatio that he is not attempting to flatter him because what can Hamlet hope to gain from a poor man such as Horatio who only has his good spirits to clothe and feed him. Hamlet dearly regards Horatio because Horatio is a man who has taken the buffets and rewards of fortune with equal thanks, and also has a blood and judgment that are so well commingled that Horatio is not a pipe for fortune to sound what stop she please. In few, Horatio is not passion’s slave. Hamlet reveals to the audience that he has notified Horatio about his father’s death at the hands of Claudius, and asks Horatio to watch his uncle during the play to perceive whether Claudius displays any signs of guilt.
  • All of the main actors enter the scene.
  • Hamlet behaves like a raving lunatic when the others enter the scene. He tells Claudius that he feeds on promised crammed air like a chameleon. He also tells Polonius that he has heard that he  acted whilst at University. Polonius replies that he did, he played the part of Julius Caesar and was killed in the Capitol by Brutus. Hamlet playfully says that it was a brute part of him to kill so capital a calf.
  • Gertrude asks Hamlet to sit by her, but Hamlet sits with Ophelia because she is more attractive metal. Hamlet toys with her, using puns and sexual innuendos. Hamlet says that a man’s memory may outlive him half a year but he must build churches or else he shall suffer not thinking on.
  • A dumb show is performed, which summarizes the action of the proceeding play. A king and queen embrace. She makes protestations to him. He embraces her again and then lays down to sleep. She leaves. Another man enters and pours poison in the sleeping king’s ear, and leaves. The queen returns, finds the dead king, and weeps. The other man and others enter, and condole with the queen. The poisoner woos the queen, and she accepts his love.
  • The Prologue enters and asks the audience to watch and listen patiently. Ophelia comments that the prologue is very brief. Hamlet responds “as woman’s love.”
  • The Player King and Player Queen enter. The king remarks that it has been thirty years since their marriage. The queen wishes for thirty more wonderful years with him, but she has noticed that the king has recently been far from his accustomed state of cheer. She fears that he does not love her, but realizes that her fear is great because her love for him is great. Great love inspires great fear. The king tells her that he is old, will die soon, and wishes that she will wed an honorable man when he is dead. The queen invokes a curse upon herself if she ever marries again, such love is treason. Second marriages are formed for thrift, not love. The king explains that resolutions made in passion die when the passion dies. What we oft determine, we oft do fail to do. The king also says that love is dependent upon fortune, not fortune on love. A rich man will never lack friends, and a poor man will often find hollow friends. The queen curses herself with affliction if she ever marries again. The king tells the queen to leave him whilst he naps. The queen exits.
  • Claudius asks Hamlet what the play is called. Hamlet states that it is called the Mousetrap. The Player Poisoner enters and pours poison into the sleeping king’s ear. Claudius rises from his seat, and calls for lights. Hamlet and Horatio are left alone. Hamlet gleefully sings about the success of his plan. He is certain that the ghost is telling the truth. R and G enter. They inform Hamlet that Claudius is marvelously distempered. With drink? Hamlet masterfully evades R and G’s questioning. R and G inform Hamlet that Gertrude desires to speak with him in her room. They also ask Hamlet why he is melancholy. Hamlet angrily asks why R and G seem to desire to drive him into a trap. Hamlet uses flutes to demonstrate that he is not a pipe for them to sound what stop they please. Hamlet also explains that he is distempered because Claudius has the crown, and not him.
  • Polonius enters and tells Hamlet that the queen desires to speak with him. Hamlet tells him that he will see her presently, and asks everyone to leave him. Hamlet engages in a soliloquy, stating that he feels as if he could drink hot blood and do such deeds that the day would quake to look upon. He resolves to reprove his mother, but not physically harm her. He will speak daggers to her, but use none. He will never let the soul of Nero enter his bosom.
  • Claudius tells R and G that he will commission them to travel with Hamlet to England because he realizes that Hamlet is a threat to him. R and G flatter Claudius, telling him that the health of the state depends on the health of Claudius. Polonius enters and informs Claudius that he will be behind an arras to overhear the conversation between Hamlet and Gertrude. Does Claudius mistrust Gertrude, or did Polonius merely strive to make it seem like it was Claudius’ idea that he eavesdrop on the conversation? Polonius exits.
  • Claudius gives a soliloquy in which he mourns his offense. He wants to repent, but cannot. He knows that he cannot seek forgiveness when he still possesses the prizes for which he committed the crime – i.e. the crown, his ambition, and the queen. In this world, the wicked prize oft buys out the law, but it is not so above. There the action lies in its true nature, and men are compelled to give in evidence. Nevertheless, he tries to pray. Hamlet enters and considers murdering Claudius whilst he is praying. However, he believes that Claudius will go to heaven is Hamlet murders him now. Therefore, Hamlet determines to kill him whilst he is engaged in lechery, gaming, drinking, or some other act which has no relish of salvation in it so that Claudius’ soul will be damned to hell. Hamlet exits. Claudius arises from his prayer and realizes that he will never be forgiven because his mind is still intent on possessing the wicked prizes.
  • Hamlet enters Gertrude’s room. Gertrude chastises Hamlet for offending Claudius. Hamlet chastises her for offending the late King Hamlet. Hamlet forces her to sit down whilst he finds a mirror to show her the inmost part of herself. Gertrude, fearing that Hamlet might harm her, cries out for help. Accordingly, Polonius cries out behind the arras. Hearing the voice, Hamlet thrusts his sword through the arras, killing Polonius. Hamlet thinks that he has killed the king, but realizes that it is just meddling Polonius.
  • Hamlet reproves his mother for marrying Claudius. He holds a picture of Claudius and a picture of King Hamlet so that Gertrude can see the drastic difference from the God-like Hamlet and satyr-like Claudius. He wonders how Gertrude could choose Claudius. Lust could not persuade her because at her age the blood is cool and waits upon the judgment. Even if she were insane, she would still have the capacity to see the error of her choice. Gertrude implores Hamlet to cease his harsh speech because it has made her look into her very soul, and there she sees that it is black and tainted.
  • The ghost enters. Hamlet can see it, but Gertrude cannot. The ghost tells Hamlet that he has come to whet his almost blunted purpose. The Queen believes Hamlet is insane because he is talking to the incorporeal air. Hamlet assures her that he is not mad. He admonishes her to repent for marrying Claudius and refrain from lying with him in bed. He also commands her not to disclose to Claudius that he is not insane. Gertrude assures him that she will not breathe a word that he has said to her. Hamlet tells her that he must leave to England, and intends to use R and G’s knavery against them. Hamlet exits, dragging Polonius with him.

We are oft to blame in this, tis too much prove, that with devotion’s visage and pious action we do sugar o’er the devil himself.

The harlot’s cheek, beautied with plast’ring art, is not more ugly to the thing that helps it than is my deed to my most painted word.

To be, or not to be: that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;

No more; and by a sleep to say we end

The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks

That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;

To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,

Must give us pause: there’s the respect

That makes calamity of so long life;

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,

The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,

The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,

The insolence of office and the spurns

That patient merit of the unworthy takes,

When he himself might his quietus make

With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,

To grunt and sweat under a weary life,

But that the dread of something after death,

The undiscover’d country from whose bourn

No traveller returns, puzzles the will

And makes us rather bear those ills we have

Than fly to others that we know not of?

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;

And thus the native hue of resolution

Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,

And enterprises of great pith and moment

With this regard their currents turn awry,

And lose the name of action.

Get thee to a nunnery: why wouldst thou be a

breeder of sinners? I am myself indifferent honest;

but yet I could accuse me of such things that it

were better my mother had not borne me: I am very

proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at

my beck than I have thoughts to put them in,

imagination to give them shape, or time to act them

in. What should such fellows as I do crawling

between earth and heaven? We are arrant knaves,

all; believe none of us.

If thou wilt needs marry, marry a fool, for wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them.

Let the doors be shut upon him, that he may play the fool nowhere but in’s own house.

O, what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!

The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s, eye, tongue, sword;

The expectancy and rose of the fair state,

The glass of fashion and the mould of form,

The observed of all observers, quite, quite down!

And I, of ladies most deject and wretched,

That suck’d the honey of his music vows,

Now see that noble and most sovereign reason,

Like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh;

That unmatch’d form and feature of blown youth

Blasted with ecstasy: O, woe is me,

To have seen what I have seen, see what I see!

There’s something in his soul, o’er which his melancholy sits on brood, and I do doubt the hatch and disclose will be some danger.

Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.

In the very torrent, tempest, and as I may say, the whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness.

The groundlings, who for the most part are capable of nothing but inexplicable dumbshows and noise.

Since my dear soul was mistress of her choice

And could of men distinguish, her election

Hath seal’d thee for herself; for thou hast been

As one, in suffering all, that suffers nothing,

A man that fortune’s buffets and rewards

Hast ta’en with equal thanks: and blest are those

Whose blood and judgment are so well commingled,

That they are not a pipe for fortune’s finger

To sound what stop she please. Give me that man

That is not passion’s slave, and I will wear him

In my heart’s core, ay, in my heart of heart,

As I do thee.

This is miching mallecho; it means mischief.

That’s wormwood.

I do believe what now you speak,

But what we do determine oft we break.

Purpose is but the slave to memory,

Of violent birth, but poor validity,

Which now, the fruit unripe, sticks on the tree,

But fall unshaken when they mellow be.

Most necessary tis that we forget

To pay ourselves what to ourselves is debt.

What to ourselves in passion we propose,

The passion ending, doth the purpose lose.

The violence of either grief or joy

Their own enactures with themselves destroy.

Where joy most revels, grief doth most lament;

Grief joys, joy grieves, on slender accident.

This world is not for aye, nor tis strange

That even our loves should with our fortunes change,

For tis a question left us yet to prove,

Whether love lead fortune, or else fortune love.

The great man down, you mark his favorite flies,

The poor advanced makes friends of enemies;

And hitherto doth love on fortune tend,

For who not needs shall never lack a friend,

And who in want a hollow friend doth try,

Directly seasons him his enemy.

But, orderly, to end where I begun,

Our wills and fates do so contrary run

That our devices still are overthrown;

Our thoughts are ours, their ends none of our own.

Sleep rock thy brain.

Leave thy damnable faces and begin. Come, the croaking raven doth bellow for revenge.

Why, look you now, how unworthy a thing you make of me! You would play upon me, you would seem to know my stops, you would pluck out the heart of my mystery, you would sound me from my lowest note to the top of my compass; and there is much music, excellent voice, in this little organ, yet cannot you make it speak. Sblood, do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe? Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, you cannot play upon me.

Tis now the very witching time of night, when churchyards yawn, and hell itself breathes out contagion to this world. Now could I drink hot blood and do such bitter business as the day would quake to look on.

O, my offence is rank it smells to heaven;

It hath the primal eldest curse upon’t,

A brother’s murder. Pray can I not,

Though inclination be as sharp as will:

My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent;

And, like a man to double business bound,

I stand in pause where I shall first begin,

And both neglect. What if this cursed hand

Were thicker than itself with brother’s blood,

Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens

To wash it white as snow? Whereto serves mercy

But to confront the visage of offence?

And what’s in prayer but this two-fold force,

To be forestalled ere we come to fall,

Or pardon’d being down? Then I’ll look up;

My fault is past. But, O, what form of prayer

Can serve my turn? ‘Forgive me my foul murder’?

That cannot be; since I am still possess’d

Of those effects for which I did the murder,

My crown, mine own ambition and my queen.

May one be pardon’d and retain the offence?

In the corrupted currents of this world

Offence’s gilded hand may shove by justice,

And oft ’tis seen the wicked prize itself

Buys out the law: but ’tis not so above;

There is no shuffling, there the action lies

In his true nature; and we ourselves compell’d,

Even to the teeth and forehead of our faults,

To give in evidence. What then? what rests?

Try what repentance can: what can it not?

Yet what can it when one can not repent?

O wretched state! O bosom black as death!

O limed soul, that, struggling to be free,

Art more engaged! Help, angels! Make assay!

Bow, stubborn knees; and, heart with strings of steel,

Be soft as sinews of the newborn babe!

All may be well.

O shame! where is thy blush? Rebellious hell,

If thou canst mutine in a matron’s bones,

To flaming youth let virtue be as wax,

And melt in her own fire: proclaim no shame

When the compulsive ardour gives the charge,

Since frost itself as actively doth burn

And reason panders will.

These words like daggers enter my ears.

Do not spread the compost on the weeds to make them ranker.

That monster, custom, who all sense doth eat,

Of habits devil, is angel yet in this,

That to the use of actions fair and good

He likewise gives a frock or livery,

That aptly is put on. Refrain to-night,

And that shall lend a kind of easiness

To the next abstinence: the next more easy;

For use almost can change the stamp of nature,

And either lodge the devil, or throw him out

With wondrous potency.

’tis the sport to have the engineer

Hoist with his own petard: and ‘t shall go hard

But I will delve one yard below their mines,

And blow them at the moon: O, ’tis most sweet,

When in one line two crafts directly meet.

Act 3 of Hamlet has the greatest quantity of memorable monologue and soliloquies in the play. The most famous soliloquy in Hamlet, and in English drama, is Hamlet’s renowned “to be, or not to be.” In this monologue, Hamlet contemplates suicide. He wonders that he cannot commit suicide when death seems like such a peaceful slumber, immune from the slings and arrows of this earthly existence. However, he decides that the reason why he and others do not commit suicide is because of the fear of what awaits everyone after death – “the dread of something after death, the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns.” Man has an innate fear of the unknown, and death is the ultimate unknown, something from which it is apparently impossible to return.

Another remarkable monologue is the speech given by the Player King in the Mousetrap, or the play within the play of Hamlet. The King discourses on the transitory nature of resolve. One often makes plans to do something in the heat of passion, but when the passion cools, so to does the desire to enact the plan. Applying this principle to the character of Hamlet explains Hamlet’s indecision and hesitation to exact revenge. Hamlet was furious and incensed when the ghost told him that Claudius murdered the late King Hamlet. However, after his anger cooled, Hamlet’s powerful intellect became dominant over his passionate desire for revenge. Furthermore, the intellect, or the conscience that Hamlet speaks about in his soliloquy, “does make cowards of us all.” The mind will always provide reasons against taking a particular action. It will always think of the worst possible scenarios. This is not always a bad thing. In some situations, taking time to reflect upon a decision and consider the possible ramifications is advantageous. Other times, allowing the mind to consider a particular course of action is actually detrimental because one can be rendered incapable of acting at all – paralysis by analysis.

  • Claudius enters, and asks Gertrude why she is sobbing. She tells him that Hamlet is mad, and has killed Polonius. She tells him that Hamlet dragged the body out of the room. Claudius is grateful that he was not behind the arras because he would have been killed, but is distressed that the populous will blame him for allowing Hamlet to freely associate with others whilst he knew that Hamlet was insane. Claudius decides to send Hamlet away because he says that Hamlet is a threat to everyone. He commands R and G to find Hamlet and the body of Polonius, and bring them to the chapel.
  • Hamlet finishes stowing the body of Polonius. R and G enter, and ask Hamlet where he placed the body. Hamlet evades their questioning by saying that he compounded it with dust, whereto it is kin. Hamlet insults R and G, calling them sponges who soak up the king’s countenance, rewards, and authorities, but warns them that the king will eventually not require their services any longer, and will then dispatch them.
  • Claudius states that Hamlet’s madness threatens all, but he cannot use the strong arm of the law against him because the people love Hamlet, and would not weigh Hamlet’s transgression but rather the punishment.
  • R and G bring Hamlet before Claudius. Hamlet tells Claudius that Polonius is at supper, where he is eaten by worms. Then Hamlet tells Claudius that men are food for worms, and that the worm that has eaten the bod of a king could be used as a lure to catch a fish, which is subsequently eaten by a beggar. Thus, a king may go a progress through the gut of a beggar. Then he tells Claudius to send a messenger to heaven. If the messenger does not find Polonius there, then Claudius should seek him in the other place himself. Finally, Hamlet tells them that Polonius is near the staircase in the lobby.
  • Claudius tells Hamlet that he is sending him to England for Hamlet’s safety. All exit but the king. Claudius gives a soliloquy in which he reveals to the audience the commission he will send along with Hamlet. The commission orders the king of England to execute Hamlet immediately.
  • Fortinbras enters with his army. He sends a messenger to Claudius, asking for safe passage through his country. Fortinbras and the army leave. Hamlet, Rand G, and others enter. Hamlet asks the messenger what army is it that he sees and what is their purpose. The messenger replies that it the force of Norway, and they intend to attack a little patch of Poland, which is not valuable in itself. They are fighting simply for glory and honor. All exit but Hamlet.
  • Hamlet gives another soliloquy in which he scolds himself for hesitating to exact revenge. Hamlet considers the willingness of Norway’s forces to fight for a plot whereon the numbers cannot try the cause, which is not tomb enough and continent to hold the slain, and concludes that he is a coward for not exacting revenge when these soldiers go their graves like beds. The courage of the soldiers shames Hamlet. Hamlet concludes that to be great is not to wait until there is something worthwhile to fight for, but to greatly find quarrel in a straw when honor is at the stake. Hamlet resolves that his thoughts from now on will be bloody.
  • A gentleman and Horatio inform Gertrude that Ophelia is distracted, and incoherently utters things that the people construe as utterances of mourning for his dead father and accusations against the royal court. She wishes to speak to Gertrude, but Gertrude fears the disclose of some calamity because she feels guilty about Polonius, and a guilty mind spills itself in fearing to be spilt.
  • Ophelia enters, and begins to sing songs that are distantly associated with her father’s death and the loss of her virginity (perhaps to Hamlet, the murderer of her father). Ophelia knows that she must be patient, but cannot choose but weep to think they laid Polonius in the cold ground. She also states that Laertes will hear this news, foreshadowing that Laertes will seek revenge soon. Claudius orders Horatio to follow Ophelia when she exits. Claudius concedes that he did wrong to secretively inter Polonius and silence the cause of his death from the ears of the people. He also says that Laertes is coming to Denmark from France at the head of a mob who proclaim Laertes as their chosen king.  (How will the king explains Hamlet’s execution to Gertrude?)
  • There is a knock on the chamber door. Laertes and his mob break down the door. Laertes is in an agitated state of furious anger. He commands the mob to wait outside whilst he addresses Claudius, who he believes killed his father.
  • Laertes angrily confronts Claudius, and demands from him his father’s body. Claudius asks Laertes why he is so vehement, and orders Gertrude to let Laertes free because there is a divinity that protects a king – mutiny can only peep at what it would do (ironic given the preceding events related to the murder of King Hamlet). Laertes throws caution to the wind. He is willing to damn himself to be revenged for his father (very similar to the speech of Hamlet after Hamlet speaks to the ghost). Claudius asks Laertes if he will destroy both Polonius’ friends and foes on the way to revenge. Laertes answers that he will open his arms to Polonius’ friends and repast them with his own blood. Claudius assures Laertes that he was Polonius’ friend, and will acquit himself with a thorough explanation of Polonius’ death.
  • Ophelia enters, and Laertes is saddened by her madness. He wishes that heat would dry up his brains and that his tears would burn out the virtue of his eyes so that he cannot see Ophelia is such a condition. Ophelia begins to sing distractedly, gives those on stage flowers, and then exits.
  • Claudius tells Laertes to bring some of his wisest friends to hear Claudius’ tale about Polonius’ death so that they may judge whether Claudius is guilty of the offense. Laertes says that he must question his father’s death because Claudius did not give me the ostentatious funeral that an assistant to the king deserves. Claudius assures Laertes that he will explain all o him, and to let the great axe fall where the offense is (Gertrude is still on stage, did she hear Claudius tell Laertes that he will let the great axe fall where the offense is – i.e. Hamlet?).
  • Sailors enter Horatio’s room in the castle and give him letters from Hamlet. One letter is for Horatio, in which Hamlet explains that on the way to England, pirates attacked the ship he was aboard. Hamlet boarded the pirate ship, but the ship instantaneously broke free from the other ship, leaving Hamlet their sole prisoner. The pirates have treated Hamlet well because they know they will receive a handsome ransom from the king for his safe return. Thus, Hamlet asks Horatio to bring the sailor with the other letters to Claudius. Hamlet also tells Horatio to  travel to him, at which time Hamlet will disclose something that will shock Horatio.
  • Claudius tells Laertes that Hamlet murdered Polonius, and attempted to murder him. Laertes asks Claudius why he did not proceed against these acts. Claudius says he did not do so for two reasons: 1) Gertrude loves Hamlet, and Claudius loves Gertrude. 2) The multitude love Hamlet. Thus, they would have been outraged is Claudius punished him.
  • A messenger enters with a letter from Hamlet informing Claudius that he is returning to Denmark tomorrow. Laertes is naturally happy that he will have an opportunity to revenge himself upon Hamlet, but Claudius is shocked at the change of events. Claudius formulates a plan in which Laertes will be revenged, and not even Gertrude will suspect foul play. Claudius tells Laertes that Hamlet is jealous of Laertes’ skill in fencing. Claudius asks Laertes to challenge Hamlet to a friendly fencing match, during which he Laertes will make a pass at him with an unblunted rapier. Claudius will also offer Hamlet a poisoned drink. Laertes offers to poison the tip of his sword too. Hamlet, being envious of Laertes skill and desirous to beat him, will readily accept the challenge.
  • Claudius asks Laertes if Polonius was dear to him, or if Laertes is but the paining of sorrow, and does not possess a true heart (similar to Hamlet’s “trappings and suits of woe in act 1). Laertes responds in astonishment that Claudius would ask him such a question. Claudius tells Laertes that within the very flame of love lives a kind of wick or snuff that will abate it; for nothing is at a like goodness still, but goodness growing to a plurisy, dies in its own too much. That we would do, we should do when we would; for this would changes, and hath as many abatements and delays as there are tongues, hands, and accidents; and then this should is like a spendthrift sigh that hurts by easing. Laertes asserts that he would cut Hamlet’s throat in a church to be revenged. Claudius says that no place should sanctuarize murder, and that revenge should have no bounds.
  • Gertrude enters, and informs them that Ophelia drowned. Laertes deeply sobs and exits.

Compounded it with dust, whereto tis kin.

A knavish speech sleeps in a foolish ear.

Diseases desperate grown by desperate appliance are relieved.

Your worm is your only emperor for diet: we fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots: your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service, two dishes, but to one table: that’s the end.

A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.

In heaven. Send thither to see. If your messenger find him not there, seek him in the other place yourself.

Do it, England, for like the hectic in my blood he rages, and thou must cure me.

How all occasions do inform against me,

And spur my dull revenge! What is a man,

If his chief good and market of his time

Be but to sleep and feed? a beast, no more.

Sure, he that made us with such large discourse,

Looking before and after, gave us not

That capability and god-like reason

To fust in us unused. Now, whether it be

Bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple

Of thinking too precisely on the event,

A thought which, quarter’d, hath but one part wisdom

And ever three parts coward, I do not know

Why yet I live to say ‘This thing’s to do;’

Sith I have cause and will and strength and means

To do’t. Examples gross as earth exhort me:

Witness this army of such mass and charge

Led by a delicate and tender prince,

Whose spirit with divine ambition puff’d

Makes mouths at the invisible event,

Exposing what is mortal and unsure

To all that fortune, death and danger dare,

Even for an egg-shell. Rightly to be great

Is not to stir without great argument,

But greatly to find quarrel in a straw

When honour’s at the stake. How stand I then,

That have a father kill’d, a mother stain’d,

Excitements of my reason and my blood,

And let all sleep? while, to my shame, I see

The imminent death of twenty thousand men,

That, for a fantasy and trick of fame,

Go to their graves like beds, fight for a plot

Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause,

Which is not tomb enough and continent

To hide the slain? O, from this time forth,

My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!

To my sick soul, as sin’s true nature is,

Each toy seems prologue to some great amiss:

So full of artless jealousy is guilt,

It spills itself in fearing to be spilt.

We know what we are, but know not what we may be.

We must be patient: but I cannot choose but weep, to think they should lay him i’ the cold ground.

When sorrows come, they come not in single spies but in battalions.

O heat, dry up my brains! tears seven times salt,

Burn out the sense and virtue of mine eye!

O how the wheel becomes it!

Repair thou to me with as much speed as thou wouldst fly death. I have words to speak in thine ear will make thee dumb.

This gallant had witchcraft in it.

I know love is begun by time;

And that I see, in passages of proof,

Time qualifies the spark and fire of it.

There lives within the very flame of love

A kind of wick or snuff that will abate it;

And nothing is at a like goodness still;

For goodness, growing to a plurisy,

Dies in his own too much: that we would do

We should do when we would; for this ‘would’ changes

And hath abatements and delays as many

As there are tongues, are hands, are accidents;

And then this ‘should’ is like a spendthrift sigh,

That hurts by easing.

Revenge should have no bounds.

One woe doth tread upon another’s heel, so fast they follow.

I have a speech of fire, that fain would blaze, but that this folly douts it.

Three monologues from Act 4 particularly strike me as insightful. The first is Hamlet’s discussion of Polonius’ and, in general, mankind’s fate. Hamlet says that men are nothing but food for worms; that is their final destination and purpose. Men fatten all creatures in order to fatten themselves, and they fatten themselves for maggots. This is a very pessimistic perspective about the value and purpose of human life; yet it is not an absurd one given the ephemeral quality of human life, and the lack of permanence found in this physical world.

Another striking monologue is Hamlet’s “how all occasions do inform against me and spur my dull revenge.” In this speech, Hamlet scolds himself for being a coward, and is ashamed that the Norwegian soldiers go to their graves like beds for nothing more than a fantasy or trick of fame. Hamlet concludes that to be great is not to fight when there is great cause to fight, but to find quarrel in a triviality whenever honor’s at the stake. In this way, Hamlet’s ethic accords with the ancient Greek ethic which placed honor as the most supreme value that one could attain in life. For example, Achilles, and the other soldiers who fought in the Trojan War, desired death above dishonor, and willingly risked their life to win honor.

The final monologue I think is interesting is the one given by Claudius whilst he is conversing with Laertes about their strategy to kill Hamlet. Claudius asks Laertes if he loved Polonius. Laertes is naturally offended that Claudius would even ask such a question, but Claudius explains that love is begun by time, and that time qualifies the spark of love. Claudius asserts that there lives within the very flame of love a kind of wick or snuff that will abate it, and then argues that men should do what they plan to do at the instant they formulate the plan because there are many abatements and delays in the world that will thwart the plan if tabled for the future. This speech is very similar to the Player King’s speech during the play within the play. Both actors speak about the ever changing nature of intentions. Claudius advocates rash action rather than deliberate pause and consideration of a plan.

  • Act 5 begins in a graveyard. Two clowns/gravediggers enter. They provide comic relief between the death of Ophelia and denouement of the play. They discuss whether Ophelia committed suicide. They determine that she will receive a Christian burial because she is wealthy. If she was poor, the coroner would have labeled her death a suicide, and she would have been denied a Christian burial. One clown asks the other what kind of man builds stronger than either the mason, the shipwright, or the carpenter. The answer is a grave maker because the houses he builds last until doomsday.
  • Hamlet and Horatio enter. They hear one clown singing whilst he is digging the grave. Hamlet wonders how a man could be merry whilst engaged in such an occupation. Horatio explains that habit has accustomed him to it, and made it a matter of indifference to him. Hamlet looks at a skull, which the clown threw out of the grave. He comments that the skull once had a tongue, and could sing. Now the clown casts it to the side as if it were Cain’s jawbone that did the first murder. The skull might have belonged to a politician, a courtier, a beautiful lady, etc.
  • Hamlet asks the clown who’s grave is it that he is digging. The clown cleverly equivocates and evades Hamlet’s questioning. Hamlet remarks that the intelligence of the peasants have developed so much in the past few years that the level of education is almost indistinguishable between scholars and the common people. The gravedigger grabs another skull, and tells Hamlet that it is the skull of Yorick, the king’s jester. Hamlet asks to see it. He remembers Yorick very well. Yorick was a fellow of infinite jest, and most excellent fancy. Now, Hamlet is revolted to see the transformation of Yorick to this wretched state. Hamlet speaks to the skull, tells it to go to a lady’s chamber and tell her, let her paint an inch thick of makeup on her face, to this favor – a chop less, stinking skull – she must come. Even Alexander the Great looked of this fashion in the earth, and smelt so rank.
  • Hamlet and Horatio see the funeral procession approaching and hide. Claudius, Gertrude, Laertes, Ophelia’s corpse, a priest and attendants enter. Laertes asks what other ceremony they can perform for Ophelia. The priest answers that but for the command of Claudius, she should have been laid in unsanctified ground, and denied her ceremonial rites. There is nothing further that can be done. Laertes angrily predicts that Ophelia will be an angel whilst the priest burns in hell. Laertes curses the cause of her lunacy – i.e. Hamlet. Laertes jumps in the grave, embraces Ophelia’s corpse, and orders the others to throw dust upon them so that he will be buried with her. Hamlet reveals himself to the others. Laertes grapples with him, and they begin to tussle. They are parted, and Hamlet proclaims his love for Ophelia. He asserts that his love is more than forty thousand brothers’ love. Hamlet storms away in anger. Horatio follows him. The others exit.
  • Hamlet and Horatio are in a room in Elsinore. Hamlet tells him of the story of his sea voyage. Hamlet praises his rashness, and asserts that indiscretion sometimes serves us well when our plots fail. Whilst aboard the ship to England, Hamlet stole the commission from R and G whilst they were sleeping. He opened the commission and read Claudius’ order for Hamlet’s immediate execution. Before he could make a prologue to his brains, they had already begun the play. On the instant he began to write a new commission, imparting an earnest conjuration that R and G should be executed. The commission being written, Hamlet replaced it in R and G’s possession, they being ignorant of the changeling. Hamlet does not feel guilty for R and G’s imminent death. He reasons that R and G sought his life, and therefore it is perfect conscience to have them killed, and now kill Claudius too, having definitive proof that he sought to execute Hamlet. Hamlet is sorry that he lost his patience with Laertes because he perceives the similarity between Laertes’ cause of grief and his own
  • Osric, a courtier, enters. Hamlet tells Horatio that Osric is a bombastic flatterer, and then proceeds to mock Osric. Osric informs Hamlet that Claudius has placed a wager that Hamlet can defeat Laertes in a fencing match. Hamlet accepts the opportunity to duel Laertes. Claudius wagered six Barbary horses against Laertes’ wager of six French swords and their appurtenances.
  • Hamlet is confident that he will win the duel, but he feels a vague sense of apprehension about the impending event. Horatio suggests that Hamlet decline the duel if he has any doubts, but Hamlet says that he defies augury. Death will inevitably come when it comes; being prepared for it is all that matters.
  • The rest of the major actors, along with courtiers and attendants enter. Hamlet asks for Laertes pardon. He did not intend to slay Polonius. He was insane, and taken from himself. Thus, it was not Hamlet that harmed Laertes, but rather Hamlet’s madness. Laertes accepts Hamlet’s offer of love, but will not entirely reconcile with Hamlet until a voice of authority gives him assurance and precedent that Laertes’ honor will not be stained by befriending the murderer of his father. They prepare to duel. Claudius states that if Hamlet gives the first, second, or third hit, then he will throw a pearl richer than any worn by four successive kings in Denmark into a stoup of wine, and offer it to Hamlet in celebration. Hamlet and Laertes begin to play.
  • Hamlet gives the first hit. Claudius offers Hamlet the poisoned cup. Hamlet declines the offer. They play again. Hamlet wins the round again. Gertrude wipes Hamlet’s sweaty brow, and drinks to Hamlet’s success. Claudius attempts to prevent her from drinking the poison, but Gertrude insists on drinking. Laertes tells Claudius that he will hit Hamlet in the next round, though it is almost against his conscience. Laertes strikes Hamlet after the round. Incensed at the unnecessary strike, Hamlet takes Laertes sword and strikes him. Gertrude collapses, tells Hamlet that the drink was poisoned, and dies. Laertes informs Hamlet of the poisoned rapier, the cup of wine, and the plot contrived by Claudius to kill him. Laertes remarks that he is like a woodcock to his own springe (snared in his own trap, an engineer hoisted by his own petard). Hamlet wounds Claudius with the envenomed sword, and forces him to drink the remainder of the poisoned wine. Claudius dies. Laertes asks Hamlet to exchange forgiveness with him. Laertes forgives Hamlet for Polonius’ and his own death. Hamlet forgives Laertes for killing him. Hamlet commands Horatio, who wishes to commit suicide, to absent himself from felicity a while until he has told others about Hamlet’s story, so that Hamlet’s name is not tarnished in posterity. Hamlet hears a warlike volley, and Osric informs him that Fortinbras is returning from conquest in Poland, and that the ambassadors from England have arrived. Hamlet predicts that Fortinbras will win the Denmark election, and gives Fortinbras his voice. The rest is silence. Hamlet dies.
  • Horatio gives a brief elegy in honor of Hamlet – good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest! Fortinbras and the English ambassadors enter. Horatio proclaims that he will inform them of what has transpired. Fortinbras orders his soldiers to bear Hamlet’s body to a platform, and honored with a soldier’s burial.

The more pity that great folk should have countenance in this world to drown or hang themselves than their even Christian.

Cudgel thy brains no more about it, for your dull ass will not mend his pace with beating.

The hand of little employment hath the daintier sense.

But age with his stealing steps

Hath clawed me in his clutch,

And hath shipped me into the land,

As if I had never been such.

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! my gorge rims at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one now, to mock your own grinning? quite chap-fallen? Now get you to my lady’s chamber, and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must come; make her laugh at that.

To what base uses we may return!

What is he whose grief bears such an emphasis? Whose phrase of sorrow conjures the wandering stars, and makes them stand like wonder-wounded hearers?

Let Hercules himself do what he may, the cat will mew, and dog will have his day.

Our indiscretion sometimes serves us well when our deep plots do pall, and that should teach us there’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will.

All his golden words are spent.

We defy augury. There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all. Since no man of aught he leaves knows, what is it to leave betimes? Let be.

Absent thee from felicity awhile, and in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain, to tell my story.

The rest is silence.

Good night sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!

Go, bid the soldiers shoot.

The most memorable scene from Act 5 of Hamlet is the gravedigger scene. The scene possesses both comedy and tragedy. The comic relief is provided by the two gravediggers. Their unembellished discussion about suicide is hilarious, and they also shed light on the different treatment that rich and famous people receive compared to the average man and woman. They remark that it is pity that great men and women have approval to drown and hang themselves whilst others do not.

Hamlet’s reflections about the condition of man after death are haunting. He is able to draw attention to the fact that all men, no matter how great they might be during their lifetime, will inevitably reach the same fate, and that is to become food for worms, to return to dust, to become a stinking and rotting corpse.

Overall, Hamlet is a very pessimistic play. Nevertheless, I do not believe that Shakespeare was a pessimist. I believe that one of the reasons he wrote Hamlet was to challenge both the reader and himself to answer some of the questions and arguments posed by Hamlet’s character. Shakespeare has written a play which demands the audience to answer for themselves, and in their own way, what the meaning of their life is.

The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works 2nd Edition

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