The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark by William Shakespeare

“To be or not to be, that is the question …….”

First publish around 1602 (although a working copy is thought to have been in use in 1601), Hamlet has come down to us in two forms. Issued in 1603, a corrupt or crude and probably pirated copy called the “First Quarto” (Q1) was produced, then in 1604 a more complete and artistically styled “Second Quarto” (Q2) followed.  It is supposed that the errors in Q1, complete with pretentious and often meaningless rhetoric, spurred Shakespeare and his company to press for a more complete and credible version.  Surprisingly, Hamlet was never performed or printed in its entirety during Shakespeare’s lifetime and the copies we read today are a compilation of Q2 and the 1623 Folio edition.  In spite of the errors and incompleteness of the play, there is little doubt that it is Shakespeare’s as it was performed by his own acting company. The evidence of the dating of the play is quite fascinating, as it not only uses clues from registries, but clues imbedded within the play to events that happened in 1601 and 1600. Shakespeare actuates very detailed detective work.

Portrait of Hamlet (c.1864)
William Morris Hunt
source Wikimedia Commons

The legend of Hamlet goes back centuries, dating to around the Scandinavian sagas.  It was familiar to the people of Iceland in the 10th century, although Shakespeare possibly drew from Histories Tragiques (1559-70) by Francis de Belleforest, relating tragic stories of great kings and queens whose lives had been ravaged by love or ambition.  A second hypothesis is that Shakespeare revived an extant version of a play by Thomas Kyd, revising this earlier piece to become the Second Quarto (Q2), and then afterward rewriting the complete acting text and play, which then became the basis for the Folio of 1623.  With regard to the first hypothesis, the similarity of the stories are too apparent to be coincidental, but there are differences in names and some differences in narrative that indicate Shakespeare was intent on making the play his own.

Hamlette at The Edge of the Precipice hosted a Hamlet Read-Along beginning in October and set a very leisurely pace, which was wonderful as it allowed me to dig very deeply into the play.  My scene-by-scene postings were as follows:

Act I :   Scene I,  Scene II,  Scene III,  Scene IV,  Scene V
Act II:   Scene I,  Scene II
Act III:  Scene I,  Scene II,  Scene III,  Scene IV
Act IV:  Scene I,  Scene II,  Scene III,  Scene IVScene V,  Scene VI,  Scene VII
Act V:   Scene I,  Scene II


The Young Lord Hamlet (1867)
Philip Hermogenes Calderon
source Wikimedia Commons

The play itself begins in Denmark at Elsinore castle where two soldiers see a ghost on the ramparts.  It is the ghost of the newly dead King Hamlet and immediately they inform his son, Hamlet, of the apparition.  Horatio, his friend, keeps watch with him the following night, whereupon the ghost claims to his son that he has been murdered by his own brother, the new king, Claudius.  To add insult to injury, Claudius has married Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, an outrage that can hardly be borne by Hamlet.  Yet questions pile upon Hamlet, enough to smother.  Was the ghost truly there, and if so, was it really his father?  Revenge was called for but how could the deed be done, and was he justified in taking a life?  His father’s life was cut short “in the blossoms of his sin”, but if he dispatched Claudius in his guilty state, would not their deaths become parallel?

Hamlet encountering the Ghost (1768-69)
Benjamin Wilson
source Wikimedia Commons

The contrary questions paralyze Hamlet into a mire of inaction.  He then works out a contrary persona, playing at an odd type of insanity, yet often dispensing insightful, sharp and clear rhetoric to torment Claudius into confusion.  Is Hamlet as dangerous as Claudius believes or is he merely an innocent victim of the circumstances, grief-stricken over the death of his father?  After Hamlet unwittingly commits the murder of Polonius, the advisor of Claudius, he forces the hand of the new king who sends him to England, with the intent of extinguishing any threat to his kingdom.  Yet Hamlet has also injured the mind of one once dearest to him, Ophelia, the daughter of Polonius, and her decent into madness colours the kingdom with further calamity. Upon Hamlet’s return, the culmination of this revenge tragedy is set into motion. Will Claudius’ plotting bring him success?  Can Laertes avenge his father, Polonius’, murder, and will Hamlet’s revenge bring him the peace he seems to seek?

You can see throughout the play the emphasis on action vs. inaction, words vs. action, thoughts vs. action, etc.  While Hamlet bemoans his inability to act to avenge his father’s death, on the surface seeming cowardly and ineffective, the actuality is quite the opposite.  All throughout the play, Hamlet uses thoughts and words to manipulate his enemy.  His thoughts, though he bemoans them, actually have more of an effect than he imagines, controlling certain small acts in a very effective manner.  His act of insanity twists Claudius into a Gordian knot of uncertainty, his letters announcing his return to Denmark pushing Claudius to drastic action. Thoughts and words appear to be more important and certainly more effective than action, torturing his enemy to the very limits of his endurance.  While it’s demonstrated in the play that revenge only brings suffering, is there a underlying theme that words can be more effective than action?

Ophelia (1863)
Arthur Hughes
source Wikiart

While the cultural precepts of the Danish society in Hamlet seem to support the desire for revenge, Shakespeare’s Elizabethan audience would have viewed the thirst for vengeance as primitive, and perhaps rather shocking. There is evidence throughout the play that revenge brings only suffering and death to those involved.  Fortinbras, the heir of the Danish kingdom at the end of the play, calls for all the noblemen to hear the story of Hamlet:

”                                    Let us haste to hear it,
And call the noblest to the audience ……”

He wants the nobles of the kingdom to attend to this tragedy and learn from it. Horatio responds:

“But let this same be presently performed,
Even while men’s minds are wild, lest more mischance
On plots and errors happen.”

Hamlet does get a hero’s remembrance, but the deaths, suffering and pain caused by his vengeful actions, and those of others, are strongly emphasized.

There is a question throughout the play of Hamlet’s sanity.  Is he truly mad, or is it simply an act produced to set a trap for the murderer of his father?  I tend to think the latter, but Shakespeare appears to quite closely link insanity with revenge, perhaps alluding to the fact that vengeance has a detrimental effect on our minds, distorting perceptions to bring about a type of madness.  Hamlet is playing at being mad, but madness also plays with him, his malevolent sentiments poisoning his very psyche, and modifying his entire moral perspective.  The whole character of Hamlet is played out in the agonizing conflict within his mind.  Mad he is, and mad he is not, perhaps making him at once to be and not to be.




Hamlet ~ Act V Scene II (the end)

Hamlet, Horatio and Osric (1830)
H.C. Selous

Hamlet  ~~  Act V  Scene II

Ah ha!  Hamlet reveals to Horatio that on his way to England, he discovered one night upon opening the sealed directive to the English king, that Claudius had plotted his murder.  Covertly, he replaces his name on the letters with those of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and reseals them with his father’s old seal.  It appears that Hamlet has no regrets, except perhaps in his treatment of Laertes, as he sees Laertes as a mirror image of himself.

Madness (1883)
Odilon Redon
source Wikiart

A young courtier, Osric, enters and announces a request from Claudius for Hamlet to spar with Laertes using swords, but not before much circumlocution and apparently senseless bantering between Hamlet and the courtier.  Hamlet reveals to Horatio that he expects to emerge the winner, but still he has a unsettled feeling.

The King and Queen enter with Laertes and entourage. Hamlet makes an apology to Laertes, blaming his madness for his actions, whereupon Laertes proclaims that he will not accept the apology upon his honour until a higher council has advised him, but he will accept Hamlet’s love.

Before they begin, Claudius announces that he will drink each time Hamlet scores a hit and will drop a precious pearl into the cup.  Hmmm, we can only imagine what the “pearl” will be.  They begin, yet Hamlet refuses to drink from the cup, claiming that he wants to finish the match.  Gertrude, however, drinks before anyone can stop her and the tragedy is underway.  After Hamlet scores two hits, Laertes decides to deal the fateful stroke but guilt nearly stays his hand.  However, Laertes scores a hit, then they scuffle, somehow the rapiers are exchanged and Hamlet wounds Laertes.  The queen collapses from the poisoned drink and likewise, immediately afterward, Laertes announces that he has been slain by his own treachery.  He tells Hamlet that he, too, has only an half hour to live, implicating Claudius in the murderous plot.  Hamlet then both skewers Claudius and forces him to drink the poison, thereby killing him with his own poisonous “union”.  Laertes requests Hamlet’s forgiveness as he dies.  Yet the drama is yet to abate.  Horatio, claiming he is more Roman than Dane, attempts to follow Hamlet to the grave, but his friend stays his hand.  He needs Horatio alive so his story can be told, otherwise who is to really know the truth of the plotting and machinations.  Horatio is to revel the implications of the “rottenness” in Denmark.  With his “dying voice”, Hamlet passes the crown to Fortinbras who arrives to witness the carnage.  The English ambassador announces that Rosencrantz and Guilderstern are dead but wonders who will receive the news.  Horatio begins his promise to Hamlet:

“And let me speak to the’ yet unknowing world
How these things came about.  So shall you hear
Of carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts,
Of accidental judgments, casual slaughters,
Of deaths put on by cunning and forced cause,
And, in this upshot, purposes mistook
Fall’n on th’ inventors’ heads.  All this can I
Truly deliver.”

Fortinbras will call the nobles to audience to hear of these deeds and Horatio urges:

“But let the same be presently performed
Even while men’s minds are wild, lest more mischance
On plots and errors happen.”

The trust must be told before more unwitting tragedy unfolds.  Hamlet is born away like a soldier, with honour and respectful words from Fortinbras.

Prince Hamlet kills King Claudius
Gustave Moreau
source Wikiart


In the last scene it appeared that the returned Hamlet was a different Hamlet than had left Denmark, and this scene confirms it.  Hamlet begins to act, but act with reason and deliberation.

Hamlet’s Death
Eugène Delacroix
source Wikimedia Commons

Osric’s behaviour towards Hamlet is suspect.  He agrees with everything Hamlet says as if he’s trying to placate him.  Hamlet must know that Claudius’ machinations are behind his behaviour.  The Prince appears to know that the confrontation with Claudius is coming to a head. However, Osric also defies Hamlet in refusing to put on his hat when requested.  Really?  Defy the Prince of Denmark?  Is this an indication of Hamlet’s loss of power?

Again, instead of being wholly fixated on revenge, Hamlet shows concern for others, regretting his behaviour toward Laertes and wishing for a reconciliation.

There are a number of questions this scene brings up which will perhaps remain unanswered.  Does Hamlet really believe that he is/was mad?  Does Gertrude drink the poison unknowingly or not?  Does Claudius make a true effort to stop her drinking?  Does Hamlet suspect about the poisoned drink?

Initially all three characters, Fortinbras, Hamlet and Laertes are united by the deaths of their fathers and a thirst for revenge; at the end of the play they are united by a goodwill towards each other, and perhaps a realization that revenge only brings catastrophe and tumult into lives, and in this case, a kingdom.  The latter point is amplified by Horatio at the end, where he appears to want to educate the influential masses, using Hamlet as an example. Revenge is like a poison and kills those who come in contact with it.

Hamlet Read-Along Posts

Hamlet ~ Act V Scene I

Hamlet  ~~  Act V  Scene I

Hamlet and the Gravediggers
Pascal Adolphe Jean Dagnan-Bouveret
source Wikimedia Commons

And we begin with a little levity topped with introspection.  The scene changes, quite surprisingly, to a cemetery where two grave diggers are acting the parts of fools.  One is musing that permission was given to bury Ophelia in the graveyeard, only because she was nobility (normally, under Catholic law, suicides could not be buried on holy ground). They banter some more until Hamlet and Horatio arrive and Hamlet is disturbed by the disrespectful treatment that the bones of the dead are receiving as the gravedigger digs.  He muses about mortality and that death knows no class or boundaries, treating all in the same manner.  Death, in her universality, has no respect for rank or class, as a leader such as Ceasar or Alexander the Great can turn to dust and end up being used to plug barrels.

The King and Queen arrive on the scene, and both the reader and Hamlet learn that it is Ophelia’s funeral procession.  Hamlet is shocked at first, yet bursts into the ceremony in his grief, almost defying anyone to question his love for her.  When he departs, Claudius reminds Laertes of their plans for Hamlet’s demise.

Eugène Delacroix
source Wikimedia Commons


With regard to Hamlet’s contemplation on mortality, will the nothingness of death prompt him to revenge, in effect, spurring him to action in life?

The most poignant lines in the play come right before Hamlet jumps into Ophelia’s grave in his grief:

”                       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?  This is I,
Hamlet the Dane.”

Which brings us to the big question:  did Hamlet really love Ophelia, and can we can determine the answer from what we’ve gathered so far during the play?  I believe that his love was real — there’s no good reason to disbelieve his claim here.  Yet why did he treat her so dismally earlier on in the play?  I tend to think that Hamlet was so consumed with the task of revenging his father that the only benefit he saw in the people around him was how they could help him achieve that goal.  In his thirst for revenge, Hamlet lost his humanity and in this scene we see a little of its return.  We see it even before Ophelia’s burial scene, in the sensitivity he shows towards the mishandling of the bones and skulls in the graveyard.  Yet this scene could also be a foreshadowing of his own death, and perhaps the sympathy we see from Hamlet is directed only towards himself.  Ah, Shakespeare, you tie us in mental knots once again!

Hamlet and the Gravedigger (1873-74)
Camille Cordot
source Wikiart

Hamlet Read-Along Posts

Hamlet ~ Act IV Scene VII

Hamlet  ~~  Act IV  Scene VII

Konstantin Makovsky
source Wikiart

Claudius appears to have placated Laertes, but then a messenger arrives with the letters from Hamlet. Once again, Claudius is befuddled.  What could his letter mean?  Hamlet claims that he is returning alone. Is he lying?  Is it another trick? Laertes has no insight to add but Claudius first ensures his loyalty against his young enemy. Claudius has heard it bandied about that Laertes is a master swordsman.  Using quite masterful manipulation of Laertes’ grief, Claudius urges him to challenge Hamlet to a sword fight.  Not only does Laertes agree, he reveals that he will put poison on the end of his sword, so that even a little scratch, will kill Hamlet.  Claudius approves the plan but he is hesitant.  It must be done in a way that leaves no doubt of Hamlet’s death.  If the sword doesn’t do the job, he will have a poison drink ready for Hamlet.

Their plans are interrupted by Gertrude, who hurries in to announce the death of poor Ophelia.  In her muddled madness, Ophelia wandered down to the brook, making wreaths of flowers.  When she tried to climb out on a branch to hang her garland, the limb gave way and she fell into the brook.  She sang lovely old hymns as her garments dragged her down to her death.

Laertes is once again grief-stricken and Claudius follows him to try to moderate his actions.

Ophelia (1852)
John Everett Millais
source Wikiart


Again Hamlet keeps Claudius on his toes.  The king must be in agony wondering what he will do next.  Claudius also spends an inordinate amount of time attempting to sooth Laertes’ wrath, aiming it in the appropriate direction, and ensuring his loyalty to the crown.  Using serpentine manipulation, he almost taunts Laertes, bringing up words vs. deeds and action vs. inaction.  I almost get the feeling that Claudius is getting desperate.  He already has Hamlet to deal with and another young man out of his control is certainly, at the least, worrisome.  Remember, the people are presently calling for Laertes as king.  Claudius’ hold on his power is tenuous at best.

I kind of liked Laertes before these last few scenes, but recently he’s showed himself to be a hot-head, easily manipulated, and perhaps not too bright. While it is understandable that he wishes to avenge his father’s death, his plan for Hamlet’s demise is rather dishonourable.

And, ah, the death of Ophelia, made more poignant by her singing and the symbols of flowers.  It’s as if she’s making wreaths for her own grave before her death actually occurs.  Does this emphasize her aloneness ….. with her father dead, she only has her brother, and in her madness is truly isolated.

Ophelia (c. 1900)
Gaston Bussiere
source Wikimedia Commons

Hamlet Read-Along Posts

Hamlet ~ Act IV Scene VI

Attack by Pirates (1880)
Arnold Böcklin
source Wikiart

Hamlet  ~~  Act IV  Scene VI

A sailor arrives in Denmark and speaks with Horatio.  He hands over a letter from Hamlet and other letters for the King.  The letter reveals that the ship was attacked by pirates on its way to England and somehow Hamlet ended up as their only prisoner.  Hamlet urges Horatio to come to him immediately as he has amazing things to tell him.  Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are headed to England.

Horatio rushes to deliver the letters so he can set off to find Hamlet directly.

Combat naval, ou un navire maltais attaqué par des pirates algériens

Phillipe-Jacques de Loutherbourg


Okay, this is interesting.  Hamlet has been abducted by pirates.  He is the only prisoner.  I have a hard time believing that the Prince of Denmark is the only one taken by the pirates, unless he put himself in a position to be taken.   He must know that he would be safe if he could get Claudius to pay for his release.  And in reality, he is only going from being a prisoner in one camp, to being a prisoner in another.  His actions are brilliant, and once again, he keeps Claudius on his toes, always unsure of Hamlet’s actions, and now even his whereabouts.  Hamlet may have been lamenting his inaction in previous scenes, but the torture of uncertainty that he is putting Claudius through must be excruciating.  Is his inaction more effective than action?

Hamlet Read-Along Posts

Hamlet ~ Act IV Scene V

Ophelia Before the King and Queen (1792)
Benjamin West
source Wikimedia Commons

Hamlet  ~~  Act IV  Scene V

Wow, does the painting above truly highlight Ophelia’s madness, or what?  But I’m getting ahead of myself ……..  However, not too much ahead because the second person in this scene, in the third line, a gentleman speaking to Gertrude, announces Ophelia’s madness.  However, in this unsettled state of Denmark, people are listening to Ophelia’s babbling and drawing conclusions from it.  Horatio suggests that it might be wise to speak with her to learn of the danger of her condition.  While waiting, Gertrude perhaps gives the first sight of guilt in her actions, referring to her sin.  However, she shows compassion for the poor girl’s plight as Ophelia spews drivel about tombs and Valentine’s Day and lost virginity.

The First Madness of Ophelia (1864)
Dante Gabriel Rossetti
source Wikiart

Claudius is affected by Ophelia’s madness, but also makes reference to unrest and strife in his kingdom due to his hastily burying Polonius without a state funeral. He also reveals that Laertes has secretly returned from France and his good sense is being poisoned by gossip.  He’s concerned that Laertes will place the blame on him.  Poor, poor, Claudius ……… (gag!)

A messenger arrives, announcing that the people are shouting for Laertes as king.  The doors break open and Laertes arrives, angry in his grief and looking for revenge. He demands to know what happened to his father, but Claudius does not tell him, choosing instead to try to bring him to sense and emphasize his friendship with him and his father. Ophelia interrupts their discourse, and Laertes’ grief increases as he witnesses the result of her broken mind.  Claudius attempts to join him in his sorrow, but suggests he bring his wisest friends to judge on Claudius’ guilt or innocence.

“And where the offense is, let the great ax fall.”


I was somewhat disappointed that the reader is rather whacked over the head with Ophelia’s madness.  There is no prelude, no leading up to it, no real example of excess paternal devotion that may make the outcome truly believable.  I believe it because I’ve been whacked with it, but for no other reason.

Ophelia (1888)
Marcus Stone
source Wikimedia Commons

Has anyone ever speculated about Ophelia’s story of the girl who loses her virginity to a man, and then the man refuses to marry her?  I was wondering if it had anything to do with her relationship with Hamlet, but really it’s not clear — you’d probably have to employ rampant speculation here.  I also wondered if the lost of virginity might simply echo of the loss of Ophelia’s innocence, in her belief that the world is good.  She has not only lost her love (Hamlet), she has now lost her father forever.  Her character has always come across as sweet, simple and uncomplicated.  These tragedies in her life, coming so close together are just too much for her to bear.

Laertes is a mirror of Hamlet when he says:

“That drop of blood that’s calm proclaims me bastard,
Cries “Cuckold!” to my father, brands the “harlot”
Even here between the chaste unsmirchèd brow
Of my true mother.”

He is not his father’s son until he avenges his death.  Hmmm ….. Hamlet all over again ……

Ophelia is speaking nonsense but we do get sense from her when she gives Gertrude fennel and columbines to signify adultery and to Claudius rue for repentance.  Again, we have a foil in Ophelia’s madness to Hamlet’s.  She is truly mad and sometimes speaks sense, and his madness is a pretense (so far) impregnated with sense.  As Laertes notes about his sister: “A document in madness.  Thoughts and remembrance fitted.”

Is anyone else truly flabbergasted by the complete political ineptitude of Claudius?  He kills the first King, acts too hastily in marrying Gertrude, does not deal with Hamlet and perhaps acts too hastily in sending him away, which unsettles the populous, and NOW he has buried Polonius hastily without the proper ceremonies and trappings.  What was he thinking?  Not only does he make mistakes, he makes them again and again and again, apparently not learning anything from the previous ones.  Sigh!  I can’t imagine what blunder he’s going to make next!

Hamlet Read-Along Posts

Hamlet ~ Act IV Scene IV

Hamlet  ~  Act IV  Scene IV

Hamlet comes upon the captain of Fortinbras’ army who has arrived to pass through the kingdom on their way to Poland.  Upon questioning the captain, Hamlet discovers that the piece of Polish land being fought over is really worthless, and Hamlet laments the loss of money and lives over such a trivial thing.

Hamlet then sinks into a fantastic soliloquy, comparing Fortinbras’ venture to his own poor inaction.  Fortinbras’ is prepared to go to his death with an army of twenty thousand over an illusion, yet Hamlet has cause to fight, but is so far showing himself a coward.  He spurs his thoughts on to violence.

Hamlet tries to show his mother, Gertrude, his
father’s ghost (1778)
Nicolai A. Abildgaard
source Wikipedia


Hamlet is still appearing very sane and reasonable.  He questions the captain with great astuteness and judges the situation with a rational insight.

His soliloquy is quite wonderful.  I wonder however …….. at the beginning of his speech, he ridicules over-thinking without action, yet at the end he says, “From now on, if my thoughts aren’t violent I’ll consider them worthless.” Hamlet is still focused on his thoughts, and for all his blustering for action, again appears unprepared to act.  However, by concentrating on violence, perhaps he is slowly moving towards the culmination of his desire.  All in good time, Hamlet.

Hamlet Read-Along Posts

Hamlet ~ Act IV Scene III

Hamlet  ~~  Act IV  Scene III

No one knows where Hamlet has placed Polonius’ body, and Rosencrantz and Guilderstern’s efforts at discovery have been fruitless, therefore Claudius calls Hamlet before him.  Hamlet plays with him a little, a cat and mouse type of game, increasing Claudius’ horror of his act until he divulges the location. Claudius reveals that he is sending Hamlet to England, and Hamlet receives the information with a calm disinterestedness.  Out of Hamlet’s hearing, Claudius urges speed and reveals that he has commissioned the English king to execute Hamlet.  He hopes that the fear of Denmark’s past deeds to England will secure this edict.


Ah, Hamlet quite cleverly, advises Claudius to look in Hell for the body of Polonius:

“In heaven.  Send hither to see.  If your messenger find him 
not there, seek him i’ th’ other place yourself…..”

It’s quite appalling how Claudius can transform from a dear, doting, sympathetic figure to a cold-blooded murderer.  It’s becoming more apparent how he could have disposed of King Hamlet.  He sees the present Hamlet as a disease affecting himself and one that needs to be eradicated.

Hell (1500-04)
Hieronymus Bosch
source Wikiart

Hamlet ~ Act IV Scene II

Hamlet  ~  Act IV  Scene II

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern turn up to question Hamlet about the body of Polonius.  Hamlet again speaks very insightful nonsense to them, which they do not appear to understand.  Finally he agrees to be taken to the king.

Gather Ye Rosebuds, or Ophelia (1908)
John William Waterhouse
source Wikiart


I wonder …… are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern dense?  They are carrying out Claudius’ orders without question, and the copious insults that Hamlet flings at them, seem to pass right over their heads.

What exactly did Hamlet mean when he said “The body is with the king, but the king is not with the body …”  Is this a reference to his father’s murder, in that his dead body the responsibility of Claudius, but Claudius is not physically with it?  Or what he hinting that Claudius was actually to blame for the death of Polonius, even though he wasn’t physically with the body?

Hamlet Read-Along Posts

Hamlet ~ Act IV Scene I

Hamlet  ~  Act IV  Scene I

Gertrude relates all to Claudius about her meeting with Hamlet, including the death of Polonius.  Claudius laments Hamlet’s state, his act and his own position.  He calls for Guildenstern, revealing Hamlet’s dreadful deed and commands him to bring the corpse to the chapel.  He then declares that he will tell their wisest friends of his planned action, hoping that the effects of this act, will not tarnish their reputation.

Ophelia (1863)
Arthur Hughes
source Wikiart


This scene is very short but still enlightening.  In spite of Gertrude’s promise of silence to Hamlet, she immediately reveals to Claudius everything that had passed between them.  Or does she?  She only reveals her opinion that Hamlet is mad, yet does not say that he is playing at being mad.  So, in effect, did she really keep her pledge?

It’s fascinating that Claudius blames himself for Hamlet’s actions in the death of Polonius.  He claims his guilt is because he did not restrain his nephew, but is there other guilt that is affecting his feelings?

Again, Claudius is calling on others to support his actions, making them at least partially responsible for the course on which he decides.  Is this a crafty political move, or does Claudius’ simply need emotional support in his new position?

Hamlet Read-Along Posts