Hamlet ~~ Act III Scene IV

Hamlet  ~~  Act III  Scene IV

Hamlet and his Mother
Eugene Delacroix
source Wikimedia Commons
Polonius instructs Gertrude on how to manage Hamlet and hides as he enters.  With Hamlet’s words to her, his mother suspects that he may murder her, and Polonius, answering her cry from behind the arras, is killed by a thrust of Hamlet’s sword. Gertrude is distraught, but Hamlet, while expecting his sword to find the flesh of the king, does not appear particularly disturbed that he has instead slain Polonius.  Instead, he turns to his mother’s crime, bringing her attention to it by a somewhat circuitous route, showing her the pictures of her dead husband and her current husband, and comparing the two with her deeds.  She appears to admit her crime, or at least her sins.  He punishes his mother, flaying her with his words of conviction of her black deeds and Claudius’ heinous actions.

The Ghost enters the room and admits that he has come to agitate Hamlet’s tardy actions, but he also shows concern for Gertrude’s horrified reaction and instructs Hamlet to calm her.  Hamlet speaks to the Ghost, but Gertrude does not see it and fears for Hamlet’s sanity.  Hamlet declares that he is not mad, warning his mother not to turn the focus to madness, but remember her crime and repent of it.  By refraining from going to his uncle’s bed that night, she can begin cultivating good habits within herself.  He cautions her not to tell Claudius that his madness is all contrived, yet for a purpose, to which his mother promises her silence.  And off to England, he will go with his school chums whom he trusts like adders.  Exit Hamlet, dragging away the body of Polonius.

Hamlet devant le corps de Polonius
Eugène Delacroix
source Wikipedia Commons


When speaking with his mother, Hamlet attempts to deny his own heritage, emphasizing how repugnant her action of re-marriage is to him.

While Hamlet seems to regret the death of Polonius on one level, he appears to think that his death was willed by Heaven or fate.  I can understand why Hamlet believes himself a scourge, or executioner, but I’m a little unclear as to why he is a “minister”.  Does he think he is administering justice because Polonius, in effect, is supporting Claudius and Gertrude, and therefore supporting their actions?  He obviously sees Polonius as a brainless busybody, but he also calls him a fool, which perhaps excuses him from some of his actions.

With regard to the Ghost, it is interesting that in this case, Hamlet can see him, but Gertrude cannot.  It might be useful to remember the people who can see the Ghost and those who can’t; it may have some sort of bearing on their character or position in the play.

There are more references to words in this scene.  Polonius was full of them, but they were often meaningless and ridiculous.  Hamlet’s words are twisted, often appearing ridiculous but usually pregnant with meaning.  Does Gertrude use words to cover the realization of her actions, even from herself?

Hamlet Read-Along Posts

2 thoughts on “Hamlet ~~ Act III Scene IV

Thanks for visiting. I'd love to hear from you and have you join in the discussion!