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?

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4 thoughts on “Hamlet ~ Act IV Scene II

  1. Loyalties are very much a problem in the play. These questions matter: who is loyal to whom? what are the underlying reasons for those loyalties? and why and how do people betray those to whom they are presumably should be loyal? The friends and family dynamics are downright profound, and you can spend hours trying unravel the entanglements and complexities of those dynamics. Let me leave you with one question: To whom should R&G be loyal? King? Queen? Hamlet? Themselves? And then there is the other question: Why?

  2. You could wrap yourself up in a Gordian knot with those questions! Technically R&G should be loyal to their leader, which is Claudius. Oh, but wait a minute! Should he be the leader, or should Hamlet actually have inherited the title from his father? In that case, they should be loyal to Hamlet. Then you get into the morality of it …….. Claudius (it appears) committed a crime, so they should be loyal to Hamlet. And there's the weaker argument (IMO) that Hamlet is their friend, so their loyalty should be with him. This conundrum reminds me very much of Sophocles' Antigone, don't you think? Loyalty to state or loyalty to your conscience …..?

    Shakespeare is so brilliant at tying up his audience in prospective moral, political and emotion knots, which all conflict with each other. I guess that's why he's The Master!

  3. I look at it this way: Neither Shakespeare nor his audiences cared one bit about some problems centuries ago in Denmark; instead, Elizabethans/Jacobeans were intensely concerned about the authority/power/legitimacy/continuity of the monarchy and citizens' responsibilities to the state v. families v. themselves. The state, of course, in Shakespeare's time was brutal to anyone who would be perceived as either an enemy or a problem. So, by extrapolation, I read _Hamlet_ as Shakespeare's analysis of state v. individuals v. families v. other considerations. Then, when you further complicate the plot with religion (Catholic v. Protestant), the choices for an individual to make (i.e., Hamlet must make terrible choices) makes for powerful drama. We are all Hamlet. Even now. Shakespeare focuses on the then and now of Elizabethan/Jacobean issues but also anticipates our world. Brilliant!

  4. Pingback: The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark by William Shakespeare – Cleo Ross Writing Portfolio

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