home contact


Please see the bottom of the page for full explanatory notes and helpful resources.

ACT IV SCENE VII Another room in the castle. 
KING CLAUDIUS Now must your conscience my acquaintance seal, 
 And you must put me in your heart for friend, 
 Sith you have heard, and with a knowing ear, 
 That he which hath your noble father slain
 Pursued my life. 
LAERTES It well appears: but tell me 
 Why you proceeded not against these feats, 
 So crimeful and so capital in nature, 
 As by your safety, wisdom, all things else,
 You mainly were stirr'd up. 
KING CLAUDIUS O, for two special reasons; 
 Which may to you, perhaps, seem much unsinew'd, 10 
 But yet to me they are strong. The queen his mother 
 Lives almost by his looks; and for myself--
 My virtue or my plague, be it either which-- 
 She's so conjunctive to my life and soul, 
 That, as the star moves not but in his sphere, 
 I could not but by her. The other motive, 
 Why to a public count I might not go,
 Is the great love the general gender bear him; 
 Who, dipping all his faults in their affection, 
 Would, like the spring that turneth wood to stone, 20 
 Convert his gyves to graces; so that my arrows, 
 Too slightly timber'd for so loud a wind,
 Would have reverted to my bow again, 
 And not where I had aim'd them. 
LAERTES And so have I a noble father lost; 
 A sister driven into desperate terms, 
 Whose worth, if praises may go back again,
 Stood challenger on mount of all the age 
 For her perfections: but my revenge will come. 
KING CLAUDIUS Break not your sleeps for that: you must not think 30 
 That we are made of stuff so flat and dull 
 That we can let our beard be shook with danger
 And think it pastime. You shortly shall hear more: 
 I loved your father, and we love ourself; 
 And that, I hope, will teach you to imagine-- 
 Enter a Messenger. 
 How now! what news? 
Messenger Letters, my lord, from Hamlet:
 This to your majesty; this to the queen. 
KING CLAUDIUS From Hamlet! who brought them? 
Messenger Sailors, my lord, they say; I saw them not: 
 They were given me by Claudio; he received them 40 
 Of him that brought them.
KING CLAUDIUS Laertes, you shall hear them. Leave us. 
 Exit Messenger. 
 'High and mighty, You shall know I am set naked on 
 your kingdom. To-morrow shall I beg leave to see 
 your kingly eyes: when I shall, first asking your 
 pardon thereunto, recount the occasion of my sudden
 and more strange return. 'HAMLET.' 
 What should this mean? Are all the rest come back? 
 Or is it some abuse, and no such thing? 50 
LAERTES Know you the hand? 
KING CLAUDIUS 'Tis Hamlets character. "Naked!"
 And in a postscript here, he says "alone." 
 Can you advise me? 
LAERTES I'm lost in it, my lord. But let him come; 
 It warms the very sickness in my heart, 
 That I shall live and tell him to his teeth,
 'Thus didest thou.' 
KING CLAUDIUS If it be so, Laertes-- 
 As how should it be so? how otherwise?-- 
 Will you be ruled by me? 
LAERTES Ay, my lord;
 So you will not o'errule me to a peace. 60 
KING CLAUDIUS To thine own peace. If he be now return'd, 
 As checking at his voyage, and that he means 
 No more to undertake it, I will work him 
 To an exploit, now ripe in my device,
 Under the which he shall not choose but fall: 
 And for his death no wind of blame shall breathe, 
 But even his mother shall uncharge the practise 
 And call it accident. 
LAERTES My lord, I will be ruled;
 The rather, if you could devise it so 
 That I might be the organ. 
KING CLAUDIUS It falls right. 
 You have been talk'd of since your travel much, 
 And that in Hamlet's hearing, for a quality 70
 Wherein, they say, you shine: your sum of parts 
 Did not together pluck such envy from him 
 As did that one, and that, in my regard, 
 Of the unworthiest siege. 
LAERTES What part is that, my lord?
KING CLAUDIUS A very riband in the cap of youth, 
 Yet needful too; for youth no less becomes 
 The light and careless livery that it wears 
 Than settled age his sables and his weeds, 80 
 Importing health and graveness. Two months since,
 Here was a gentleman of Normandy:-- 
 I've seen myself, and served against, the French, 
 And they can well on horseback: but this gallant 
 Had witchcraft in't; he grew unto his seat; 
 And to such wondrous doing brought his horse,
 As he had been incorpsed and demi-natured 
 With the brave beast: so far he topp'd my thought, 
 That I, in forgery of shapes and tricks, 
 Come short of what he did. 
LAERTES A Norman was't? 90
LAERTES Upon my life, Lamond. 
KING CLAUDIUS The very same. 
LAERTES I know him well: he is the brooch indeed 
 And gem of all the nation.
KING CLAUDIUS He made confession of you, 
 And gave you such a masterly report 
 For art and exercise in your defence 
 And for your rapier most especially, 
 That he cried out, 'twould be a sight indeed,
 If one could match you: the scrimers of their nation, 100 
 He swore, had had neither motion, guard, nor eye, 
 If you opposed them. Sir, this report of his 
 Did Hamlet so envenom with his envy 
 That he could nothing do but wish and beg
 Your sudden coming o'er, to play with him. 
 Now, out of this,-- 
LAERTES What out of this, my lord? 
KING CLAUDIUS Laertes, was your father dear to you? 
 Or are you like the painting of a sorrow,
 A face without a heart? 
LAERTES Why ask you this? 
KING CLAUDIUS Not that I think you did not love your father; 110 
 But that 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 120 
 As there are tongues, are hands, are accidents; 
 And then this 'should' is like a spendthrift sigh,
 That hurts by easing. But, to the quick o' the ulcer:-- 
 Hamlet comes back: what would you undertake, 
 To show yourself your father's son in deed 
 More than in words? 
LAERTES To cut his throat i' the church.
KING CLAUDIUS No place, indeed, should murder sanctuarize; 
 Revenge should have no bounds. But, good Laertes, 
 Will you do this, keep close within your chamber. 
 Hamlet return'd shall know you are come home: 
 We'll put on those shall praise your excellence
 And set a double varnish on the fame 
 The Frenchman gave you, bring you in fine together 
 And wager on your heads: he, being remiss, 
 Most generous and free from all contriving, 
 Will not peruse the foils; so that, with ease,
 Or with a little shuffling, you may choose 
 A sword unbated, and in a pass of practise 
 Requite him for your father. 
LAERTES I will do't: 
 And, for that purpose, I'll anoint my sword. 140
 I bought an unction of a mountebank, 
 So mortal that, but dip a knife in it, 
 Where it draws blood no cataplasm so rare, 
 Collected from all simples that have virtue 
 Under the moon, can save the thing from death
 That is but scratch'd withal: I'll touch my point 
 With this contagion, that, if I gall him slightly, 
 It may be death. 
KING CLAUDIUS Let's further think of this; 
 Weigh what convenience both of time and means 149
 May fit us to our shape: if this should fail, 
 And that our drift look through our bad performance, 
 'Twere better not assay'd: therefore this project 
 Should have a back or second, that might hold, 
 If this should blast in proof. Soft! let me see:
 We'll make a solemn wager on your cunnings: I ha't. 
 When in your motion you are hot and dry-- 
 As make your bouts more violent to that end-- 
 And that he calls for drink, I'll have prepared him 
 A chalice for the nonce, whereon but sipping, 160
 If he by chance escape your venom'd stuck, 
 Our purpose may hold there. 
 How now, sweet queen! 
QUEEN GERTRUDE One woe doth tread upon another's heel, 
 So fast they follow; your sister's drown'd, Laertes.
LAERTES Drown'd! O, where? 
QUEEN GERTRUDE There is a willow grows aslant a brook, 
 That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream; 
 There with fantastic garlands did she come 
 Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
 That liberal shepherds give a grosser name, 
 But our cold maids do dead men's fingers call them: 
 There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds 170 
 Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke; 
 When down her weedy trophies and herself
 Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide; 
 And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up: 
 Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes; 
 As one incapable of her own distress, 
 Or like a creature native and indued
 Unto that element: but long it could not be 
 Till that her garments, heavy with their drink, 
 Pull'd the poor wretch from her melodious lay 180 
 To muddy death. 
LAERTES Alas, then, she is drown'd?
QUEEN GERTRUDE Drown'd, drown'd. 
LAERTES Too much of water hast thou, poor Ophelia, 
 And therefore I forbid my tears: but yet 
 It is our trick; nature her custom holds, 
 Let shame say what it will: when these are gone,
 The woman will be out. Adieu, my lord: 
 I have a speech of fire, that fain would blaze, 
 But that this folly douts it. 
KING CLAUDIUS Let's follow, Gertrude: 
 How much I had to do to calm his rage!
 Now fear I this will give it start again; 
 Therefore let's follow. 

Next: Hamlet, Act 5, Scene 1


Explanatory Notes for Act 4, Scene 7
From Hamlet, prince of Denmark. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan.


1. Now must ... seal, after what you have heard, you can no longer fail to acquit me of all complicity in your father's death; for seal, see note on i. 2. 60.

2. And you ... friend, nor can you help heartily recognizing me as a friend.

3. Sith, see note on ii. 2. 6; knowing, intelligent.

5. It well appears, it appears plain.

6. proceeded not, took no action to punish: feats, deeds.

7. crimeful, full of crime, desperately criminal: capital, heinous.

8. 9. As by ... up, as by all considerations of your own safety, of what wisdom dictated, and everything else, you were so strongly prompted to do.

10. unsinew'd, to have no force in them.

12. by his looks, on his looks; on the sight of him.

13. be ... which, "perhaps a confusion between 'be it either' and 'be it whichever of the two.' Perhaps, however, 'either' may be taken in its original sense of 'one of the two,' so that 'either which' is 'which-one-soever of the two'" (Abb. § 273).

14. She's so ... soul, my life and soul (i.e. I in everything) are so wrapped up in her; she is so much a part of my existence; cp. Oth. i. 3. 374, "Let us be conjunctive in our revenge against him."

16. I could ... her, I could not but move as she moves.

17. Why to ... go, why I could not have recourse to a public trial.

18. the general gender, the common race, the common people; cp. ii. 24. 14.

19-21. Who, ... graces, who seeing his offences with their own eyes (i.e. eyes prejudiced in his favour), would see in his fetters only further reason to love him (those fetters being regarded as an act of injustice calling for their pity). Johnson points out that the simile would have been more appropriate if the spring had changed base metals into gold; there does not appear to be an allusion to any particular spring, as Reed supposed.

21. my arrows, my scheme for punishing him.

22. Too slightly ... wind, too light to meet so strong a wind.

23. 4. Would have ... them, would have been blown back in my face instead of hitting the mark at which they were aimed.

25, 6. And so ... terms, and in this way my father has been lost to me, and my sister been driven into circumstances of desperation; for the construction, cp. i. 2. 215, iii. 3. 38. Also see Abb. § 425.

27. if praises ... again, if I may speak of her as she once was.

28, 9. Stood ... perfections, proudly challenged all modern times to produce one equal to her in her various perfections; on mount, where the challenge of her worth could be widely heard.

30. Break ... that, do not allow your sleep to be broken by the fear that you may not be able to wreak your revenge. For the plural sleeps, Dyce quotes Phaer's Virgil, AEneidos, ii., where the original Latin has the singular.

31. That we ... dull, that we are of so spiritless and inert a nature; flat, a metaphor from a liquid that has become insipid.

32. 3. That we ... pastime, that we can endure to have danger flaunt us in the face and treat the matter as though it were a mere joke; our beard, with an allusion to the insult conveyed in plucking a man by the beard; for with, = by, see Abb. § 193,

34. I ... we, in the former case speaking of himself as a man, in the latter of himself as a king.

35. that, sc. fact.

43. High and mighty, i.e. one; cp. above, iii. 1. 43, "Gracious, so please you."

45, 6. first ... thereunto, first asking your gracious permission to do so.

46, 7. my sudden ... return, my return, the suddenness of which is only exceeded by its strangeness.

49. should, can possibly; see Abb. § 325.

50. abuse, deception.

51. character, handwriting.

54. I'm lost in it, I am completely baffled by the event.

50. That, to think that: live and tell, live to tell, as we should now say.

58. As how ... otherwise? and yet I know not how it can be so, or how it can be otherwise; that he should have returned in face of the measures I took, is inexplicable; and yet that he should not have returned is, in face of the letter received, equally inexplicable; the one thing is as difficult to believe as the other.

59. ruled by me, guided by my advice.

60. So ... peace, provided that your advice does not compel me to keep peace with him.

62. As checking at, in consequence of his rebelling against, starting back in alarm at; the metaphor is from falconry; cp T. N. iii. 1. 71, "And, like a haggard, check at every feather."

63. work him, persuade him; work upon him so that he will undertake.

65. Under ... fall, beneath the weight of which he shall have no choice but to succumb.

66. And for ... breathe, and not the smallest breath of blame for his death shall ever light on us.

67. uncharge the practice, acquit our stratagem of any evil intention against him; practice, = plot, stratagem, is very frequent in Shakespeare.

69. The rather, all the more readily; see Abb. § 94.

70. organ, instrument; It falls right, everything conspires to that end; all things tend to a successful carrying out of our plan.

72. And that ... hearing, and that too when Hamlet was present; quality, accomplishment.

73. your sum of parts, all your gifts together; parts, in the sense of gifts, accomplishments, derives itself from the idea of a man being put together of several parts.

75. regard, opinion.

76. Of siege, which was lowest in rank, least worthy of respect; siege, meaning originally seat, came to be used of rank owing to the care that was taken to place people at the table exactly accordling to their rank; op. Oth. i. 2. 22, "I fetch my life and being From men of royal siege."

77. A very ... youth, a mere trifling ornament to youth.

78. becomes, is in accordance with.

79. light ... livery, the airy, jaunty, dress.

80. 1. Than settled ... graveness, than sedate old age accords with the warm clothing which concerns, is of importance to (and so is chosen with regard to) health and gravity of demeanour; for Importing, cp. Oth. i. 3. 284. "with such things else of quality and respect As doth import you": for settled, cp. M. M. iii. 1. 90, "settled visage and deliberate word"; his sables and his weeds, a hendiadys for his clothes formed of sables; for weeds, cp. M. N. D. ii. 1. 256), "Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in."

82. Here was, there was at this court.

84. can well ... horseback, are adepts in horsemanship; for can, = are skilled in, cp. Phoenix and Turtle, 14, "And the priest in surplice white That defunctive music can."

85. in t, sc. horsemanship: grew ... seat, sat as though riveted to his saddle.

86. doing, feats.

87. 8. As bad ... beast, as he would have done if he and his animal were one in form and nature; "as like an appears to be (though it is not) used by Shakespeare for as if ... the 'if' is implied in the subjunctive" (Abb. § 107).

88. topp'd my thought, surpassed anything I had ever conceived; for topp'd, cp. Lear. v. 3. 207, "To amplify too much, would make much more. And top extremity."

89. in forgery ... tricks, in conjuring up in my fancy feats of dexterity; for forgery, cp. M. N. D. ii. 1. 81; for shapes, = embodiments of fancy, R. II. ii. 2. 22, "Find shapes of grief, more than himself, to wail."

93. brooch, an ornament in former days often worn in the hat, now worn by women only at the throat; the Cl. Pr. Edd. point out that when worn in the hat, it was of course very conspicuous.

95. made confession of you, admitted your excellence in various exercises; confession, "here used because Lamond would not willingly acknowledge the superiority of Laertes over the French in the art of fighting" (Delius).

96-8. And gave ... especially, and gave such report of your masterly skill in the science and practice of defence, more especially when using your rapier; Laertes was reported by him as being good at all weapons -- the broadsword, lance, etc., but as being something quite out of the common way when handling the rapier.

100. If one ... you, if one could be found your equal at fencing; cp. Cymb. ii. 1. 24, "I must go up and down like a cock that nobody can match"; scrimers, fencers; F. escrimeur, a fencer; probably a coinage of Shakespeare's; their, "we should have expected 'his,' not 'their,' but in the oratio recta Lamond might have said 'our nation' with propriety" (Cl. Pr. Edd.).

101, 2. had neither ... them, seemed when fencing with you to have none of the power of attack, so necessary in fencing, none of the skill by which alone blows can be warded off -- none of that keen sight necessary equally in offence and defence; cp. Lear. ii. 1. 52.

103. Did ... envy, so poisoned the mind of Hamlet with the envy which his report excited.

105. to play with him, that you might play a match with him; to play, expresses the result not the object of his coming.

108, 9. Or are you ... heart? or are you like the picture of some one in deep grief, a mere face without the heart beating beneath in unison with the look upon it? i.e. is your grief deeply seated and prepared to show its reality by action?

111-3. But that ... it, but that I see, by observation of occurrences which demonstrate the fact beyond all doubt, that the spark and fire of love gradually burns low, as I know by mu omn experience that its growth also is a gradual one.

114, 5. There lives ... it, while love is burning most brightly, even then there is in it something which will sooner or later abate its fervour, just as the wick of a candle when it burns to a snuff dims its brilliance; i.e. even in its fullest vigour, love contains within it the principle of its own decay; the snuff of a candle is that portion of the wick which ceases to give forth light owing to the wax or tallow being burnt too low to reach and nourish it, and this snuff only dims the brightness of the flame.

116. And nothing ... still, and nothing continues for a long period at the same pitch of excellence; still, continually.

117, 8. For goodness ... much, for goodness itself, growing to a fulness, dies of its own excess. Shakespeare, like many of his contemporaries, has here derived plurisy from the Lat. plus, pluris, more, whereas it really comes from the Gk. for a rib, pleurisy, as it is properly spelled, being a disease of the membrane which covers the lungs.

118, 9. that we ... would, that which we desire to do, we ought to do while the desire is strong upon us: this 'would,' this desire, inclination.

122. 3. And then ... easing, and then this feeling of duty, without being put into action, is as hurtful to the moral nature as a sigh, drawn out of mere wantonness without there being any sufficient cause for it, is to the physical nature, though for the moment it may give relief; an allusion to the old belief that sighing draws drops of blood from the heart; cp. M. N. D. iii. 2. 97, "With sighs of love, that costs the fresh blood dear"; ii. H. VI. iii. 2. 63, "Look pale as primrose with blood-drinking sighs"; R. J. iii. 5. 58, "Dry sorrow drinks our blood."

123. But ... ulcer, but, to probe the ulcer to the quick, its most sensitive point; i.e. to go to the bottom of the matter.

124. Hamlet comes back, Hamlet, as we have just heard, is on his way back, and will soon be here, i.e. let us be prepared for his return, accept it as certain that he is returning.

127. sanctuarize, give refuge to, shield; criminals from early days, if they could take refuge in a sacred building, were beyond the reach of law, and when doing so were said to "take sanctuary"; cp. R. III, iii. 1. 28; C. E. v. 1. 94; the word here appears to be another of Shakespeare's coinages.

129. Will you ... chamber?; will you do this, viz., shut yourself up in your rooms? Most modern editors follow the earlier quartos and the first folio in putting a full stop after chamber, in which case the meaning is 'if you are willing to do this, then,' etc. This, however, seems to me rather more peremptory language than the king would use to Laertes.

131. put on, instigate: those shall, those who shall.

132. set ... on, give a fresh coating of exaggerated praise to, etc.

134. wager ... heads, lay wagers as to which of you will win: remiss, careless; "a word seldom if ever used now except with reference to some particular act of negligence" (Cl. Pr. Edd. ).

135. free from all contriving, innocent of all plotting himself, and therefore unsuspicious of others.

136. peruse, carefully examine; cp. ii. 1. 90.

137. with a little shuffling, with a little trickery in the matter of choosing your foil, i.e. by mixing, during a pause in the combat, the foil you first use with others among which you have already placed one that has no button to its point, and then, on resuming the combat, taking that foil up.

138. unbated, not blunted by having a button, a round piece of leather, at its point: a pass of practice, "a treacherous thrust" (Cl. Pr. Edd.).

139. Requite ... father, pay him back for the murder of your father.

141. mountebank, quack doctor; literally one who mounts on a bench to proclaim his nostrums.

142. mortal, deadly: but dip, if one only dips.

143. cataplasm, plaster, poultice: so rare, however rare in its effects.

144. all simples ... virtue, all efficacious herbs.

147. contagion, infectious poison: gall, rub the skin off any part of him.

148. It may be death, the result will be death.

149, 50. Weigh ... shape, let us consider how we may take such advantage of time and means as will best accommodate us to the form of proceeding we must adopt; the metaphor is that of getting a garment to fit the body; cp. Cymb. iii. 4. 195, "To some shade And fit you to your manhood," i.e. put on a dress which will suit you in playing your assumed part of a man, said to Imogen who is to disguise herself as a page.

151. And that ... performance, and if we should play our parts so badly that our object reveal itself; for the conjunctional affix that, see Abb. § 287.

153. a back, something in reserve to strengthen it, an inner lining as it were: second, something to assist (as in a duel); cp. Cor. i. 4. 43, "So, now the gates are ope: now prove good seconds"; hold, sc. firm, not give way.

154. If this ... proof, if this should fly to pieces when put to the proof. Before being issued for use, weapons, such as cannon, etc., are 'proved' by putting a great strain upon them, loading them with a heavier charge than will be ordinarily used; and if not well made they 'blast,' blow to pieces in the trial.

156. I ha't, I have it, i.e. I have hit upon a capital device.

157. motion, the lunging and retiring in making and receiving thrusts: dry, thirsty.

158. As make ... end, with which object (sc. that you may both become hot and thirsty) take care to let your bouts be as violent as possible; bout, properly a turn; then the turnings and twistings in a personal encounter, especially in fencing; Dan. bugt, a turn.

159. And that, and when; see Albb. § 284.

160. chalice, cup; Lat. calix, cup: for the nonce, for the occasion; originally for then anes, for the once, the n properly belonging to the dative case, then, of the article, and anes being a genitive case used adverbially; cp. needs, twice, i.e. twies.

161. stuck, thrust; Ital. stoccado, or stoccata, a thrust.

162. Our ... there, our project may by this means hold good, be carried through; cp. 1. 153.

166. grows, which grows: aslant, leaning over, literally on slant.

167. hoar, the under side of the leaves of the willow being silvery grey.

168. with, bearing: fantastic, fancifully made up of various flowers.

169. crow-flowers ... purples, "the crowflower, according to Parkinson, was called The Fayre Mayde of France; the 'long purples' are dead men's fingers, the 'daisy' imports pure virginity or spring of life" ... (Farren).

170. pendent, hanging over the water: her coronet weeds, the flowers she had woven into a chaplet.

171. Clambering ... broke, as she was making her way along the sloping trunk in order to hang her flowers on its boughs, a branch on which her foot rested, as though resenting her action, suddenly gave way; sliver, a small branch, properly a slice; cp. Macb. iv. 1. 28, "slips of yew Sliver'd in the moon's eclipse"; Lear, iv. 2. 34.

174. And, ... up, and for a time they kept her afloat, like a mermaid in her natural element.

175. Which time, during which time, i.e. as long as she was borne up by her clothes; for the omission of the preposition, see Abb. § 202: snatches, odds and ends; such as she sang in Scene 5.

176. As one ... distress, as though she were insensible of the plight in which she was; for incapable, cp. Cor. iv. 6. 120, "incapable of help," i.e. not to be helped.

177, 8. Or like... element, or as though she were a creature native to that element and endowed with properties suitable to existence in it; indued, a corruption of endued, in the sense of 'endow.'

170. heavy, literally, but with a play on the word in the sense of being overcome, made stupid, by intoxicating liquors.

180, 1. Pull'd ... death, put an end to her melody by dragging her down to death at the bottom of the stream.

185. It is our trick, it is a habit we cannot shake off; cp. T. G. V. 4. 1, "How use doth breed a habit in a man!"

186, 7. when these ... out, when these tears have passed away, my thoughts will then be of revenge only; for The woman, cp. Macb. iv. 3. 230, "O, I could play the woman with mine eyes" ; H. V. iv. 6. 31, "And all my mother came into mine eyes And gave me up to tears."

188. that ... blaze, that is eager to blaze out.

189. But ... it, if it were not extinguished by these foolish tears; dout, see note on i. 4. 37.

190. How ... calm, how much trouble I had in calmimg.

191. will ... again, will set it in motion again.

How to cite the explanatory notes:
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet, prince of Denmark. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan, 1919. Shakespeare Online. 20 Feb. 2010. < >.
How to cite the scene review questions:
Mabillard, Amanda. Hamlet: Scene Questions for Review. Shakespeare Online. 27 Dec. 2013. < >.

Marshall, Frank A. A Study of Hamlet. London: Longmans, 1875.
Trench, Wilbraham Fitzjohn. Shakespeare's Hamlet. London: J. Murray, 1913.

Scene Questions for Review

microsoft images 1. Claudius, out of view of the audience, has told Laertes a version of events that seems to satisfy him completely. Note that "conscience" here means "knowledge of the facts." Laertes wonders why Claudius would not have punished Hamlet for feats "So crimeful and so capital in nature" (line 6). What two reasons does Claudius give Laertes for sparing Hamlet?

2. Do you think that Claudius is about to change his mind and tell Laertes his real purpose in sending Hamlet to England (lines 30-35), just when the messenger interrupts him with the letters?

3. The arrival of the letters shocks Claudius to his core and, for a moment, he is dumbfounded. He even asks the bewildered Laertes for advice (line 54). How does Claudius change his plans after he reads the letters? Why doesn't Claudius simply let Laertes confront Hamlet when he returns to Denmark? (See note below: "On Claudius' New Plot.")

4. Does your opinion of Laertes change in this scene?

5. Gertrude announces the death of Ophelia in a lengthy poetic passage. We have seen earlier in the play that Gertrude is willing to tell lies to protect those around her. Should we believe Gertrude's account of Ophelia's drowning? Would you agree with one critic who says that "the whole passage is absurd, and as undramatic as it could be, if it is regarded as the account of the actual death of Ophelia." Please see Queen Gertrude's Account of the Death of Ophelia for more on this topic.


More to Explore

 Hamlet: The Complete Play with Explanatory Notes
 Analysis of Uncle Claudius
 Claudius and the Condition of Denmark

 Gertrude's Account of Ophelia's Death
 Ophelia's Burial and Christian Rituals
 The Baker's Daughter: Ophelia's Nursery Rhymes
 Hamlet as National Hero

 Analysis of the Characters in Hamlet
 Introduction to Hamlet
 The Hamlet and Ophelia Subplot
 The Norway (Fortinbras) Subplot
 Deception in Hamlet


On Claudius' New Plot ... "To the wily mind of Claudius any straightforward revenge, such as could be obtained by a fair fight between Laertes and Hamlet, was utterly distasteful; besides, such a revenge would be at best uncertain, and might fail in the end to rid him of his hated nephew. Once embarked upon the ocean of crime, one must sail on through all the rocks and quicksands; a straight course is impossible. Already in his fertile brain and treacherous heart a scheme of cruel and underhand vengeance is being planned; his only doubt is whether this generous, and seemingly noble-minded, youth will consent to be his instrument in carrying it out. So much more tractable is Laertes now than when, but a little while since, he rudely burst in upon the royal presence at the head of a riotous mob, that he consents to be ruled by the King so long as he does not "overrule" him "to a peace." The scheme, which in so short a time has grown "ripe" in the "device" of Claudius, answers every end required — it is sure, it is safe, involving no danger or blame to those who execute it: But even his mother shall uncharge the practise And call it accident." (Frank A. Marshall. A Study of Hamlet. p. 84)


 Hamlet: Problem Play and Revenge Tragedy
 Plot Summary of Hamlet
 The Elder Hamlet: The Kingship of Hamlet's Father
 Hamlet's Relationship with the Ghost

 O Jephthah - Toying with Polonius
 The Death of Polonius and its Impact on Hamlet's Character
 Blank Verse and Diction in Shakespeare's Hamlet

 Philological Examination Questions on Hamlet
 Quotations from Hamlet (with commentary)
 Hamlet Study Quiz (with detailed answers)
 Analysis of I am sick at heart (1.1)
 Hamlet: Q & A


Thoughts on Hamlet's Fencing ... We are given to know that Hamlet has practised fencing, has rather fancied himself as a fencer if the King speaks true. We are to learn later that he started practising at the time represented by the close of Act I. And the information adds substantially to our knowledge of Hamlet. For who can question once it has been pointed out the intimate relation subsisting between, on the one hand, Hamlet's suspicion, in Act I, Sc. ii, of foul play, or his knowledge, by Act I, Sc. v, of the form which it has taken, and, on the other hand, his desire to perfect himself in sword-practice? Fencing was an exercise more suited to Laertes' temperament than to Hamlet's, and that is why Horatio in V. ii. says Hamlet will lose the wager; but Hamlet's reply is that his chances are good, as he has given himself 'continually' to this exercise of late. Shakespeare might have made out of Hamlet's resolve to perfect himself in sword-play a better excuse for procrastination than any that occurred to Hamlet's thoughts. But perhaps it is because it would have been an excuse of too practical a nature, for that unpractical mind, that Shakespeare has until now withheld this information of high character value." (Wilbraham Fitzjohn Trench. Shakespeare's Hamlet. p. 214)


 Soliloquy Analysis: O this too too... (1.2)
 Soliloquy Analysis: O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!... (2.2)
 Soliloquy Analysis: To be, or not to be... (3.1)
 Soliloquy Analysis: Tis now the very witching time of night... (3.2)
 Soliloquy Analysis: Now might I do it pat... (3.3)
 Soliloquy Analysis: How all occasions do inform against me... (4.4)

 Claudius and the Dumb-Show: Why Does he Stay?
 Claudius and the Mousetrap
 In Secret Conference: The Meeting Between Claudius and Laertes
 Defending Claudius - The Charges Against the King

 Hamlet's Silence
 An Excuse for Doing Nothing: Hamlet's Delay
 Foul Deeds Will Rise: Hamlet and Divine Justice
 Shakespeare's Fools: The Grave-Diggers in Hamlet

 Hamlet's Humor: The Wit of Shakespeare's Prince of Denmark
 All About Yorick
 Hamlet's Melancholy: The Transformation of the Prince
 Hamlet's Antic Disposition: Is Hamlet's Madness Real?

 The Significance of Ophelia's Flowers
 Ophelia and Laertes
 Mistrusted Love: Ophelia and Polonius
 The Significance of the Ghost in Armor
 Shakespeare's View of the Child Actors Through Hamlet

 Divine Providence in Hamlet
 What is Tragic Irony?
 Seneca's Tragedies and the Elizabethan Drama
 Shakespeare's Sources for Hamlet

 Characteristics of Elizabethan Tragedy
 Why Shakespeare is so Important
 Shakespeare's Language
 Shakespeare's Influence on Other Writers