Writers of the The Renaissance - Shakespeare Notes by Dr. Honora M. Finkelstein   An Overview of Hamlet - Act III Scene I Claudius says to Polonius, the queen, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that he doesn't believe in Hamlet's madness. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern say they've helped to redirect his attention with the diversion of the players. Then the king tells the queen he and Polonius will watch Hamlet's next encounter with Ophelia. The "To be or not to be" speech is probably the most famous passage in all literature. Here again Hamlet ponders suicide, but as with his revenge on the king, he argues the reasons why he can't take action. In his encounter with Ophelia, there's a lot of slightly bawdy word play. He makes no admission here that he ever loved her, though at her burial he says he did. It is often suggested he has lost his enthusiasm for the relationship for three reasons: He must now focus on revenging his father's death, Ophelia has returned his letters at her father and brother's behest, and finally, he is angry at women in general because of what he considers his mother's betrayal of his father. When Hamlet realizes Polonius has been watching the encounter, he's convinced Ophelia is dishonest, so his madness becomes more pronounced from this point on. When Ophelia says, "O, what a noble mind is here o'erthrown! / The courtier's, soldier's, scholar's eye, tongue, sword;" she's making reference to the marks of a proper courtier. (Cf. Castiglione's Book of the Courtier.) When the king and Polonius reenter, the king says he doesn't believe Hamlet's madness is love and proposes to get him out of the way by sending him to England. Polonius still thinks it's love and suggests Hamlet be called to his mother's chambers where she can chew him out for his improper behavior. Scene II Hamlet instructs the players, suggesting he has written the speeches himself. When Polonius, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern enter, he suggests they all hurry the king and queen to the play. Left with Horatio, he praises his friend, then, getting a little embarrassed at his feelings, he changes the subject and asks Horatio to watch his uncle during the play. When the court enters the hall where the play will take place, Hamlet places himself at Ophelia's feet. (The editors of the Western Humanities reader have cut a large amount of the naughty sexual repartee between Hamlet and Ophelia here.) When the players begin, there is a pantomime that shows the action of the play. Then the play itself parallels the actual death of King Hamlet. There is irony in both plays with the lady's protestations; Queen Gertrude says, "The lady doth protest too much, methinks," condemning what she herself protested. When the scene has been played, Claudius betrays his guilt to Hamlet when he calls for lights and clears the hall. Hamlet confirms this with Horatio after the others leave. Then Rosencrantz and Guildenstern return to tell Hamlet his mother wants a word with him in her chamber. With them, Hamlet feigns madness again. When Polonius returns to hurry him to Gertrude, he humors Hamlet in his supposed madness. Scene III The king thinks his life is in danger. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern vow to protect him, because when a king dies, the whole country suffers. This, of course, is further irony, since King Hamlet's death was a murder. Polonius tells Claudius Hamlet is going to visit Gertrude, and he plans to hide behind the arras and listen and will report back to Claudius. When Polonius leaves, Claudius is feeling guilty, and at the end of his soliloquy kneels to pray. Hamlet finds him praying and decides not to kill him because if he does so while the king in in grace, he may go straight to heaven, and the opportunity for revenge will be lost. So Hamlet goes to Gertrude. Ironically, Claudius isn't connecting with grace, as he indicates with: "My words fly up, my thoughts remain below;/ Words without thoughts never to heaven go." So if Hamlet had killed him then, he would have gone to hell. Scene IV Hamlet goes to Gertrude's bedroom. Polonius, in conference with Gertrude, hides himself behind the arras. Hamlet, thinking it is Claudius hiding, kills Polonius. Hamlet shames Gertrude for having married Claudius. But the ghost appears and tells him to step between his mother and her fighting soul. By the end of the scene, he convinces her to avoid Claudius's bed. "Hoist with his own petar" is one of the famous and often quoted lines from this play; it comes from mine engineering and means, "Blown up with his own explosives." Act II <<    >> Act IV Made with Xara Website by Susan Smily