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Hamlet Commentary - Act II.

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Act II. Scene I. - A Room in Polonius' House.

Polonius tells Reynaldo to spy on his son Laertes in Paris. Polonius learns from his daughter Ophelia that a badly dressed Hamlet met her, studied her face and then abruptly left. Polonius believes that Hamlet's odd behaviour is because Ophelia has rejected him. Polonius decides to tell King Claudius the reason for Hamlet's recently odd behaviour.

This scene occurs several weeks after the action of Act I. We can assume this because Laertes has first arrived in Paris and second, he has been there for sufficient time to require financial assistance (money) from Polonius.

Polonius' father has returned home from Paris. Polonius now home, instructs his servant Reynaldo to travel to Paris where Laertes is and to "Give him this money and these notes," which Polonius supplies since Laertes will soon be in need of money from his father (Line 1).

Polonius also tells Reynaldo that he would do well by him (be well thanked by Polonius) to "make inquiry" or spy (Line 4) on the behaviour of his son Laertes.

Polonius tells Reynaldo to inquire about "Danskers" (Danish people like Laertes) in Paris, telling Polonius to find out what they do, where they gather and asking what they think and know of Laertes and to learn any gossip there may be about his son (Lines 8-16).

Polonius tells Reynaldo to do this by pretending to distantly know Laertes (Line 13-16). In fact Polonius is certain that his son, away from his father, is indulging himself in activities like "drinking, fencing, swearing," and "quarrelling," (Line 25) Reynaldo saying that Polonius dishonors his son by making such accusations (Line 27).

Polonius also tells Reynaldo to let Laertes "ply his music" or watch Laertes closely as he reveals his secret behaviour (Line 73).

Significantly for the play, Polonius' mistrust of his son is echoed later by King Claudius' distrust of his "son" Hamlet (Hamlet's real father was the late King Hamlet killed by Claudius). Later when we see King Claudius using spies on Hamlet to discover his intentions we see a parallel with Polonius, the King Claudius' Lord Chamberlain who does the exact same thing to his son, a reflection perhaps of the suspicion, mistrust and deception and espionage that occurs in this play.

With his instructions made clear, Reynaldo sets off for Paris (Line 75) and now Ophelia, Polonius' daughter enters.

Asking Ophelia "what's the matter?" (Line 74), Polonius quickly learns that as Ophelia was sewing in her closet, Hamlet arrived, his clothes disheveled (a mess), his face as "Pale as his shirt;" his knees knocking and a look so pitiful it was as if Hamlet had just been let out of hell (Lines 80-84).

Ophelia explains further to her father that Hamlet "took me by the wrist and held me hard," (Line 88), then stared and studied her face meticulously before eventually leaving (Line 88-92).

Polonius tells Ophelia to join him in seeing King Claudius since he is now sure why Hamlet is acting so strangely; obviously Hamlet is suffering from rejection by Ophelia or as Polonius puts it, "the very ecstasy of love," (the very actions a rejected and upset lover makes), (Line 102).

Sure of this, Polonius asks his daughter if she has "given him any hard words of late? (said anything upsetting to Hamlet), (Line 107), learning from Ophelia that she has not, but that she did "repel [reject] his letters and denied / His [Hamlet's] access to me" as Polonius had instructed. (Line 108).

Polonius now is certain that rejection by Ophelia "hath [has] made him [Hamlet] mad" saying that he regrets having been so hard on Hamlet by telling his daughter not to see him (Line 111).

Polonius ends the scene by telling his daughter to come along, since they must tell the King why Hamlet is acting so strangely...

Act II. Scene II. - A Room in the Castle.

Polonius: "Though this be madness, yet there is method in't."

King Claudius instructs courtiers and childhood friends of Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to find out what is causing Hamlet's strange "transformation;" or change of character. Queen Gertrude reveals that only King Hamlet's death and her recent remarriage could be upsetting Hamlet. We learn more of Young Fortinbra's movements and Polonius has his own theory about Hamlet's transformation; it is caused by Hamlet's love sickness for his daughter Ophelia. Hamlet makes his famous speech about the greatness of man (Lines 321-331). Hamlet plans to use a play to test if King Claudius really did kill his father as King Hamlet's Ghost told him...

At King Claudius' castle, the King joined by Queen Gertrude, courtiers Rosencrantz, Guildenstern and Attendants, warmly welcomes "dear Rosencrantz and Guildenstern!" before explaining that he has summoned these two courtiers with great urgency to find out the reason for Hamlet's change of character, which King Claudius describes as " Hamlet's transformation;" (Line 5) .

King Claudius says of Hamlet that since his change of character or transformation, neither Hamlet's "exterior nor the inward man / Resembles that [what] it was" (Line 6), adding that he cannot think of anything but King Hamlet's death that could so profoundly change Hamlet's character.

From King Claudius' urgent concern as to what has changed Hamlet's behaviour, we can assume that King Claudius is worried that Hamlet's change of character makes him less predictable and thus more of a threat that will need to be watched.

Having made his concern for Hamlet's "transformation;" clear, King Claudius reminds Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that they grew up with Hamlet (Lines 10-12), before telling these courtiers who were childhood friends (Line 12) of Hamlet to rest awhile in the his court before departing to learn for King Claudius what is changing Hamlet's character.

Queen Gertrude now reminds the two courtiers that Hamlet "hath much talk'd (often talked)" of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Queen Gertrude adding that "sure am I two men there are not living / To whom he more adheres" (I am sure there are not two men alive, Hamlet more respects), (Line 20).

The Queen tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that if they learn the reason for Hamlet's changed personality, not only will it be for the "supply and profit of our hope," (Line 24) but that the two courtiers "shall receive such thanks / As fits a king's remembrance" or in other words, the two men will be well rewarded for spying on a man that so respects them (Line 25).

Hearing this, Rosencrantz (Lines 26-29) and then Guildenstern (Lines 29-31) pledge their services to their King (Claudius), and agree to spy on their friend.

With the King (Line 32) and then Queen Gertrude (Lines 33-37) thanking the two men, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern depart to spy on Hamlet.

With the two courtiers departed, Polonius enters announcing that King Claudius' two ambassadors Voltimand and Cornelius "Are joyfully return'd [have returned]" (Line 40).

These two ambassadors it will be remembered were dispatched to Norway to ask the King of Norway to restrain his nephew, Young Fortinbras from taking back territories the Danish has gained from King Hamlet's fight against the late King Fortinbras of Norway.

King Claudius is pleased to hear this, telling the Lord Chamberlain (Polonius) that "Thou [you] still hast [have] been the father [source] of good news" (Line 41).

Polonius now tells King Claudius that he does believe that "I have found / The very cause of Hamlet's lunacy" or rather the reason why Hamlet's character has changed (Line 48).

The King wishes to know this but Polonius, ever dutiful, insists that King Claudius first hear from the two ambassadors, saying that "My news [why Hamlet has acted so strangely] shall be the fruit [a metaphor for an accompaniment] to that great feast [the important information from the ambassadors about Young Fortinbras]" (Line 52).

The King now orders ambassadors Voltimand and Cornelius in and King Claudius who is now talking to Queen Gertrude, says that Polonius tells him he knows what the source is of "your son's distemper" (your son's change of character), (Line 54).

Queen Gertrude is sure she already knows, saying it can be nothing else but "His father's death," and significantly "our o'erhasty (very quick / very hasty) marriage" (Line 56).

This line is very significant since it is our first indication that Queen Gertrude herself may be aware that her marriage is disturbing her son Hamlet.

Polonius and Voltimand enter and we learn from Voltimand that the King of Norway first thought Young Fortinbras was amassing his forces against the "Polack;" (The Poles), (Line 63) but quickly learned that Young Fortinbras was preparing to attack King Claudius and Denmark (Lines 60-64).

Despite his "sickness, age and impotence" (Line 66), Voltimand explains that the old King of Norway was able to convince Young Fortinbras not to attack Denmark ever again (Lines 64-72).

The King of Norway was able to do this by convincing Young Fortinbras to pledge "never more [never again] / To give the assay of arms against your majesty" (never to take up arms or fight against King Claudius), (Line 71).

Overcome with joy, Voltimand adds, the King of Norway gave Young Fortinbras "three thousand crowns in annual fee, / And his commission [permission] to employ [use] those soldiers, / So levied [so ready to fight] as before, against the Polack [the Poles];" instead (Lines 72-75).

Voltimand does have one other important piece of news to add however... The King of Norway did ask that Young Fortinbras be given permission to take his troops across Denmark or "Through your [King Claudius'] dominions [territory] for this enterprise [attacking the Poles]," (Lines 78-79).

King Claudius resolves to think it over, giving his permission after he has thought about it further. King Claudius now welcomes his two men home (Voltimand and Cornelius) before the two exit our view.

Polonius now remarks that "This business [the Young Fortinbras problem] is well ended" (over),(Line 85) and now Polonius tells King Claudius and Queen Gertrude that "since brevity is the soul of wit... I will be brief. Your noble son [Hamlet] is mad: / Mad call I it [mad I call it]; for, to define true madness, / What is't [is it] but to be nothing else but mad?" before finishing with the line "But let that go" (Lines 92-94).

Queen Gertrude, noting that Polonius is speaking very articulately ( using many words / verbosely) but is saying little, asks Polonius for "More matter, with less art" (get to the point / more content with less style), (Line 95) or to say more without less waffling or needless elaboration; in other words to just say what he knows.

Polonius naturally claims his innocence, saying "Madam, I swear I use no art at all" (Line 96), before again launching into a long statement which says very little and is almost certainly intended by Shakespeare as an amusing attack on those who are verbose or say a great deal without really saying anything of substance...

In fact all we learn from Polonius' confusing, irritating and overly elaborate speech is that he is certain the cause of Hamlet's madness is his daughter Ophelia (Lines 106-108) not returning Hamlet's love for her (Lines 96-108).

As proof of this theory, Polonius reads a letter from Hamlet, and we see that Hamlet's writing is confused, distorted and not quite poetry but very much wanting to be.

Polonius then reads Hamlet's letter to his daughter Ophelia which was given to him by her:

"To the celestial, and my soul's idol, the most beautified [beautiful] Ophelia-" (Line 109) Polonius reads, interrupting to tell us that "the most beautified Ophelia-" phrase is "a vile [terrible] phrase;" (Line 110) before reading more of Hamlet's letter which goes on to say:

"In her excellent white bosom, these &c-" (Line 112) at which point Queen Gertrude asks if such a terrible love letter could truly have come from Hamlet. Learning that it did, Polonius continues:

"Doubt thou the stars are fire; / Doubt that the sun doth move; / Doubt truth to be a liar; / But never doubt I love. O dear Ophelia! I am ill at these numbers: / I have not art to reckon my groans; but that I love thee best, O most best! believe it. Adieu [good-bye]. Thine evermore, most dear lady, whilst this machine is to him, Hamlet" (Lines 115-124).

Having read the letter, Polonius explains again that "in obedience hath [has] my daughter shown me;" (Lines 124-127) this letter whilst explaining that Ophelia has kept him informed of all her dealings with Hamlet.

King Claudius however is curious as to how Ophelia has received Hamlet's love (Line 128). Polonius now asks King Claudius "What do you think of me?" (Line 129) and only after King Claudius tells Polonius that he thinks of him as "a man faithful and honourable" (Line 130) does Polonius explain that he did not approve of any relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia at all.

Polonius explains that he told his daughter "'Lord Hamlet is a prince, out of thy star [out of your league / reach];" telling her that "This [the relationship] must not be:'" (Lines 140-141).

Polonius goes on to explain to King Claudius and Queen Gertrude that he told his daughter to "lock herself from his resort," (stay away from Hamlet), (Line 142) which she dutifully did, leading to Hamlet's present distress at being rejected by Ophelia (Lines 143-148).

Thus it is Hamlet's rejection by Ophelia, Polonius argues, that has caused Hamlet's "transformation;" which Polonius describes as the " madness wherein now he raves, / And all we wail for" (the madness which Hamlet currently has and which we all cry and grieve for), (Line 150).

King Claudius asks the Queen if he believes rejection by Ophelia is responsible for Hamlet's "transformation;" to which Queen Gertrude replies, "It may be, very likely" (Line 152).

Polonius hearing this, asks King Claudius and Queen Gertrude when has he ever been wrong, King Claudius and Gertrude agreeing that Polonius has, to their memory, never been wrong yet (Lines 153-156).

Offering his head should he be wrong, Polonius also adds that "If circumstances lead me, I will find / Where the truth is hid, though it were hid indeed / Within the centre" (if given the chance I will find the cause of Hamlet's transformation), (Line 158).

The King is not convinced however and asks Polonius, "How may we try it further?" (How can be sure of your theory?), (Line 159).

Polonius suggests a way to be certain. Polonius knows that Hamlet often walks in the lobby of the castle. Polonius will "loose my daughter to him;" (let Ophelia bump into Hamlet) so Polonius and the King, hiding behind an arras (a tapestry) can see for themselves if Hamlet loves Ophelia, proving Polonius' theory for Hamlet's behaviour.

Offering to give up his service to the state if he is wrong, Polonius, King Claudius' Lord Chamberlain, asks only to be left with a farm and carters (Lines 160-167).

The King, now convinced, decides to act out Polonius' plan...

Before this can happen however, Queen Gertrude spots Hamlet approaching, reading a book as he walks (Line 168).

Wanting to learn more from Hamlet himself, Polonius asks King Claudius, Queen Gertrude and their attendants to leave, which they promptly do, leaving Polonius alone with Hamlet to hopefully learn more (Lines 169-170).

Hamlet now enters reading, which serves as our first opportunity to see the "mad" Hamlet for ourselves since the King Claudius first discussed Hamlet's "transformation;" (Act II, Scene II, Line 5).

Polonius greeting Hamlet, asks him "Do you know me, my lord?" (Line 173). Hamlet replies he does, telling Polonius "you are a fishmonger" (you are a fish-seller), (Line 174).

Polonius answers that he is not, and when Hamlet replies "Then I would you were so honest a man" (I wish then that you were such an honest man), (Line 177), we see that Hamlet is being extremely sarcastic and distrustful of Polonius' intentions and sincerity.

This is because fish mongers were historically portrayed as men of ill repute, keen to sell shoddy merchandise as fresh if given half a chance. Thus for Hamlet to wish Polonius were so honest is for Hamlet to make it very clear to us that he holds Polonius in very low esteem indeed and already suspects Polonius has an ulterior motive...

Hamlet now observes that an honest man is literally one man in ten thousand (Line 181), Polonius agreeing though not realizing that Hamlet is basically saying he doubts Polonius is such a man, another scathing insult.

Hamlet now philosophically says that even "the sun breed [breeds] maggots in a dead dog, being a god kissing carrion,-" (even the sun being close to god, breeds maggots in dirty, decomposing flesh), (Line 185) by which he means even the good can do unsavory acts.

Having made his philosophical point, Hamlet asks Polonius if he has a daughter, though we all know both Polonius and Hamlet know this.

Hamlet warns Polonius teasingly that he should "Let her not walk i' [in] the sun:" adding that "conception is a blessing; but not as your daughter may conceive", telling Polonius "Friend, look to't" (friend, look into this), (Line 189), by which Hamlet is saying his daughter may be at risk of unwanted pregnancy.

Since Hamlet knows Polonius knows he knows his daughter, it is clear Hamlet intends to scare the man he already does not trust. As such the line "Friend" is extremely sarcastic; Hamlet does not consider Polonius a friend at all...

Polonius in an aside or a speech to the audience revealing his inner thoughts, remarks that Hamlet still harps on about his daughter Ophelia.

Polonius is certain this must be true and that Hamlet "is far gone, far gone:" (very mad), (Line 191) but he also remembers that when he was young, he too suffered like this out of love (193-195).

Polonius decides to test Hamlet further, asking Hamlet what he reads. Hamlet vaguely answers "Words, words, words" (Line 196), Polonius asking what is wrong and Hamlet suspiciously asking "Between who?" (Line 198).

Polonius now tells Hamlet that he meant to ask what happens in the book Hamlet is reading. Hamlet now rambles very unintelligibly (making no sense) and convinces Polonius that yes, he is indeed mad (Lines 201-210).

Polonius however is not totally convinced of Hamlet's madness since he famously says in an aside,"Though this be madness, yet there is method in't" (though this is madness, there is method or a purpose in it), (Line 211).

Polonius now asks Hamlet if he will walk out in the open, Hamlet answering "Into my grave?" (Line 214), this line convincing Polonius that Hamlet must be mad and indicating again that Hamlet wants to commit suicide (The first suggestion of this was in Act I, Scene II, Lines 132-136).

Polonius also decides that he must arrange a meeting between his daughter and Hamlet to be sure of Hamlet being lovesick as was planned earlier with the King Claudius.

With Polonius politely leaving Hamlet, Hamlet again makes his desire to die clear when Hamlet tells Polonius he can take nothing from Hamlet more willingly than his life, "except my life, except my life" Hamlet repeats (Line 225).

With Polonius leaving, Hamlet says "These tedious old fools!" (Line 227).

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet's two friends who decided to spy on Hamlet for King Claudius enter, Hamlet greeting them warmly as "My excellent good friends!" (Line 232). Hamlet asks both what news they have, explaining that "Denmark's a prison" (Line 253).

Rosencrantz politely replies that the whole world must then be a prison, but Hamlet tells Rosencrantz that if the world is a prison, Denmark must be one of is worst dungeons (Line 257).

Rosencrantz again politely tells Hamlet that he and Guildenstern do not think so, Hamlet answering that maybe Denmark is not a prison for them.

Hamlet now explains that "there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so:" (there is nothing truly good or bad, it is how you think about something that makes it so) adding that "to me [Denmark] it is a prison" (Line 261) in yet another line that shows us how much Hamlet does not like the current Denmark.

We see here a further progression in Hamlet's unease. When we first meet Hamlet, he wanted to kill himself, (Act I, Scene II). Later in Act I, Scene II, he asked King Claudius to let him return to his school in Wittenburg and now having learned the truth from King Hamlet's Ghost, Hamlet tells us that Denmark is a prison for him.

Rosencrantz tries to brighten Hamlet up, telling him that "your ambition makes it one; 'tis [it is] too narrow for your mind" (Line 262).

Hamlet disagrees, saying that he could be bound within a nutshell and would happily call himself a "king of infinite space," (call himself a king of limitless space, not feeling trapped at all), (Line 264) were it not for his "bad dreams" by which Hamlet means he could be happy if his dreams did not haunt him; ambition does not make him miserable.

Guildenstern tells Hamlet that dreams are ambition since "the very substance of the ambitious is merely the shadow of a dream" (Line 269), Hamlet answering that "A dream itself is but a shadow" (Line 270).

Tiring of this reasoning, Hamlet asks Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to meet him at the court, asking both men in friendship what they are doing here at Elsinore Castle (Lines 271-284). Hamlet also tells his two friends that "I am most dreadfully attended" (Line 280), a reference to his visitation by the Ghost of his father.

Rosencrantz lies badly that they are here at Elsinore merely to see him, but Hamlet not believing this, asks if they were sent for, or if they came voluntarily, asking both men to tell why they are here (Lines 286-291).

Guildenstern pretends not to know what Hamlet means, asking Hamlet, "What should we say, my lord?" (Line 292).

Hamlet, however knows his friends are lying, telling them that "there is a kind of confession in your looks which your modesties have not craft enough to colour: I know the good king and queen have sent for you" (there is a confession written on your face which you do not have skill enough to hide; I know the King Claudius and Queen Gertrude have sent for you), (Line 293).

Rosencrantz now plays innocent, asking, "To what end, my lord? (For what reason has the King and Queen sent for us), (Line 298).

Hamlet tells them that out of friendship, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern should tell him and after some hesitation, Guildenstern finally comes clean and tells Hamlet that they were sent for (Lines 299-305).

Hamlet realizing that King Claudius and Queen Gertrude sent Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to spy on him, tells his two friends that he has "lost all my mirth, foregone all custom of exercises;" by which Hamlet means he has lost his way and interest in life and has forsaken (stopped) most of his normal routines in life, such is his disinterest in life (Line 313).

Hamlet continues his famous speech, explaining that "the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory;" explaining that the sky which he describes as " this most excellent canopy, the air," and as "this majestical roof fretted [embellished / adorned, improved] with golden fire," appears to Hamlet as nothing more than "a foul and pestilent [vile, unsavory, disease ridden] congregation [mixture] of vapours" (Lines 311-321).

Having made clear to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, that he sees all the beauty of the world (such as the sky with the sun) as filth, Hamlet now famously denounces (rejects) the wonders of man, saying that man, the "paragon of animals!" (the pinnacle, zenith, best of creation) holds no interest for Hamlet any more, adding that this includes woman...

Hamlet:

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculty [intelligence]! in form [appearance], in moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension [fear] how like a god! the beauty of the world [the beautiful one in the world]! the paragon of animals [the zenith and leader of all animals]! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? [The ultimate creation from dust- a biblical reference] man delights not me; no, nor woman neither, though, by your smiling you seem to say so" (Lines 321-331)

From this very famous set of lines we can see Hamlet describing man as the ultimate work, noble in reason, infinite in his intellectual potential, express and admirable whilst moving, angelic in action, and fearful like a god.

On top of all this, Hamlet describes all of mankind's greatest attributes, adding that mankind is the "paragon of animals!" and yet to Hamlet, mankind, that ultimate creation from dust by biblical reference, holds no interest for Hamlet anymore.

Hamlet is so sick and weary of the world that mankind with all its wondrous potential, interests Hamlet no more, nor woman for that matter. The last line suggests Hamlet knows his friends are not taking him seriously in his rejection of woman, since he notes that his friends are smiling...

Rosencrantz now denies that he was laughing at Hamlet and so Hamlet asks him why he laughed at him, when he said, "'man delights not me?'" (Line 335).

Rosencrantz explains that if man does not interest Hamlet anymore than he will surely not be interested to know that several actors on their way to Elsinore, these actors offering their services to him (Lines 336-340).

Hamlet, however is far from disinterested, enthusiastically telling Rosencrantz that he will welcome them all, especially "He that plays the king" (the man who plays the king), (Line 341).

Rosencrantz now tells Hamlet that these actors are "tragedians of the city" (Line 350) and Hamlet quickly learns that these actors whom Hamlet remembers used to be held in high regard, now travel from place to place since as Rosencrantz explains, such actors are now out of fashion. Child actors who "berattle the common stages,-" (Line 367), (attack the old type of play) are now all the rage. As a result of this most normal plays no longer are performed.

Hamlet remarks that today's times are indeed strange; where people would "make mows" (grimace, snigger), disrespecting Claudius when King Hamlet ruled, now they throw twenty, forty, fifty and one hundred ducats for King Claudius' picture, another sign of the changing face of Denmark from Hamlet's point of view (Lines 388-394).

Guildenstern now announces the arrival of the players to Hamlet (Line 395), Hamlet telling Guildenstern and Rosencrantz that like the actors, they are welcome with him at Elsinore. Hamlet also lets on to them that he is not really mad, telling the two courtiers, his friends that "my uncle-father [King Claudius] and aunt-mother [a less than warm name for his mother] are deceived" [tricked], (Line 403).

Though Hamlet says "I am but mad north-north-west:" Hamlet adds that "when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw" by which Hamlet means though he may appear mad at times, he is really quite normal, his madness is just an illusion (Lines 405-407).

Polonius now enters, greeting Rosencrantz, Guildenstern and Hamlet.

Hamlet shares small talk about plays with Polonius but again Hamlet leads Polonius on, by deliberately saying the line "One fair daughter and no more, / The which he loved passing well" (Line 436), a comment which has Polonius say in an aside "Still on my daughter" (Line 437), Polonius' line meaning Polonius thinks Hamlet is still obsessed with his daughter Ophelia...

Four or five players from the company of actors now arrive, Hamlet enthusiastically welcoming them and discussing specifics about acting which show Hamlet to have a keen interest and knowledge of acting and the theater (Lines 459-461).

Significantly, Hamlet asks for one of the actors to give "a passionate speech" or to recite some lines from a play (Line 461) so Hamlet may have "a taste of your quality;" (get an idea of the actor's skill), (Line 460).

The First Player asks Hamlet which speech he would like (Line 462), Hamlet answering that he cannot quite remember in what play it occurred before remembering that the speech he liked was "Aeneas' tale to Dido;" (Aeneas' story to Dido from Virgil's Aeneid), (Line 477) which talks about Priam's slaughter (Lines 463-480), Hamlet recalling the opening lines, before rehearsing part of it (Lines 481-496).

Note: Hamlet also shows us his knowledge of theater by praising the play for its scenes being "set down with as much modesty as cunning" and adding that the scene in another man's opinion lacked sauciness described as "sallets" or anything else that would earn it praise, yet in Hamlet's opinion is still good if not universally liked (Line 465) and (Lines 467-468)

Returning to the play, Hamlet recites the scene with such skill that Polonius remarks on how "well spoken;" (well performed), Hamlet's recital was (Line 497).

Knowing the lines of the speech (a play derived from Aeneas' tale to Dido from Virgil's Aeneid, the epic about the Trojan war), the First Player recites the speech in which Aeneas tells Dido about how Priam was slaughtered by Phyrrus who was the son of Achilles, famous for his Achilles heal (Lines 499-527).

Polonius complains at the length of this recital, Hamlet telling the First Player to continue which the First Player does. The First Player now recites lines about "the mobled queen-", this immediately gaining Hamlet's attention and enthusiasm (Line 533).

This is because the "mobled queen-" described was King Priam's Queen Hecuba, who grieved terribly at the loss of her husband. Since Hamlet resents his own mother not mourning his father and her husband, King Hamlet, this strikes a chord in Hamlet as the First Player recites the lines about Hecuba's grief (Lines 536-549).

Polonius noting that Hamlet's face has changed color and that Hamlet "has tears in's [in his] eyes" tells the First Player to stop (Line 551).

The First Player stops and after Hamlet instructs Polonius to see to the Player's accommodations, (Lines 553-549), Hamlet asks if the First Player could perform the play "The Murder of Gonzago?" (Line 570).

Learning that the First Player can, Hamlet arranges for the play to be performed with a "dozen or sixteen lines," provided by Hamlet (Lines 567-576).

Hamlet now bids friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern goodnight (Line 581) and alone through soliloquy reveals his deepest thoughts to us.

Alone Hamlet reveals "what a rogue and peasant slave am I [I am]:" (Line 584) that this actor has in acting out Hecuba's grief, felt more for a person he does not even know than what Hamlet can (Lines 585-600).

Next Hamlet chides himself for not acting against what King Claudius has done, instead saying nothing and asking himself whether he must then be a coward or even a villain because of his inaction (Lines 606).

Hamlet continues chiding himself for some time before remembering that "I have heard, / That guilty creatures [like King Claudius] sitting at a play / Have by the very cunning of the scene [realism of the scene] / Been struck so to the soul that presently / They have proclaim'd their malefactions [been struck to their conscience to declare their sins];" Hamlet adding that "For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak / With most miraculous organ" (Lines 625-630).

Hamlet having now decided that a play can make the guilty proclaim their sins, decides that "I'll have these players [actors] / Play something like the murder of my father / Before mine uncle;" (I will have these players act out a play very similar to my father's death in front of King Claudius), where Hamlet will watch for a reaction from King Claudius since any reaction should prove King Claudius did murder his father (Line 632).

Hamlet now is certain of his plan, saying "I know my course" if King Claudius acts in a guilty way to the scene (Line 634).

Nonetheless Hamlet is cautious, not totally trusting that the Ghost is right and remembering that "The spirit that I have seen / May be the devil:" (Line 635), after all the devil has been known "To assume a pleasing shape;" with which it can lead Hamlet on to damn him (Line 636).

Hamlet ends the scene, famously saying "the play's the thing / Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king" (the play is the devise I'll use to catch King Claudius' conscience, revealing whether he killed my father or not), (Line 641).

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