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
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
With his instructions made clear, Reynaldo sets off
for Paris (Line 75) and now Ophelia, Polonius' daughter
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),
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
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
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
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
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"
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
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),
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
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"
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
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
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
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
The King, now convinced, decides to act out Polonius'
Before this can happen however, Queen Gertrude spots
Hamlet approaching, reading a book as he walks (Line
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
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
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?"
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),
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
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"
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
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
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
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?"
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),
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"
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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).