Act IV. Scene I. - A Room in the Castle.
King Claudius: "My soul is full of discord and
King Claudius speaks with his wife, Queen Gertrude.
He learns of Polonius' murder which shocks him; it could
easily have been him. Queen Gertrude lies for her son,
saying that Hamlet is as mad as a tempestuous sea. King
Claudius, now scared of Hamlet, decides to have Hamlet
sent away to England immediately... He also sends courtiers
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to speak with Hamlet to
find out where Hamlet has hidden Polonius' body so they
can take it to the chapel.
King Claudius notices that Queen Gertrude is troubled,
saying, " There's matter [a reason] in these sighs,"
(Line 1) and asks her to tell him why she is troubled...
Queen Gertrude asks Guildenstern and Rosencrantz to
leave her and King Claudius in private (Line 4) and
King Claudius asks Gertrude "How does Hamlet?"
(How is Hamlet?), (Line 6).
Queen Gertrude keeps her word to Hamlet by not telling
King Claudius about Hamlet's true mental state.
Instead Queen Gertrude tells Claudius that Hamlet is
as "Mad as the sea and wind, when both contend
/ Which is the mightier" (mad as the sea and wind
when they fight each other), (Line 7). This of course
causes tempestuous rough, confused seas, a fitting metaphor
Queen Gertrude goes on to mention that "In his
lawless [without reason/ lawless] fit," Hamlet
heard noises behind the arras in her closet and whipping
out his rapier (sword), cried "'A rat! a rat!'
/ And, in his brainish apprehension, kills [killed]
/ The unseen [hidden] good old man [Polonius]"
King Claudius is quite shaken by this, after all as
he says, he could have been the dead had he been hiding
behind the arras (Lines 12-13).
King Claudius is now more worried than ever about Hamlet's
menace, saying that "His liberty [freedom] is full
of threats to all; / To you yourself [Queen Gertrude],
to us, to every one" (Line 14).
King Claudius now wonders "how shall this bloody
deed be answer'd?" (How will I explain Polonius
the Lord Chamberlain's death?), (Line 16).
King Claudius now regrets that he did not restrain
"This mad young man [Hamlet]:" (Line 19) earlier
and asks now "Where is he gone?" (Line 23).
Queen Gertrude replies that Hamlet has gone "To
draw apart the body he hath kill'd"; Hamlet has
left to remove the Polonius' body. Queen Gertrude also
adds that "he weeps for what is done" (Line
King Claudius has heard enough... He tells Queen Gertrude
that he will "ship him hence;" (send Hamlet
away to England at once) and calls out for Guildenstern
who is waiting patiently nearby (Line 30).
King Claudius now tells both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
that Hamlet has killed Polonius and is dragging his
body from Queen Gertrude's closet. He tells them both
to find Hamlet and "speak fair," (Line 36)
or gently to him, without provoking him. Then, the two
courtiers are to bring the Lord Chamberlain's (Polonius')
body to the chapel.
The two men leave, and King Claudius tells Gertrude
that they must "call up our wisest friends; / And
let them know both what we mean to do [what we intend
to do], / And what's untimely done:[what has happened]"
King Claudius ends the scene a troubled man; "My
soul is full of discord [disagreement] and dismay"
Act IV. Scene II. - Another Room in the Same.
Hamlet refuses to tell Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
where Polonius' dead body is hidden. He calls Rosencrantz
and Guildenstern lapdogs, revealing his true awareness
that they are not his friends. Hamlet agrees to see
Hamlet starts the scene by saying the words, "Safely
stowed" by which he means he has just finished
stowing away Polonius' dead body (Line 1).
Hearing noise, Hamlet notices the two courtiers (Rosencrantz
and Guildenstern) approaching (Line 4).
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter, asking Hamlet where
Polonius' body is and what he has done with it (Line
Hamlet replies that he has "Compounded it with
dust, whereto 'tis kin" by which he means he has
buried it and placed it where he believes it belongs
Rosencrantz asks again where Polonius' body is so that
they can take it to the chapel but Hamlet again refuses...
He also makes it very clear now just how little he trusts
them, when he says they should not believe "That
I can keep your counsel and not mine own" (that
I can follow your advise and not my own instead), (Line
Hamlet then calls Rosencrantz and Guildenstern sponges
which he says, "soaks up the king's countenance,
his rewards, his authorities" by which he means
he considers them to be the King Claudius' lapdogs (Line
Having called Rosencrantz and Guildenstern lapdogs,
Hamlet now tells them that they will ultimately merely
be used by King Claudius like sponges (Lines 16-23).
Rosencrantz now again asks where Polonius' body is,
but Hamlet refuses to budge; he will however go with
the two courtiers to see King Claudius instead (Lines
Act IV. Scene III. - Another Room in the Same.
King Claudius: "He's loved of the distracted multitude...."
Hamlet continues to refuse to tell Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern where Polonius' body is. Hamlet is brought
before King Claudius. The two exchange words, clearly
circling each other, each aware that the other is a
threat. Hamlet tells King Claudius where Polonius body
is. King Claudius ominously tells Hamlet to leave for
England "for thine especial safety...." With
Hamlet gone, King Claudius reveals his plans for Hamlet
to be killed in England, freeing King Claudius from
further worry from this threat...
King Claudius opens this scene voicing his fears of
Hamlet. He discusses how he has sent his two courtiers,
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to seek the whereabouts
of Polonius' body and he also explains "How dangerous
is it [it is] that this man [Hamlet] goes loose [is
free]!" (Line 2).
King Claudius however, has a problem. He cannot simply
"put the strong law on him:" (Line 3) or silence
Hamlet because as he says, "He's loved of the distracted
multitude [the masses / public love him],"(Line
4). Instead King Claudius decides again that sending
Hamlet overseas would be the wisest, safest course of
action (Lines 4-10).
Rosencrantz now enters and tells King Claudius that
they still have not found Polonius' body. Angered, King
Claudius asks that Hamlet be brought before him, Guildenstern
bringing Hamlet before King Claudius (Lines 11-16).
Hamlet and Guildenstern now enter and King Claudius
asks Hamlet where Polonius' body is.
Hamlet defiantly replies "At supper" (Line
18) which Hamlet later explains is "Not where he
[Polonius] eats, but where he is eaten:" a reference
to Polonius having been buried.
To spell this out crystal clear, Hamlet goes on to
sarcastically explain that "a certain convocation
of politic [prudent / wise / sensible] worms are e'en
[eating] at him [Polonius]" (Line 20).
Hamlet continues this theme of worms, confusing King
Claudius (Lines 21-33) and when the King again asks
Hamlet where Polonius' body is, Hamlet replies "In
heaven;" cheekily asking him to send his messengers
(Rosencrantz and Guildenstern) there to check this (Line
Hamlet now finally lets on where Polonius really is
by saying "if you find him not [if you do not find
him] within this month [within a month], you shall nose
him [smell his rotting body] as you go up the stairs
into the lobby" (Line 40).
King Claudius immediately dispatches "Attendants"
to check this, and now King Claudius tells Hamlet that
"for thine especial safety," (for your special
safety), (Line 43), he must be sent away to England
"With fiery quickness:" (very quickly), (Line
King Claudius is very keen for this to happen and we
can see this from the imagery he uses when he says "The
bark is ready [the boat is ready], and the wind at help
[the winds are favorable], / The associates tend, and
every thing is bent [prepared] / For England",
King Claudius' words almost trying to will Hamlet to
leave since so many things are waiting for Hamlet to
give the word yes and go to England not least of which
is Hamlet's death which would relieve Claudius no end
Hamlet enthusiastically replies "For England!",
indicating he will do as King Claudius says and Hamlet
farewells his mother (Lines 49-52).
King Claudius adds "Thy loving father, Hamlet"
(and your loving father, King Claudius haven't you forgotten
Hamlet?), (Line 53).
Hamlet replies to this cryptically before leaving (Line
With Hamlet gone, King Claudius tells Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern to make sure Hamlet boards the bark (boat)
tonight since a great deal counts on him being on that
bark, King Claudius explains (Lines 57-60).
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern now leave and King Claudius
makes it very clear what awaits Hamlet in England...
Hamlet will be killed there allowing King Claudius to
breath easy again (Lines 61-70).
Act IV. Scene IV. - A Plain in Denmark.
Young Fortinbras marches his army across Denmark
to fight the Polish. Hamlet laments that he does not
have in him the strength of Young Fortinbras, who will
lead an army into pointless fighting, if only to maintain
honor. Hamlet asks himself how he cannot fight for honor
when his father has been killed and his mother made
a whore in his eyes by becoming King Claudius' wife.
Young Fortinbras, who is leading his army across a
plain in Denmark, tells one "captain," (Line
1) to greet the Danish King (King Claudius) to ensure
that he still has permission to march across Danish
territory as King Claudius had earlier promised (King
Claudius' and the King of Norway's compromise to let
Fortinbras cross Denmark to fight against Poland instead
of Denmark occurred in Act II, Scene II).
Fortinbras now exits with several soldiers (Lines 1-8).
Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter, greeting
Young Fortinbras' Captain. They quickly learn that the
forces the Captain commands are Norwegian and are being
sent to fight the Polish.
They also learn from the Captain that these forces
are led by Young Fortinbras, nephew to the King of Norway
(just like Young Hamlet is nephew to King Claudius;
dualism of fate?), (Lines 9-16).
When Hamlet asks the Captain what land or frontier
they are fighting for (Line 16) he is appalled to learn
that the land in question is "A little patch of
ground / That hath [has] in it no profit [value] but
the name" (Line 19), in other words what the Norwegians
are fighting for is not for valuable land but merely
honor and glory instead; their fight which will be bloody
will also be largely pointless.
The Captain even explains that he would not even farm
the land he will soon fight for (Lines 16-22).
Hamlet replies that the Poles will not fight for it
but the Captain assures him that a garrison already
protects this worthless land (Line 24).
After Hamlet thanks the Captain, he promptly exits
and with Hamlet again alone (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
have departed ahead), Hamlet again questions what man
is (Lines 31-44), and Hamlet shows his envy for this
army led on it's bloody mission "by a delicate
and tender prince [Young Fortinbras], / Whose spirit
with divine ambition puff'd / Makes mouths at the invisible
event," (Lines 48-50).
Clearly Hamlet wishes he was a little more like Young
Fortinbras, showing an envy not seen since Hamlet belittled
(scolded / criticized) himself for lacking the passion
of an The First Player in Act II, Scene II.
Hamlet berates (criticizes) himself by explaining
that while Young Fortinbras is willing to risk his all
by "Exposing what is mortal and unsure / To all
that fortune, death and danger dare," in fighting
the Poles for just "an egg-shell" (Lines 51-53)
a metaphor for the worthless land, because it is a matter
of honor, when Hamlet has had his father murdered and
"a mother stain'd," (metaphor for being corrupted
by her relationship with King Claudius), (Line 57),
yet he does nothing or as Hamlet puts it, "let
all sleep [ignores this]," yet here, Hamlet can
see twenty thousand men fighting and dying for something
that is worthless simply because it is a matter of honor.
Realizing that he has obviously lacked the will to
fight against what is wrong, Hamlet decides that "from
this time forth [from now on], / My thoughts be bloody
[my thoughts will be bloody], or be nothing worth!"
Act IV. Scene V. - Elsinore. A Room in the Castle.
Laertes: "Give me my father."
The death of Polonius (killed by Hamlet) leaves
its mark on Ophelia who becomes mad from the grief of
losing her father. Laertes storms King Claudius' castle,
demanding to see his father and wanting justice when
he learns his father has been killed. King Claudius
remains calm, telling Laertes that he too mourned his
The scene opens to a Gentleman telling Queen Gertrude
that Ophelia wishes to speak with her. Queen Gertrude
refuses and the Gentleman explains that Ophelia is no
longer quite normal; "She is importunate, indeed
distract:" he says (Line 2).
The Gentleman tells Queen Gertrude that "She [Ophelia]
speaks much of her father;" (Line 4) or talks alot
about her father but that she " speaks things in
doubt, / That carry but half sense:" (she says
things that make no sense), (Line 7).
Horatio, however, believes Queen Gertrude should speak
with her, if only because "she may strew [spread]
/ Dangerous conjectures [ideas / thoughts] in ill-breeding
[common] minds" or in other words, her rambling's
though mad, could create dangerous suspicions in some
people's minds (Lines 14-15).
Realizing Horatio has a point, Queen Gertrude lets
Ophelia speak with her. Significantly, Queen Gertrude
in her only moment alone in this play reveals that "To
my sick soul, as sin's true nature is, / Each toy seems
prologue to some great amiss:" (Line 17) by which
Queen Gertrude means her soul is now sick as sin truly
is and that each new event seems to be a precursor to
some great loss, an important foreshadowing of the misery
to come in this play (Lines 17-20).
Ophelia now enters with the Gentleman, and immediately
upsets Queen Gertrude by asking "Where is the beauteous
majesty of Denmark?" (Line 22) before singing three
verses of a song Queen Gertrude does not understand
(Lines 23-32), the first of which (Lines 23-26) relates
to how a women should know true love, the second a reference
to her dead father Polonius (Lines 28-33) and the third
another reference to her dead father Polonius (Lines
King Claudius now enters and greets Ophelia warmly
(Line 41) but Ophelia continues with her incomprehensible
rambling's which are now about love (Lines 42-66), prompting
King Claudius to ask "How long hath she been thus?"
(how long has Ophelia been like this?), (Line 67).
Ophelia now again speaks, making more sense by saying
she must be patient and saying she has no choice but
to weep that they must lay her father "i' the cold
ground" (in the cold ground / bury him), (Line
Ophelia explains that her brother, Laertes will soon
know the bad news and she thanks all present for their
good counsel but then lapses into mad speech again by
saying "Come, my coach!" before saying goodnight
and exiting (Line 73).
King Claudius now tells his aides to follow her closely
and keep an eye on her, whilst he comments that Ophelia's
grief has sprung like a fountain from her father's death
King Claudius now remarks philosophically that when
sorrow comes, it comes not in spies but in battalions
(when it rains it pours). King Claudius recalls recently
events, referring first to Ophelia's father Polonius
being slain, Hamlet's departure, the people now talking,
full of doubt, confusion and fear, and mentioning the
haste with which Polonius was buried.
Claudius relates how Ophelia has in grief "Divided
from herself and her fair judgement," (gone mad),
(Line 85) and that her brother Laertes who has secretly
returned from France is being angered by persistent
rumors about his father's death. King Claudius tells
Gertrude that all this worries him (Lines 75-84).
A noise is heard and King Claudius orders his switzers
or what we would call today bodyguards (mercenary guards)
to protect him by guarding his door (Line 97).
A Gentleman instead enters, announcing that Laertes
and his "rabble" (Line 102), (a mob) have
broken into the castle and will soon break in to the
King's room at Elsinore Castle... Even worse, Laertes'
rabble have cried out "'Laertes shall be king,
Laertes king!'", a clear threat to King Claudius'
reign of Denmark(Line 108).
With another loud noise, the door to King Claudius'
room breaks and Laertes faces King Claudius (Lines 110-112).
With his supporters outside the chamber in guard, Laertes
says "Give me my father" (Line 115).
Queen Gertrude urges Laertes to calm himself (Line
Dismissing his fellow Danes, Laertes and King Claudius
speak in private, Laertes first demanding to be see
his father (Line 125) and then demanding to know how
his father died after King Claudius tells him, Polonius
is "Dead" (Line 126).
The two men speak, King Claudius telling Laertes he
is not his enemy, he too mourned Polonius' loss, Queen
Gertrude telling Laertes, King Claudius did not kill
him (Lines 128-152).
Ophelia now interrupts the meeting by entering and
again sings incomprehensibly, again mourning her father
(Lines 153) and she gives out rosemary and pansies to
imaginary people (Lines 174-176), while Laertes watches
and then says that his sister is now "A document
in madness, thoughts and remembrance fitted" (she
is truly mad), (Line 177).
Ophelia continues singing, giving out fennel and columbines,
daisies and violets but says "they withered all
when my father died" (Line 184) a clear metaphor
that her hopes and happiness symbolized by the flowers
all died in her when her father died, a man described
as having a beard which "was as white as snow"
Laertes continues to watch this gruesome fall from
sanity by his sister, revealing his own grief for his
sister Ophelia (Lines 187-188 and Line 201).
King Claudius now tells Laertes to check King Claudius'
sincerity with his friends; if he can prove King Claudius
was involved, he will give up his kingdom, otherwise,
Laertes should join him in seeing justice done (punishment
made) for the man (Hamlet) who killed Polonius (Lines
Laertes ends the scene revealing his determination
to punish that man (Hamlet) who robbed his father of
life and decent burial (Lines 212-216).
King Claudius agrees, saying, "where the offence
is let the great axe fall" , the two men exiting
together (Line 218).
Act IV. Scene VI. - Another Room in the Same.
Horatio is greeted by sailors who have news from
Hamlet. Horatio follows the sailors to learn more....
Horatio is greeted by sailors bearing letters for him.
Realizing these can only be from Hamlet, Horatio welcomes
the sailors in and Horatio reads Hamlet's letter, telling
him the ship Hamlet was sailing to England on, was attacked
by pirates. Hamlet boarded the pirate's ship but ended
up becoming a prisoner (Line 18). The pirates treated
Hamlet well however, returning him to Denmark in return
for Hamlet doing them "a good turn" or a favor
for them in the future (Line 20).
Hamlet instructs Horatio to send the other letters
contained with this one to King Claudius and to meet
him as quickly as possible; he has a great deal to tell
his friend, "I have words to speak in thine [your]
ear [that] will make thee [you] dumb [silent, amazed];"
(I have words to tell you that will amaze you or make
you dumb or silent with surprise), (Line 26).
Hamlet explains that the sailors will lead Horatio
to him. He also mentions that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
have continued on their way to England and that he has
much to tell Horatio about them.
Horatio agrees to leave at once with the sailors to
meet his friend...
Act IV. Scene VII. - Another Room in the Same.
King Claudius: "The queen his mother / Lives almost
by his looks...."
King Claudius explains to Laertes that Hamlet killed
his father, Polonius. Deciding they have a common enemy,
they plot Hamlet's death at a fencing match to be arranged
between Laertes and Hamlet. Laertes learns of his sister
Ophelia's death by drowning...
King Claudius tells Laertes to trust him as a friend,
telling him that the man who killed "your noble
father" has also tried to kill him (King Claudius),
Laertes listens but asks King Claudius why he did not
act against Hamlet's murder of Polonius? King Claudius
answers that he did nothing for "two special reasons;"
namely "The queen his mother (Hamlet's mother,
Queen Gertrude) / Lives almost by his looks," (lives
for Hamlet), (Line 12), Claudius explaining that he
could not easily live without Queen Gertrude (Lines
Secondly, the "great love the general gender
[the public] bear [show] him;" (Line 18) would
not support King Claudius punishing Hamlet, an action
which would weaken his rule (Lines 16-24).
Laertes however, makes it clear that because he has
lost his noble father and had his sister "driven
into desperate terms [made mad]," (Line 26), he
will have his revenge, saying "my revenge will
come" (Line 30).
King Claudius assures Laertes not to lose any sleep
over this, saying he will soon tell Laertes more of
what he has in store for Hamlet (Lines 31-34).
A Messenger arrives, delivering two letters, one for
King Claudius and one for Queen Gertrude before exiting
King Claudius reads Hamlet's letter, announcing Hamlet's
return and his explanation for it (Lines 43-49). King
Claudius ponders it's words and immediately Laertes
and King Claudius plot to kill Hamlet.
King Claudius now manipulates Laertes by describing
how Hamlet's competitive interest in him was increased
by reports he had heard of Laertes' skill with a rapier
(sword), explaining that when Hamlet learned this from
a Norman soldier (Lines 95-96), he immediately wanted
to test his skills against him (Lines 61-106).
Laertes wonders where King Claudius is heading with
all this so King Claudius asks Laertes whether his father
was "dear to you?" (Line 107), to encourage
Laertes to a fencing match with Hamlet where he can
kill Hamlet by using a foil with a sharp blade instead
of a blunt blade to avenge his Polonius' death by Hamlet
Laertes is enthusiastic, saying he will fence against
Hamlet but adds to the plan by explaining that just
to be sure, he will "anoint my sword" (Line
140) or dab his sword in a poison he recently acquired
(Lines 140-144). So deadly is this poison, Laertes explains,
that even a slight wound would kill Hamlet (Lines 146-148).
Claudius though, has been inspired by this talk of
poison. If a sword wound or scratch does not kill Hamlet,
Claudius has a back up plan in poisoning some wine for
Hamlet should he call for a drink (Lines 148-161).
Clearly Hamlet is now very unlikely to survive this
A noise now is heard, this time announcing Queen Gertrude's
Echoing her earlier lines that each action is a precursor
to misery, Queen Gertrude says, "One woe [one sadness]
doth [does] tread upon another's heel [quickly follow
a previous one], / So fast they follow: your sister's
drown'd, Laertes" (your sister has drowned Laertes),
Laertes asks where, Queen Gertrude explaining that
Ophelia was by the river with her "fantastic garlands"
(Line 169) when an "envious sliver" or envious
branch broke, falling on Ophelia and dragging her into
the water (Line 174).
In a very visual description, Queen Gertrude distantly
and clinically describes Ophelia floating for a while
before eventually drowning in what has been described
as one of Shakespeare's most discussed poetic passages
of Hamlet (Lines 167-183).
Laertes mourns his sister's loss, saying "Too
much of water hast thou, poor Ophelia," (you have
too much water, poor Ophelia), (Line 186) before bidding
King Claudius and Queen Gertrude good-bye, since he
now has "a speech of fire," (is now further
angered), (Line 190) and so eager to find Hamlet, exits
King Claudius bids Queen Gertrude to follow him, innocently
saying "How much I had to do to calm his rage!",
fearing that Ophelia's death will now start up Laertes'
rage all over again and so deciding then that they must
therefore follow the hot headed Laertes (Line 191).