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Hamlet Commentary - Act IV.

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Act IV. Scene I. - A Room in the Castle.

King Claudius: "My soul is full of discord and dismay."

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 for madness.

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]" (Lines 8-11).

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 27).

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]" (Lines 38-39).

King Claudius ends the scene a troubled man; "My soul is full of discord [disagreement] and dismay" (Line 44).

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 King Claudius.

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 5).

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 (Line 6).

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 11).

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 16).

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 24-32).

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 35).

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 46).

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 (Line 48).

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 54).

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!" (Line 66).

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 Polonius' loss...

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 34-40).

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 70).

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 (Polonius).

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 116).

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" (Line 194).

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 202-212).

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), (Line 4).

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 13-15).

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 (Lines 35-42).

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 (Lines 110-138).

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 fencing match...

A noise now is heard, this time announcing Queen Gertrude's arrival.

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), (Line 164).

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 (Line 191).

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).

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