Act III. Scene I. - A Room in the Castle.
Hamlet: "To be, or not to be: that is the question...."
The King's spies, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
report to King Claudius on Hamlet's behaviour. Hamlet
is eager for King Claudius and Queen Gertrude to watch
a play tonight which Hamlet has added lines to. King
Claudius and Polonius listen in on Hamlet's and Ophelia's
private conversation. Hamlet suspects Ophelia is spying
on him and is increasingly hostile to her before leaving.
King Claudius decides to send Hamlet to England, fearing
danger in Hamlet since he no longer believes Hamlet
is merely lovesick. The King agrees to Polonius' plan
to eavesdrop on Hamlet's conversation with his mother
after the play to hopefully learn more from Hamlet.
Within a room in at Elsinore Castle, King Claudius,
accompanied by Queen Gertrude, Polonius and Ophelia,
asks Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to explain further
why Hamlet "puts on this confusion, / Grating so
harshly all his days of quiet / With turbulent and dangerous
lunacy?" (Why Hamlet acts as if he is mad), (Lines
King Claudius' comment above that Hamlet is "putting
on" a display of madness, clearly tells us that
King Claudius no longer completely believes Polonius'
theory that Hamlet is lovesick; instead it suggests
Claudius knows Hamlet's lunacy is an act...
Rosencrantz pledges what he has seen, saying of Hamlet
that "He does confess he feels himself distracted;"
(Hamlet does confess to feeling distracted), (Line 5),
Rosencrantz adding however that Hamlet will not tell
him the "cause" of his distraction (Line 5).
Guildenstern backs up Rosencrantz, telling King Claudius
that Hamlet has avoided giving explanations for his
behaviour, but "with a crafty madness," (a
cunning madness), instead "keeps aloof, / When
we would bring him on to some confession / Of his true
state" (keeps aloof, when we try to ask him his
true mental state), (Lines 8-9).
Queen Gertrude now questions Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
(Line 10), learning that Hamlet did receive (welcome
/ greet) Guildenstern and Rosencrantz "Most like
a gentleman" (politely like a gentleman), (Line
The Queen also asks of Hamlet's general activity (Line
15), learning that Hamlet was enthusiastic and happy
at the arrival of the players (actors) in the court,
Rosencrantz saying that "there did seem in him
a kind of joy" (Line 18).
Polonius now adds that Hamlet "beseech'd"
or urged him to "entreat" or request that
King Claudius and the Queen watch the play to be acted
for Hamlet tonight.
King Claudius, who now seems very wary of Hamlet's
emotional state, is very pleased to hear his nephew
is happy again, saying "With all my heart; and
it doth much content me / To hear him so inclin'd"
(it pleases me with all my heart to hear that Hamlet
is so inclined), (Line 24).
King Claudius now tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
to "give him [Hamlet] a further edge, / And drive
his purpose on to these delights" by which Claudius
means for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to encourage
Hamlet to follow this acting interest of his since it
appears to make Hamlet happy (Line 25).
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern now depart, King Claudius
asking his wife, Queen Gertrude to also leave since
as Claudius explains, he and Polonius have arranged
for Ophelia to meet Hamlet at which point the two men
will hide so they can eavesdrop on Hamlet's and Ophelia's
conversation to learn if Hamlet's behaviour is the result
of "the affliction of his love" (Hamlet is
lovesick), (Line 36) or not (Lines 29-37).
Queen Gertrude leaves, telling Ophelia that she wishes
that her "good beauties be [are] the happy cause
/ Of Hamlet's wildness [madness];" in which
case Queen Gertrude hopes and tells Ophelia that "I
hope your virtues / Will bring him [Hamlet] to his wonted
[normal] way again," (Line 39).
Ophelia respectfully replies to the Queen, "Madam,
I wish it may" (Madam, I hope it does), (Line 41).
With the Queen now exiting, Polonius tells Ophelia
where to walk, whilst Polonius and King Claudius hide
behind an arras (a tapestry wall).
Polonius tells his daughter Ophelia to "Read on
this book;" (Line 44) or be reading a book since
Polonius explains reading a book "may colour /
Your loneliness" or rather make it more convincing
when Hamlet finds her (Line 45).
Polonius now mentions that under the guise of devotion,
one can often do tasks (such as making Ophelia spy on
Hamlet) that are evil and wrong which he likens to sugaring
over or making less offensive, the devil.
Polonius: "We are oft [often] to blame in this,
/ 'Tis [it is] too much prov'd [proved], that with devotion's
visage [face / appearance] / And pious action [devoutly
religious or virtuous action / doing something with
the guise that it is holy] we do sugar o'er [over] /
The devil himself (we do sugar over or cover up / disguise
the most vile, horrid things which of course are represented
as devil-like)" (Lines 46-49).
King Claudius' conscience is now awakened by Polonius's
remark since King Claudius in an aside to himself, agrees
with Polonius' sentiment that one can commit wrong with
all the right actions (Line 50), King Claudius explaining
that "The harlot's [prostitute's] cheek, beautied
with plastering art [made beautiful with makeup], /
Is not more ugly [is not uglier] to the thing that helps
it / Than is my deed [killing King Hamlet] to my most
painted [false, hypocritical] word:" before exclaiming
the weight of his guilt with the line "O heavy
burden!" (O! how heavy is the burden of my guilt!),
Hearing Hamlet coming, Polonius tells the King that
they should withdraw or hide from view behind the arras
before Hamlet sees them (Line 55).
Hamlet now enters and alone, speaks his third soliloquy,
the famous " To be, or not to be:" soliloquy.
Beginning with the lines "To be, or not to be:
that is the question:" (Line 56), Hamlet asks himself
whether it is more noble in the mind to suffer "The
slings and arrows of outrageous fortune," or to
"take arms [fight] against a sea of troubles [a
mountain of worries]," and by fighting or opposing
them, to then end those worries (Lines 56-61).
Next he asks the question of whether to die or to sleep
(Lines 64-90) pondering philosophically the difference
between the two, before noticing Ophelia (Line 88).
Ophelia and Hamlet cordially greet each other (Lines
91-93) before Ophelia tells Hamlet that she has "remembrances
of yours," (letters) that she says she had longed
to "re-deliver;" (return) to him (Lines 94-96).
Hamlet pretends that he never sent them but Ophelia
reminds him that he knows very well that he sent them
to her. Ophelia now remarks on how those remembrances
contained "words of so sweet breath compos'd
[made of such sweet, beautiful phrases], (Line 98).
She tells Hamlet to deny this no further since as she
says "Rich gifts wax poor [are made poor] when
givers [like Hamlet] prove unkind" (Lines 100-101).
Hamlet, realizing that Ophelia is acting very cordially
and unusually starts to indicate his distrust of Ophelia
by saying "Ha, ha! are you honest?" (Line
103), Ophelia gasping "My lord!" (Line 104)
before Hamlet then asks "Are you fair?" (Line
105) these being very rude questions to ask a lady and
questions more appropriate to a man inquiring about
a prostitute in this time...
We can sense that Hamlet already distrusts Ophelia
and may be wondering who may be listening in to his
Ophelia now asks Hamlet what he means, Hamlet answering
that "if you be honest [if you are honest] and
fair, your honesty should admit no discourse to your
beauty" (Line 109).
Ophelia asks Hamlet whether beauty could have any better
commerce than honesty, Hamlet answering that beauty
and honesty form a paradox (Lines 111-116) before telling
Ophelia that "I did love thee [you] once,"
Ophelia replies that Hamlet certainly made her believe
so and now Hamlet beginning to feel enraged, tells her
it was a lie, "I loved you not" (Line 122).
Ophelia replies that she "was the more deceived"
(Line 123) before Hamlet tells Ophelia to go to a nunnery;
men such as Hamlet are not to be trusted.
Hamlet now asks her whether she would she be "a
breeder of sinners?" Hamlet saying that he has
committed acts that would make it better if his mother
had not given birth to him (Lines 124-128).
Hamlet now says that he is proud, revengeful and ambitious,
telling Ophelia that "We [men] are all arrant [aimless]
knaves (fools / barbarians), all [of us];" (Line
132) before telling Ophelia to "believe none of
us" and to go to a nunnery (Line 133).
Now in a line which clearly shows us that Hamlet totally
distrusts Ophelia, Hamlet out of the blue, asks Ophelia
"Where's your father?" (Line 135).
Ophelia who knows exactly where Polonius is, lies saying
Polonius is "At home, my lord" (Line 136).
Hamlet,clearly realizing that Ophelia has betrayed
him and must be working on King Claudius' behalf, insults
King Claudius by saying " Let the doors be shut
upon him, that he may play the fool nowhere but in's
[in his] own house" before curtly saying "Farewell"
to Ophelia. (Lines 136-139).
Note: The fact that Hamlet finishes his initial
conversation to Ophelia quickly after asking about Polonius
suggests Hamlet is angry at being betrayed by Ophelia
since he wishes his so- called love to leave his sight
immediately. Additionally, Hamlet's insult of King
Claudius was so offensive and declamatory in its syntax
that we must conclude its purpose is for Hamlet to prove
to his spies that he knows they are there...
Hamlet now directly insults Ophelia, telling her that
he would give her a plague as a dowry should they marry
and that no matter how pure she is, she will not escape
"calumny", telling her again to go to a nunnery
but in a tone suggesting less that it is advise and
more that it is an order (Lines 141-144).
Hamlet now adds that if Ophelia must marry then she
should marry a fool, "for wise men know well enough
what monsters you make of them" before again telling
her to go to a nunnery (Line 145).
Ophelia asks the heavenly powers to restore Hamlet
or return him to normal, Hamlet launching another blistering
attack on Ophelia, who he now clearly sees as having
betrayed him by working for Claudius.
Hamlet tells Ophelia that "god hath [has] given
you one face, and you make yourselves another:"
adding "you jig [a ludicrous ballad], you amble,
and you lisp, and nickname God's creatures," before
Hamlet tells Ophelia that he will not take it, and to
leave his sight immediately, since he tells Ophelia
that she "hath made me mad" (Line 155).
After denouncing all marriages, Hamlet leaves, leaving
Ophelia to mourn "what a noble mind is here o'er-thrown
[overthrown]:" (Line 159) or as she later says,
"Blasted with ecstasy:" (Line 169) which used
to be so ordered and authoritative (Lines 160-161).
With Hamlet gone, King Claudius and Polonius emerge
from the arras, with King Claudius certain that Hamlet
is not in love, adding that what Hamlet said "Was
not like madness" (Line 173).
King Claudius notices that Hamlet's so called madness
may very well be an illusion, since he remarks that
"There's something in his soul / O'er [over]
which his melancholy [sadness / depression] sits on
brood;" and adding that he has no doubt that "the
hatch and the disclose [the real reason for his behaviour]
/ Will be some danger;" (will be dangerous to him),
Certain that the real cause of Hamlet's behaviour poses
a threat to him, King Claudius decides that to prevent
any danger to his person by sending Hamlet away to England
where distance alone should make him less of a threat
than he is to King Claudius here in Denmark.
I have in quick determination / Thus set it down:
he shall with speed to England, / For the demand of
our neglected tribute: / Haply the seas and countries
different / With variable objects shall expel / This
something-settled matter in his heart, / Whereon his
brains still beating puts him thus / From fashion
(I have decided to send Hamlet to England in return
for those neglected tributes that have not been paid
to me there. Hopefully this change of location shall
settle the problem in Hamlet's heart, which his thinking
about is only worsening, putting him at odds with
his normal character), (Lines 177-182)
King Hamlet now asks Polonius what he thinks of his
idea, Polonius answering that he still feels that "The
origin [the cause] and commencement [beginning] of his
[Hamlet's] grief / Sprung [came] from neglected love
[Ophelia's rejection of Hamlet]" (Line 185).
Polonius now scolds Ophelia since he is still certain
she is the true cause of Hamlet's behaviour before
suggesting that King Claudius may "do as you please;"
Polonius does however, receive King Claudius' permission
to have Queen Gertrude speak with Hamlet after the play
so that Polonius can learn more for the King by listening
in to their conversation (Lines 187-195).
King Claudius ends the scene by both giving Polonius
permission to spy on his wife and nephew's (Hamlet's)
conversation and by warning of the danger, complacency
King Claudius: "It shall be so [you, Polonius
have my permission]: / Madness in great ones [Hamlet]
must not unwatch'd go [Madness in great ones should
not go unwatched]" (Lines 195-196).
Act III. Scene II. - A Hall in the Castle.
Queen Gertrude: "The lady doth protest too much,
The play Hamlet had added lines to is performed.
The mime preceding the play which mimics the Ghost's
description of King Hamlet's death goes unnoticed.
The main play, "The Murder of Gonzago"
is performed, causing King Claudius to react which convinces
Hamlet that his uncle did poison his father King Hamlet
as the Ghost previously had told him...
Hamlet pretends not to know that the play has offended
King Claudius. Hamlet agrees to speak with his mother
The scene opens with Hamlet speaking with several players
(actors) who will soon perform the evening's play. Hamlet
urges these players to speak their lines with subtlety,
"trippingly [gently] on the tongue;" instead
of shouting them out bluntly like a town crier (Line
Hamlet also urges the actors to gesticulate (use hand
motions) lightly (Line 3), telling the actors to "acquire
and beget a temperance [maintain self-restraint, or
a moderation in their acting] that may give it [their
performance] a smoothness" (Line 7) since this
will better depict a "whirlwind of passion,"
in Hamlet's opinion (Line 5).
This advise and Hamlet's comments that "I
would have such a fellow whipped [I would have someone
whipped / beaten] for o'er-doing (overdoing / overacting)
Termagant;" (a play), (Line 15), suggest that Hamlet
is something of a connoisseur, if not an well-informed
patron of theater.
Hamlet now tells the players to avoid overacting (Line
17), the First Player pledging to do so (Line 18).
Hamlet now goes on giving out advise, telling the players
(actors) not to be too tame either and instead to "let
your own discretion [judgment] be your tutor: suit [match]
the action to the word, the word to the action;"
Note: In Hamlet telling the actors how to match
actions to words to make them believable, one cannot
help but notice a certain irony that Hamlet who is also
playing a role (madness) is advising the players
on how they too can be more convincing in their own
Hamlet continues his advise (Lines 20-40), telling
the actors above all else to "o'erstep not the
modesty of nature [do not overstep or go beyond the
modesty of nature / do not be unrealistic];" since
as Hamlet explains, "anything so overdone is from
the purpose of playing [anything so overdone is away
from the purpose of playing or acting]," and will
only make the "judicious grieve [upset people who
know theater];" and the "unskilful [ignorant]
laugh," (Line 30).
Since Hamlet is hoping to flush out his uncle's (King
Claudius) guilt with the player's performance, it is
obvious that Hamlet would want the play to be subtle
and not overdone; Hamlet needs a realistic play to get
a response from his uncle, not a laugh.
After some further discussion (Lines 41-51) the players
(actors) leave, and now Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
Hamlet asks "will the king [King Claudius] hear
this piece of work [will the king watch the play]?"
(Line 52), Polonius telling Hamlet that the King will
watch the play as will Hamlet's mother Queen Gertrude
before leaving (Lines 52-54).
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern now leave when Hamlet
asks them to tell the players to prepare the play or
to quote Hamlet, "make haste" (make speed,
work quickly), (Line 54).
Horatio, Hamlet's trusted friend from the very first
act (remember the guard platform at Elsinore Castle?)
arrives, Hamlet immediately praising his one truly trustworthy
friend (Line 60).
Horatio modestly plays down Hamlet's compliments and
Hamlet now pledges that "bless'd [blessed]
are those / Whose blood and judgement are so well co-mingled
/ That they are not a pipe for fortune's finger
/ To sound what stop she please," (blessed are
those whose body and judgement are so well mixed that
they are not able to be influenced by fortune as are
most others), (Line 73).
Hamlet also adds that if knew such an honorable man,
he would " wear him / In my heart's core,
aye, in my heart of heart, / As I do thee (you, Horatio)",
Having finished complimenting Horatio as a man of good
judgement, Hamlet tells his friend that "There
is a play to-night before the king; [tonight the king
will watch a play]" (Line 80).
Hamlet also explains that within the play he has added
some lines in which "One scene of it comes near
the circumstance / Which I have told thee of my father's
death:" (one scene in the play closely re-enacts
what I have told you about how my father, King Hamlet
died), (Lines 80-82).
Hamlet now tells his trusted friend Horatio that when
he sees the actors take to the stage, he should "Observe
mine uncle;" (watch my uncle, King Claudius), (Line
Hamlet explains that "if his occulted guilt /
Do not unkennel in one speech, / It is a damned ghost
that we have seen," (if my uncle's guilt does
not reveal itself in one specific speech of the play,
then it was a damned or evil Ghost that we saw, and
what the Ghost told us is not true), (Lines 86-88).
Hamlet also adds that he too, will be watching King
Claudius' expression during the play and that after
it, he and Horatio will together decide whether King
Claudius killed his father or not...
With the play about to begin, Hamlet bids his friend
to take his place, telling his friend that for their
plan to work, "I must be idle:" (I must be
unassuming / I must lay low), (Line 95 and Lines 90-96)
King Claudius, Queen Gertrude, Polonius the Lord Chamberlain,
Ophelia, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and "Others"
now enter to watch the play...
Immediately upon entering, King Claudius asks Hamlet
how he is. Hamlet replies "Excellent, i' faith;"
(excellent, I believe), (Line 100), hiding his true
feelings from King Claudius.
In what now becomes a very obvious war of words, King
Claudius replies to Hamlet, "I have nothing with
this answer, Hamlet; these words are not mine"
(you are telling me nothing with this answer, Hamlet),
Hamlet replies to the King "No, nor mine now"
and asks Polonius if it is true that he once acted "i'
(in / at) the university," (Line 105).
Polonius replies, that yes he did once act, Hamlet
asking in what play?
Polonius answers that he acted in Julius Caesar (Line
109) which is a clear in-joke to viewers of this play,
since Shakespeare had previously performed Julius
Caesar at the Globe.
Further laughter ensues for the audience, when Polonius
says "I was kill'd [killed] i' (in) the Capitol;
Brutus killed me" (Line 109-110).
Viewers of this play would remember that the actor
playing Polonius, played Caesar in Julius Caesar.
Besides the in-joke that the actor who plays Polonius
says in this play that he previously played Julius Caesar,
we have the further irony that just as the actor playing
Polonius was Julius Caesar, the actor playing Brutus
is considered likely by many to have played Hamlet in
this play, a character who will ultimately be killed
by Polonius (who played Caesar in Julius Caesar).
Returning to the play, Hamlet makes another in-joke
by saying to Polonius, "It was a brute [pun on
Brutus who the actor playing Hamlet likely played] part
of him to kill so capital a calf there" (Line 111).
Learning that the players (actors) are ready, Queen
Gertrude asks Hamlet to "sit by me" (Line
Tellingly, Hamlet declines; we already know from his
soliloquies that Hamlet distrusts his mother almost
as much as his "uncle", King Claudius.
Hamlet now insults his mother by saying "No, good
mother [sarcasm], here's metal more attractive"
Noticing Hamlet's hostility, Polonius asks Claudius
whether he noticed this (Line 119) and Hamlet takes
his place at Ophelia's feet after asking her, "Lady,
shall I lie in your lap? [An insult to Ophelia's virtue,
continuing Hamlet's prostitute theme earlier in the
play]" (Line 120).
Ophelia, insulted by this question, tells Hamlet "No,
my lord" (Line 121), Hamlet pretending that what
he really meant was "I mean, my head upon your
lap?" (Line 122).
Ophelia replies "Ay, my lord" (Line 124)
and now Hamlet continues to attack Ophelia by innocently
asking, "Do you think I meant country matters?"
(Did you think I was talking about intimate matters
/ sex?), (Line 124).
Ophelia, keen to maintain her virtue and reputation,
politely replies "I think nothing, my lord"
Hamlet now moves in for the kill, offhandedly replying
"That's a fair thought to lie between maids' legs"
(that is a good thought to have between a women's legs,
a very vulgar remark whose imagery shows Hamlet has
no respect at all for Ophelia whom he sees as a prostitute
for selling her soul to King Claudius and using his
affection for her for profit in spying on him), (Line
Ophelia replies to this remark "What is, my lord?"
(Line 128), Hamlet replying with the word "Nothing"
Ophelia now tells Hamlet that he is "merry,"
(Line 130). Hamlet agrees, saying why should he not
be, his own mother looks so cheerful, after his father
died but two hours ago (Lines 133-136).
Ophelia reminds Hamlet and the audience, that King
Hamlet actually died two months ago (Line 137). Hamlet
now sarcastically complains that it has been two months
and his father's memory has not yet been totally forgotten.
This will not do, he says and he now adds that there
must be some hope now that a great man's reputation
(King Hamlet) could actually last half a year beyond
The "dumb-show" or short play preceding the
main play begins (Line 147).
In this "dumb-show" or short play, the King
and Queen in the short play enter, very lovingly showing
their affection for one another... The two embrace each
other, the Queen kneeling to make a protestation or
declaration of love to the King.
The King lifts her up, placing his head upon her neck,
and the King is laid gently upon a bank of flowers where
he falls asleep. The Queen noticing her King asleep,
Now another man enters. He takes the King's crown off
his head, kisses the crown and pours poison into the
King's ears and then leaves.
The Queen returns and finding her King dead, "makes
passionate action" or declaration of her grief.
The Poisoner now returns and attempts to woo or court
the Queen with gifts. She rejects these to begin with,
but eventually "accepts his [the Poisoner's] love."
Note: Though this play mirrors King Hamlet's death
at the hands of King Claudius, neither King Claudius
nor Queen Gertrude make any response to it. The reason
suggested is that King Claudius is a man able to keep
his emotions in check and that Queen Gertrude not knowing
that King Hamlet was poisoned can not see any similarity
to her own situation. While it is true Queen Gertrude
is married to King Claudius, King Hamlet's murderer,
only in Act III, Scene IV do we realize that Queen Gertrude
had no idea that her previous husband (King Hamlet of
Denmark)) was murdered by her current husband (King
Claudius of Denmark).
The play ended, Ophelia asks Hamlet "What means
this, my lord?" (What was the play about?), (Line
Hamlet replies that the "dumb-show" which
mimics King Claudius' and Queen Gertrude's behaviour
is a "miching mallecho; it means mischief"
(it is about scandalous deeds, it is about mischief
and wrongdoing or evil), (Lines 148-149).
The Prologue (a person, like a narrator) now enters
and Hamlet tells Ophelia who does not understand the
meaning of the play, that the Prologue, "this fellow:"
will explain to all, Ophelia wondering if the argument
or plot of the main play has been foreshadowed or revealed
by the "dumb-show" she has just watched (Line
Hamlet also adds that the Prologue will also tell
Ophelia whatever she chooses to show him (Lines 155-157).
Ophelia, annoyed, tells Hamlet that "You are naught,
you are naught" and says she will watch the play
instead (Line 158).
The Prologue speaks, saying "For us and for our
tragedy, / Here stooping to your clemency, / We beg
your hearing patiently" (Lines 160-163).
Hamlet wonders if this Prologue has any meaning (Line
164) to which Ophelia replies "'Tis [it is] brief,
my lord" (it is brief / short my lord), (Line 165).
Hamlet agrees saying "As woman's love" (Line
166), a clear insult to Ophelia and Queen Gertrude who
so quickly shifted her love from one man to another
(Queen Gertrude shifting love her from King Hamlet to
King Claudius and Ophelia her loyalty from Hamlet to
With the Prologue finished, the main play called "The
Murder of Gonzago" is performed...
The plot is almost the same as the "dumb-show"
with a King and Queen again declaring their love and
devotion for each other. Interestingly the Player Queen
(actor playing the Queen) pledges to never remarry (unlike
Queen Gertrude!) should she lose her King and husband
Hearing this Hamlet says "If she should break
it now!" (Line 236) after the Player King tells
his Queen that her words of loyalty are "deeply
sworn" (deeply pledged), (Line 237) before the
King excuses himself to go to sleep (Lines 167-241).
Note: The Player Queen in declaring her loyalty
to her King is making the very same pledge of loyalty,
Hamlet believes his mother has broken in remarrying.
In Hamlet's eyes his mother should have stayed a widow
after his father (King Hamlet) died and not remarried.
It is this unspoken pledge that Hamlet believes his
mother has broken that Hamlet cannot forgive his mother
The play now is interrupted by Hamlet who slyly asks
his mother, Queen Gertrude, "Madam, how like you
this play?" (Madam, how do you like this play /
what do you think of it?), (Line 241).
Queen Gertrude now famously answers "The lady
doth [does] protest too much, me-thinks [I think]"
(Line 242), a line that suggests Queen Gertrude is starting
to realize that the play is echoing her own behaviour
in remarrying after her first husband's death.
As far as Queen Gertrude is concerned, this Queen is
protesting far too much and we can sense she does not
appreciate her life being mirrored by this play since
she seeks to downplay the Player Queen's loyalty in
the play which is clearly an embarrassment to her own...
To make this point absolutely clear, Hamlet now replies
to his mother "O! but she'll keep her word"
(O! but she will keep her word to be loyal and remain
a widow unlike you), (Line 244).
King Claudius now interrupts this charming little mother-son
conversation to ask Hamlet if he knows this play well
and if it in any way is offensive or insulting, Hamlet
replying that it is not offensive and that the players
"poison in jest;" (poison or offend jokingly)
and that the play has no offensiveness at all (Lines
Satisfied with Hamlet's lie, King Claudius asks Hamlet
what the play is called. Hamlet replies that it is called
"The Mouse-trap" which is really a description
for what Hamlet hopes this play will do; catch a mouse
(King Claudius with his guilt as proof that he killed
Hamlet's father) and shame his mother (Line 250).
Hamlet now explains the plot to King Hamlet, saying
that the murder happens in Vienna, the Duke's name is
Gonzago, his "loyal" wife, Baptista. Hamlet
cheekily tells the King that this play is a "knavish
(cunning / nasty) piece of work:" but says this
should not matter since the play's action (murder) should
not touch or bother "we [Hamlet sarcastically means
King Claudius and Queen Gertrude] that have free souls,"
(Line 256) should it?
The play now continues with the Player (actor) playing
Lucianus entering the stage. Hamlet tells the King that
Lucianus is a nephew to the "king" in the
story just as Hamlet is a nephew to King Claudius.
Ophelia tells Hamlet that "you are a good chorus,
my lord" (Line 259) by which she means he is a
good commentator / guide for the play.
Hamlet returns the compliment by nastily remarking
that he could interpret her love "if I could see
the puppets dallying", a clear reference to the
fact he knows Ophelia does not love without shadows
listening in (King Claudius, Polonius and Queen Gertrude).
Ophelia politely remarks that Hamlet is "keen,
my lord," (Line 262) to which Hamlet again insults Ophelia
by crudely replying "It would cost you a groaning
to take off my edge [to reduce my spite]" (Line
Having finished his spiteful remarks, Hamlet beckons
the actor playing Lucianus to "Begin, murderer;"
and to "leave thy damnable faces [stop smirking],"
and begin his part of the play (murdering Gonzago),
"Lucianus" now recites his lines, which describe
him poisoning Gonzago by pouring poison into his ear
as he sleeps (Lines 270-275).
Hamlet who is continuing his running commentary of
the play, explains to all that Lucianus is now poisoning
Gonzago in the garden whom. Hamlet also adds that now
we will see how "the murderer gets the love of
Gonzago's wife" (how the murderer, a clear parallel
to King Claudius gets the love of Gonzago's wife, a
parallel of course to Queen Gertrude), (Line 280).
This last line finally rouses King Claudius since Ophelia
announces that "The king rises" a sure sign
that he is displeased.
Hamlet, enjoying all this and feigning innocence says
"What! frighted with false fire?" (What, was
King Claudius frightened by a fictitious story or false
fire?), (Line 282).
Queen Gertrude asks her husband how he is and Polonius
fearing the King is upset calls for the play to end
King Claudius meanwhile ushers his first words since
realizing the play mirrors his own killing by saying
"Give me some light: away!" a clear sign that
King Claudius is alarmed and seeking to be as far a
way as possible from his current feelings (Line 285).
Lights are called for, everyone leaving except for
Hamlet and Horatio who now alone, can compare notes
on what they thought of King Claudius' behaviour (Lines
Hamlet, certain that King Claudius did kill his father,
tells Horatio that "I'll take the ghost's
word for a thousand pound" (Line 302), asking Horatio
if he "Didst perceive?" (Line 303) or also
notice King Claudius' reaction to the play?
With Horatio confirming that King Claudius did react
to the part of the play where the poisoning happened,
a clear sign of guilt, a jubilant (happy) Hamlet calls
for music (Lines 304-312).
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, King Claudius' spies
we will remember, enter, telling Hamlet that King Claudius
is "in his retirement marvellous distempered"
(King Claudius having left is extremely angry), (Line
Hamlet pretends not to understand, asking the two courtiers
if Claudius is distempered or angry "With drink,
sir?" (Line 319).
Guildenstern replies no, King Claudius is distempered
"with choler", a type of sickness to which
Hamlet tells Guildenstern that he would be better off
telling this to King Claudius' doctor (Line 320).
Guildenstern also tells Hamlet that his mother, Queen
Gertrude has sent for him and would like to speak with
him in private in her closet before Hamlet goes to bed,
Hamlet deliberately pretending not to understand or
comply with Guildenstern's request on his mother's behalf
Before leaving, Rosencrantz tells Hamlet that "you
once did love me" (Line 355), Hamlet making it
fairly clear that he no longer trusts him (Line 356).
Nonetheless when Rosencrantz asks Hamlet what the cause
is of his "distemper?" (anger or madness in
this context), Hamlet deceives his so-called friend
by saying he lacks "advancement" or has no
ambition, a message he clearly wants King Claudius to
receive (Line 361).
Rosencrantz asks how a man who has "the voice
of the king himself for your succession in Denmark?"
can lack ambition but Hamlet replies with a baffling
proverb instead, denying Rosencrantz any further information
Several Players (Line 366) with recorders (musical
instruments) arrive and Hamlet takes the opportunity
to humiliate his so-called friend Guildenstern.
Hamlet does this by repeatedly asking Guildenstern
to play upon a pipe or play an instrument. Guildenstern
repeatedly refuses, saying he cannot play until Hamlet
in rage tells his so called "friend" that 'Tis
[it is] as easy as lying;" (it is as easy as lying
which you already do), (Line 379).
Guildenstern protests that he does not have the skill
to play but Hamlet tells him "You would play upon
me; [you would use me] you would seem to know my stops;
you would pluck out the heart of my mystery [you would
try to learn all my secrets]; you would sound me from
my lowest note to the top of my compass; and there is
much music, ex-cellent voice, in this little organ,
yet cannot you make it speak" (Lines 386-395).
Finishing his insult, Hamlet asks Guildenstern if he
thought he was easier to play than an instrument before
telling him "Call me what instrument you will,
though you can fret [worry, vex, annoy, harass] me,
you cannot play upon me [use me]" (Line 396).
Polonius now enters, telling Hamlet that Queen Gertrude
wishes to speak with him and urgently; Hamlet confusing
Polonius by talking about a cloud and arguing over what
it looks like before agreeing to seeing his mother (Lines
Happy that Hamlet will see his mother, Polonius leaves
followed by Guildenstern and Rosencrantz, leaving Hamlet
once again alone to voice his thoughts...
Again in soliloquy, Hamlet urges himself to be firm
in his purpose and not to let mercy, pity or love cloud
his resolve to punish his mother, though he later says
he will not physically harm her.
Hamlet tells himself, "O heart! lose not thy nature;
let not ever / The soul of Nero enter this firm bosom;
/ Let me be cruel, not unnatural; / I will speak daggers
to her [I will hurt her], but use none [but I will not
physically hurt her];" before exiting (Lines 417-419).
Act III. Scene III. - A Room in the Castle.
King Claudius of Hamlet: "I like him not...."
King Claudius admits his growing fear of Hamlet
and decides to send him overseas to England with Rosencrantz
and Guildenstern in order to protect himself. Alone,
King Claudius reveals in soliloquy his own knowledge
of the crime he has committed and realizes that he cannot
escape divine justice...
Within a room in the castle, King Claudius expresses
his feelings about Hamlet to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
" I like him not," (Line 1) he says, adding
that he does not feel it is safe anymore to have Hamlet
so close to them "To let his madness range [continue]"
By these lines we can clearly see that King Claudius'
prudent concern about Hamlet has grown to fear following
the play and it is a fear King Claudius is reluctant
to show his subjects, hence the understatement.
Fearing Hamlet, King Claudius therefore tells Rosencrantz
and Guildenstern that "I your commission will forthwith
dispatch [I will send you away], / And he [Hamlet] to
England shall along with you [and I will send Hamlet
away with you to England]" (Line 4).
King Claudius finishes his thought by saying "The
terms of our estate may not endure / Hazard so dangerous
as doth hourly grow / Out of his lunacies" (our
hold or reign may not endure the danger or is not safe
from the threat that grows by the hour from Hamlet's
increasing lunacy or madness. He is unpredictable and
we are safer without him), (Lines 4-6).
Guildenstern pledges loyally "To keep those many
many bodies safe / That live and feed upon your majesty"
(we will keep safe the many many people who rely and
benefit from your rule), (Line 8).
Rosencrantz echoes this support by likening the King
to a very large "massy wheel," to which many
many lives are attached to its massive spokes. If that
wheel were to break, many others who benefit from the
King will also suffer, Rosencrantz eloquently saying
"The cease [end] of majesty [a King or Queen's
rule] / Dies not alone," (Line 15).
Finishing his pledge of loyalty, Rosencrantz adds that
"Never alone / Did the king sigh, but with a general
groan" (Line 23) a reference again to the influence
the King has on his subjects such as Guildenstern and
Rosencrantz who both "live and feed" upon
King Claudius' majesty or rule (Line 10).
King Claudius wishes Rosencrantz and Guildenstern a
speedy voyage, both men now exiting (Lines 24-26).
Polonius enters, telling King Claudius that Hamlet
is now on his way to his mother's (Queen Gertrude's)
closet or private chamber. Polonius tells King Claudius
that he will hide behind an arras or hanging tapestry
to hear what the two will say.
Polonius also compliments King Claudius by remarking
how wisely King Claudius had said that Hamlet is likely
to be truthful to his mother. Compliments complete,
Polonius departs to take up his hiding position, promising
to reveal all to King Claudius later (Lines 27-35).
With Polonius alone, King Claudius reveals his thoughts
to us in his soliloquy. We quickly learn that King Claudius
is a troubled man, saying "O! my offence is rank,
it smells to heaven; / It hath the primal eldest curse
upon't [upon it]; / A brother's murder!" (Line
By this King Claudius means his crime is vile, foul-smelling
and undeniably evil since his crime is the same as that
committed by the first ever murderer, Cain who was cursed
for murdering his brother by God.
King Claudius now goes on to lament that he cannot
pray since "My stronger guilt defeats by strong
intent;" (Line 40) by which King Claudius means
he cannot pray since his guilt prevents him from praying
which is what he wants to do.
King Claudius however realizes now that prayer can
redeem him; God does not deny forgiveness to those who
pray for it. Encouraged by this thought, King Claudius
asks himself how he should start his prayer... "'Forgive
me my foul murder?'" he asks himself, unsure (Line
However King Claudius now realizes that simply praying
for forgiveness will not redeem him; to be forgiven
he must reverse as much as possible the harm he has
done as well (restitution).
But King Claudius knows that "I am still possess'd
[I still have] / Of those effects for which I did the
murder, / My crown, mine own ambition, and my queen"
(Lines 55), asking himself whether he can be pardoned
yet still enjoy the fruits of his sin (his reign, his
ambition and Queen Gertrude). Significantly King Claudius
also does not say he actually wants to give these up.
King Claudius also mentions that unlike life where
justice can be bought, in heaven, he cannot so easily
alter his destiny...
Realizing that he cannot undo everything he has done
(murdering King Hamlet for example) and that he would
not want to give up what he now has (Queen Gertrude
and his reign), King Claudius despairs, saying "O
wretched state! O bosom [breast / chest/ heart] black
as death!" before crying out in desperation and
fear "Help, angels! make assay;" before telling
his "stubborn knees;" to bow or kneel (Lines
Next, King Claudius begs his heart "with strings
of steel" to instead "Be soft as sinews of
the new-born babe" before finally realizing his
fate is now out of his hands and hoping "All may
be well" (I hope everything will be okay) (Lines
Have totally expressed his fear of impending doom
to his audience, King Claudius retires and kneels in
preparation for prayer...
Hamlet now enters, noticing that King Claudius is kneeling
in prayer. Hamlet explains to us that "Now might
I do it pat," (now I could kill him) but that he
Hamlet explains that his father, King Hamlet was murdered
in his sleep and so could not make his peace with god
and instead died "full of bread, / With all his
crimes broad blown, as flush as May;" (Line 80).
Explaining that because of the way King Hamlet died,
he has no idea if his father is in heaven or not, Hamlet
decides not to kill King Claudius now; to truly avenge
his father, he must make sure King Claudius goes straight
If Hamlet kills King Claudius at prayer, he risks sending
his father's murderer to heaven (Line 74).
Hamlet now heads off for his mother's closet or private
bedchamber. King Claudius rises and advances towards
Hamlet, saying "My words fly up, my thoughts remain
below:" (my words come out but my thoughts do not)
adding that "Words without thoughts never to heaven
go" (Line 97).
Act III. Scene IV. - The Queen's Apartment.
Hamlet: "Mother, you have my father much offended."
Queen Gertrude attempts to scold her son but Hamlet
instead scolds his mother for her actions. Queen Gertrude
cries out in fear, and Polonius echoes it and is stabbed
through the arras ( subdivision of a room created by
a hanging tapestry) where he was listening in to Hamlet
and Queen Gertrude. Hamlet continues scolding his mother
but the Ghost reappears, telling Hamlet to be gentle
with the Queen. For her part, Queen Gertrude agrees
to stop living with King Claudius, beginning her redemption....
The scene opens to Polonius telling Queen Gertrude
to scold Hamlet for his recent behaviour whilst Polonius
will listen from behind the arras, his hiding place.
Hamlet now calls out "Mother, mother, mother!",
Polonius hiding from view as Hamlet nears (Line 5).
Hamlet now arrives, asking his mother, "what's
the matter?" (Line 8).
Queen Gertude replies "Hamlet, thou hast thy father
much offended" (Hamlet, you have greatly offended
your father, a reference to King Claudius), (Line 10).
Hamlet matches his mother's tone, telling her "Mother,
you have my father much offended" (Mother, your
actions have offended my dead father, King Hamlet),
The Queen ignores this telling Hamlet "you answer
with an idle tongue" (Line 12) but Hamlet replies
"Go, go, you question with a wicked tongue"
The Queen tells Hamlet, "Why, how now, Hamlet!
(Hamlet, behave yourself!), but Hamlet asks his mother
again what's wrong (Line 13).
Queen Gertrude asks Hamlet if he has forgotten who
she is. Hamlet replies no, he has not, and he rudely
describes her as "the queen," and "your
husband's brother's wife;" (Line 16).
Hamlet also makes clear his shame by saying "And,-would
it were not so!-you are my mother" (and though
I wish you were not, you are my mother!), (Line 16).
The Queen prepares to leave but Hamlet insists she
sit down until as he says, he can "set you up a
glass / Where you may see the inmost part of you"
(set up a mirror so that you can see what you are doing
and see what you really are), (Line 20).
The Queen, panicking, asks Hamlet "thou wilt not
murder me?" (You will not kill me, will you?),
Panicking further, Queen Gertrude cries "Help,
help, ho!" (Line 22).
Polonius from behind the arras, forgets that he is
hiding and echoes Gertrude's cries, shouting "What,
ho! help! help! help!" (Line 23) until Hamlet notices
the sound, draws out his sword, and stabs Polonius through
the arras (hanging tapestry, forming a wall) after shouting
"How now! a rat? Dead, for a ducat [modern equivalent,
a dollar], dead!" (Line 23).
Polonius, stabbed, says "O! I am slain" (O!
I am dead), (Line 24).
The Queen asks what Hamlet has done, Hamlet asking,
"is it the king?" that he has killed (Line
Still thinking he has stabbed King Claudius, Hamlet
agrees with his mother that the stabbing was indeed
"A bloody deed! almost as bad, good mother, / As
kill [killing] a king, and marry [marrying] with his
brother", the first time Hamlet has truly spelt
out to his mother why he disrespects her (Line 27).
Queen Gertrude is surprised, our first indication that
she did not know that King Hamlet was murdered (Line
Lifting up the arras and discovering he has killed
Polonius not the King Claudius, Hamlet finds the time
to insult Polonius, the Lord Chamberlain, calling him
"Thou [you] wretched, rash, intruding [interfering]
fool," (Line 31).
Queen Gertrude now asks Hamlet what she has done to
him, to earn such hatred from Hamlet's tongue (Line
Hamlet answers by saying it was such an act "That
blurs the grace and blush of modesty, / Calls virtue
hypocrite, takes off the rose / From the fair forehead
of an innocent love / And sets a blister there,"
and "makes marriage vows / As false as dicers'
oaths;" (Lines 40-45).
The Queen asks what Hamlet means and Hamlet tells his
mother to look at two pictures, one which is of King
Hamlet, the other King Claudius (Lines 56-63).
Hamlet describes each one differently, using glowing,
affectionate and respectful terms for King Hamlet and
negative terms for King Claudius.
Hamlet chides Queen Gertrude for marrying a man, barely
half the man King Hamlet was, asking her how she could
possibly call her marriage with King Claudius love,
Hamlet saying "You cannot call it love," (Line
He ruthlessly asks his mother what she could possibly
have seen in King Claudius, Queen Gertrude pleading
for Hamlet to stop his merciless scolding (Lines 68-88).
Hamlet continues, finally accusing his mother of lustfulness,
when he describes her actions in vivid, vulgar and detailed
Hamlet: "Nay, but to live / In the rank sweat
of an enseamed bed, / Stew'd in corruption, honeying
and making love / Over the nasty sty,-" (Line 91).
The Queen begs Hamlet to stop, telling him "These
words like daggers enter in mine [my] ears;" (Line
94), Hamlet now describing King Claudius to Queen Gertrude
as "A murderer, and a villain;" (Line 96)
and a man not nearly as great as King Hamlet before
the Ghost of King Hamlet reappears.
Hamlet believes the Ghost has reappeared to scold Hamlet
for his delay in avenging his murder but the Ghost has
other goals and in particular is worried for Queen Gertrude.
The Ghost tells Hamlet to stop his merciless attacks,
saying that he has appeared to "whet thy [your]
almost blunted purpose" (remind Hamlet of what
he must do to King Claudius), (Line 110) and tells him
to "Speak to her [Queen Gertrude], Hamlet"
Queen Gertrude thinks her son is mad (Line 105). Hamlet
does as the Ghost says, speaking gently with his mother
who asks Hamlet to "Upon the heat and flame of
thy [your] distemper [madness] / Sprinkle cool patience"
This peace however is quickly destroyed by Hamlet's
frantic attempts to show his mother the Ghost which
she does not see (Lines 124-134), this only causing
Queen Gertrude to further believe her son is truly mad...
Queen Gertrude explains her son's vision of the Ghost
as a hallucination or "ecstasy" (Line 139),
(Lines 136-138) but Hamlet tells her it is not madness;
he is normal (Lines 140-141).
Hamlet now tells his mother to listen to him and to
"Assume a virtue," [become virtuous again],
Hamlet telling his mother to "go not to mine uncle's
[King Claudius'] bed;" and to not share his bed
ever again but instead to sleep separately from him
Looking now at Polonius' dead body (Line 173), Hamlet
expresses regret, saying "I will bestow him, and
will answer well / The death I gave him" (Line
Famously saying "I must be cruel only to be kind:"
(Line 178), Hamlet now asks his mother not to tell King
Claudius anything that he has said except that should
King Claudius ask of him, to reply that Hamlet is essentially
"not in madness, / But mad in craft" (Lines
Queen Gertrude now assures Hamlet that she will not
reveal a word to Claudius (Line 197).
Hamlet tells Queen Gertrude that he must now go to
England, surprising his mother with this news and telling
her that "my two schoolfellows [Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern], / Whom I will trust as I will adders
fang'd," (my two school friends whom I would trust
as much as adders or fanged snakes ready to strike),
are trying to lead him to "knavery" (Line
205) or wrongdoing (Line 202).
Assuring his mother that he will instead "blow
them at the moon" (Line 209) or punish them, Hamlet
he wishes his mother goodnight after announcing that
he will dispose of the Lord Chamberlain's (Polonius')
body: "I'll lug the guts into the neighbour
room" (Line 212).
The scene ends with gruesome sight of Hamlet dragging
Polonius' body off to the neighbouring room...