Hamlet 1. Claudius begins and ends the act by lying to Gertrude. Name FOUR other aspects of his character that are provable on the basis of what he says and does in this act. Is he still wracked with guilt, do you think? Just a brief note on how Claudius lies to begin. In Act Four, scene one, he tells Gertrude that he refrained from taking action against Hamlet because of his love for the Prince.
In actual fact, we know from the King’s speeches at the end of III.i. and the opening of III.iii. that the King has been planning to send Hamlet away to England for some time. It seems likely that at this point, he decides that he wants the prince dead. In any case, the general tone of Claudius’ attitude towards Hamlet has been one of suspicion and dislike, certainly not love. At the end of the Act, in scene seven, he tells Gertrude How much I had to do to calm his rage. This is deceitful rather than an out and out lie, because what Claudius has done is to direct and control Laertes’ rage rather than calm it.
Other things one might say about Claudius in this act are how callous and selfish he is in his reaction to Polonius’ death. The King shows no pity or sorrow at the death of his counsellor. Rather, his reaction is: It had been so with us had we been there (IV.i.). That is to say, he realises that Hamlet poses a direct physical threat to himself and must be disposed of immediately. A second, very obvious thing to say, is that Claudius’ treatment of Laertes shows what a brilliant manipulator he is.
He expresses no anger towards the rebel; he gives him everything he wants (Let him demand his fill IV.v.) Once he has thus deflated Laertes’ rage, he begins to provoke it again in order to persuade him to take part in his plot to kill Hamlet through treachery in the fencing match. Before explaining the plan, he asks Laertes, was your father dear to you?. Thirdly, we may notice that Claudius doesn’t mention his conscience once in this act. In Act Three, he desperately attempts to pray for the strength to repent his crimes. In Act Four, all of Claudius’ actions are villainous, suggesting that he has come to peace with the idea of being unrepentant. Lastly, a few more positive, more human features become apparent.
One might note Claudius’ apparent love of horse-riding which is communicated in his unnecessarily lengthy speech about the virtues of Lamord in IV.vii. Alternatively, his lengthy speech to Gertrude in IV.i. shows his genuine worry about his kingdom. Or, Claudius professes deeply-felt love for Gertrude when he explains his failure to punish Hamlet in IV.vii. It may be, however, that he is using this as an excuse and the (alleged) popularity of the prince is a more genuine reason.
2. Has Gertrude reformed after her confrontation with Hamlet in III.iv.? In Act Three, scene four, Gertrude promises Hamlet she will stop sleeping with Claudius. There are two things to look at here in order to try to assess whether she has done this: Gertrude’s aside at the opening of Act Four, scene five and her behavior around Claudius. What she says at the start of Act Four, scene five is that every event seems like an omen that something dreadful is about to happen to her sick soul, which she defines as a sinful soul. This seems to suggest that, like her new husband, she knows she is sinful, but is persisting in that sin. If she had reformed by this point, four scenes after having made her promise to Hamlet, she would presumably not be feeling so sinful.
It is fairly difficult to draw any particular conclusions from the Queen’s behavior around Claudius. We see them alone together in Act Four, scene one and briefly in Act Four, scene five. In the first scene, she lies to Claudius in order to protect her son. She tells the King that Hamlet killed Polonius in a mad fit. The Queen is apparently convinced of Hamlet’s sanity by the end of Act Three, scene four and so we might assume that by blaming Hamlet’s madness for his actions, she is trying to make her son seem less responsible for the murder.
Similarly, she goes on to tell Claudius that Hamlet is now weeping over the body of Polonius. This is a very unlikely turn of affairs given the Prince’s attitude at the end of the closet scene (I’ll lug the guts into the neighbor room). Again, she seems to be trying to make her son’s actions less reprehensible. What she doesn’t do in this scene is say anything to Claudius about their relationship, nor does she anywhere else in this act. When they are alone together in scene five, between Ophelia’s exit and Laertes’ arrival, only the King speaks.
When Laertes threatens to kill Claudius, Gertrude apparently holds him back bodily. (The King says Let him go, Gertrude..). This does not seem to me to be the actions of a woman who has told her husband that their relationship has to finish forever and should never have started. Gertrude’s tragedy is that she loves both Claudius and Hamlet, who obviously hate each other. She feels guilty about her second marriage, but loves Claudius too much to end it.
3. In what ways does Hamlet appear to change during this act? Hamlet appears physically in three scenes in Act Four (ii, iii and iv) and appears to us through letters in scenes six and seven. Hamlet’s appearances in scenes one and two show the Prince behaving much as he did in Acts Two and Three. He is maintaining his act of madness and insulting everyone he meets. I would suggest that he is quite a bit more insulting to the King than on any previous occasion.
In scene three, he tells the King to send a messenger to see if Polonius is in heaven. If he isn’t there, Hamlet tells Claudius, seek him i’th’other place yourself, effectively telling the King to go to hell. By this point, after the play-within-the-play, the King knows that Hamlet knows about the murder. Hamlet knows that the King knows he knows about the murder. Neither of them can see much point in even pretending to be amicable any more. In scene four, Hamlet reflects upon Fortinbras and his army.
They are going to war over a tiny, worthless patch of land. Hamlet knows he has much better reasons to go to war. He wonders about what it is that has been holding him back and resolves that from this point forward his thoughts must be bloody. This is Hamlet’s last soliloquy in the play, and these final words tell us why. Hamlet has resolved to give up reflection, feeling it has only led to cowardly conclusions. In Hamlet’s letters, we see some proof that he has become more decisive and even rash.
He writes to Horatio to tell him that he has boarded a pirate ship single-handed, been captured and has made a deal for them to deliver him back to Denmark. This miraculous escape from Claudius’ plot to have Hamlet killed by the King of England stretches the audience’s credulity a bit. It is hard to see Hamlet doing this. It is a bit of a disappointment that we don’t see it on stage. We know that Shakespeare had to get Hamlet back to Denmark somehow in order for the plot to be resolved.
He also wanted to show this new daredevil side to Hamlet. Nonetheless, it isn’t a very wonderful piece of plotting. Hamlet’s final appearance in the Act is in scene seven through the device of a letter to the King. I read the tone of this letter as taunting and sarcastic. Expressions like High and mighty and your kingly eyes seem overly-respectful, leading me to view them as jibes.
This letter may therefore be read as reinforcing Hamlet’s brand-new rash and openly rebellious character. 4. When Laertes speaks in this act, he often uses hyperbolic (over-exaggerated) expressions. What might this imply about him? A few examples of this trait are: That drop of blood that’s calm proclaims me bastard.. (IV.v.118) He means any part of me that can calm down following my father’s murder makes me a completely unfeeling and unnatural son. Laertes is quite a contrast to Hamlet in his pursuit of revenge.
The Prince knows he is very calm with regard to his revenge. This is the subject of his third soliloquy (O what a rogue and peasant slave am I II.ii.501). I think this is part of Shakespeare’s reason for having Laertes in the play. He shows us the damaging, immoral consequences of the single-minded pursuit of revenge. Such is Laertes’ thirst for Hamlet’s blood that he is more than happy to resort to dishonorable means to achieve his aim.
[I will] Repaste [my father’s friends] with my blood. IV.v.147) He means that, like a pelican (according to Elizabethans), he will open up his chest in order to nourish his father’s friends with his own blood. If I was a friend of Polonius, I don’t think I would particularly welcome this gesture. Of course, Laertes doesn’t mean this literally. He means that he feels very warmly towards the friends of his father. It is this that makes Laertes seem insincere. He says things in the most grotesque and exaggerated way, and we know he doesn’t really mean them.
He is behaving in the way that he thinks a revenging son ought to act. O heat dry up my brains, tears seven times salt / Burn out the sense and virtue of mine eye! (IV.v.156) This is very similar to the previous example. On seeing Ophelia’s madness, he says that he wishes his anger would cause his brain to dry up and kill him. Then he says that he wants his tears to increase in saltiness to such an extent that they burn out his eyes. We know he really want this to happen because he is also that he’s desperate for revenge.
What he’s doing is trying to communicate to the others the strength of his anger and sorrow. He may well feel angry and sorrowful, but he is putting on an act to make sure everyone else knows about it. 5. Why has Ophelia gone mad? How might this be proven? We don’t see or hear about Ophelia between Act Three, scene two and Act Four, scene five. In the interim, she has become insane.
As I suggested in my sample answers about Act …