Act 3

Act 3: Scene 1

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern give their report to the king and queen. They cannot tell what troubles Hamlet but are aware that he is troubled by something. Nonetheless, they assert that he treated them with respect. They also report the arrival of the players and how they appear to have lifted Hamlet’s spirits. Polonius echoes this information and tells the king and queen that Hamlet wishes them both to attend the players’ performance. Claudius is glad to hear it and promises to attend.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern exit. Claudius divulges his plan to spy on Hamlet and Ophelia during their meeting, which they are currently contriving. Gertrude tells Ophelia that she hopes that the girl’s virtues will bring Hamlet back to his senses. Ophelia hopes as much. Neither seems to realize that Claudius and Polonius do not have anything but their own interests in mind. Gertrude exits. Ophelia is given a book of piety by Polonius. Polonius rightly notes how they are “sugaring over” the very Devil, whom both he and the king represent. His observation stings the king’s conscience, which for the first time in the drama is revealed to the audience. Claudius states in an aside that he feels the burden of his sins and the falsity of his words, which do not match his deeds. The admission serves to make Claudius, despite his gross imperfections and obvious treachery, somewhat more sympathetic to the audience. He, too, is a conflicted character.

Hamlet enters with his most famous soliloquy: “To be or not to be…” For a drama centered on the action of revenge, Hamlet spends a good deal of time doing nothing more than talking about it. Again, we find that he is conflicted. The reason is that the interval between deciding on a course of action (observing the manner of the king during the play) and proceeding with the action is a weighty delay for Hamlet. Because he cannot idly sit, nor it seems withdraw into prayer, he walks fitfully, re-thinking...

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Essays About Hamlet