Act 4

Act 4: Scene 1

The king asks Gertrude for a report on her meeting with Hamlet. She tells of the murder of Polonius. Claudius’ first thought is of himself: “It had been so with us, had we been there.” His second thought attempts to mask this first: “His liberty is full of threats to all…” However, he cannot hide his selfish thoughts for long. He immediately worries that the blame for this murder will fall on his own head, since he allowed Hamlet to go about freely in such a maddened state. Sensing that he will be blamed, he tries to issue a defense: “So much was our love, we would not understand what was most fit…” but this defense rings hollow, especially since Claudius has not manifested any love except for himself and his position.

Gertrude’s concern is more with her son, and she now reveals his state with a description of the way he looked when he hauled away the body: “He weeps for what is done.” It is a sign of awareness, at least, in the prince, as well as a sign of contrition. Claudius, however, will not hear of tears; he insists that Hamlet be sent away at once. Then he asserts that he must somehow use his political skill in extricating himself from the mess that Hamlet has brought upon the state. He calls for the spies, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. He orders them to find Hamlet, secure Polonius’ body and remove it to the chapel.

Claudius then tells Gertrude that they must call upon their wisest friends and manage the spread of the news so that it does not do too great of harm to their names.

Act 4: Scene 2

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern demand Polonius’ body from Hamlet, but he refuses to answer them straightforwardly or tell them where he has put it. Part of the reason he refuses to do so is that he is the son of a king and not one to whom demands should be put by puppets. He insults them in a number of witty ways.

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Essays About Hamlet