What's Eating Hamlet? Reading Shakespeare (page 2)

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Ophelia returns Hamlet’s letters and gifts, but Hamlet, rather than seeming broken up, launches into a furious rant about people, women, and marriage. (I think he has a reason to be a little anti-marriage right now, don’t you?) Polonius says that Hamlet was just playing it cool and resolves to catch Hamlet speaking to his mother, because a boy will always tell his mother about his girl troubles, right? Poor, old Polonius.

Gertrude and Claudius, rather than admitting that their relationship is just creepy, bring in two of Hamlet’s friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to see if they can figure out what’s eating Hamlet. They are going to follow him and report back if he does anything strange – like talk to ghosts or kill someone.

In the meantime, after quite a lot of thought, Hamlet has a plan! He will engage the theater troupe that is performing for the castle to perform a play akin to what actually happened, because apparently killing your brother and marrying his wife is a very common plot line. While Claudius watches the play, Hamlet will watch him to see if he betrays any signs of guilt or remorse. Well-reasoned, Hamlet! And it only took him three acts to think of it!

Useful vocabulary to describe Hamlet’s consideration of his plan:

  • Ruminate- Think over
  • Peruse – Read carefully
  • Elucidate- Make clear
  • Interminable- Never-ending
  • Instigator- Trouble-maker

During the play, Claudius is visibly uncomfortable, shifting in his seat, pulling on his collar… but the most telling moment occurs just as the murderer is about to commit his hideous act. Stop! Claudius can stand no more and calls for the lights, ending the performance. I’d say that was a dead giveaway, wouldn’t you?

If that wasn’t enough for the audience, Claudius later confesses his sins to God and prays for forgiveness. Hamlet stumbles upon him, but resists killing him at that moment, believing that if he kills his uncle while praying his soul will go immediately to Heaven, without going to jail or collecting $200.

After the play, Gertrude summons her son for a private chat in her chamber. Polonius pulls the old hide-behind-the-tapestry trick and waits to hear what he is sure will be a confession of Hamlet’s love for Ophelia. Poor, stupid Polonius.

As soon as he arrives, Hamlet starts laying into his mother about her callous behavior regarding his father’s death. Gertrude, afraid for her own safety screams for help, and Polonius, forgetting all the basic rules of hiding, yells for help too. Hamlet realizes that some one is hiding behind the tapestry but thinks that it is Claudius. He rams his sword into the tapestry killing Polonius, and is only a little remorseful when Gertrude shows him what he has done. Poor, dead Polonius.

Useful vocabulary to describe Polonius:

  • Voluble- Talkative
  • Irksome- Annoying
  • Nettle- Annoy
  • Placate- Pacify, soothe
  • Dotard- Foolish, old man

Gertrude immediately runs to Claudius and tells him what happened. (Nice loyalty, Mom.) They decide to ship him immediately to England. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are instructed to find him and escort him directly to the ship. In addition to the luggage, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are carrying a very important letter that clearly details how Hamlet is to be treated once he arrives in England. Do you think the letter says:

A. Give Hamlet a puppy. B. Take him to a fancy restaurant for dinner. C. Kill him immediately.

Updated on Oct 3, 2012
See more activities in: High School, Literary Analysis
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