What's Eating Hamlet? Reading Shakespeare (page 3)

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If you chose C, congratulations! You think like Claudius!

When is being attacked by pirates a good thing? When Hamlet's ship is set upon, and he returns to Denmark. Once Hamlet returns he confides to his friend Horatio that he discovered the letter while rummaging through Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s belongings. Furious that even his friends were pawns of King Claudius, he wrote a new draft that stated the bearers of this letter should be killed.

During Hamlet’s sea cruise, Laertes, son of Polonius, has arrived at Elsinore looking for Hamlet in order to avenge his father. He’s even more cheesed off when his sister Ophelia commits suicide, driven mad by grief over the loss of Hamlet and the death of her father.

And now everyone, Act Five! Or as it is more commonly known, “The Scene Where Everybody Dies.”

Claudius has had enough of crazy Hamlet threatening the throne and wife that he has rightfully usurped. He tried to get rid of him in England, but Hamlet, that wily devil, evaded his plan. He will not allow the same mistake this time and puts two plans in motion that will surely result in Hamlet’s death. The first is to talk Laertes into a duel with Hamlet; Laertes will use a sword with a poisoned tip. For added peace of mind, Claudius will also poison a glass of wine to give Hamlet in the event of his victory.

Useful vocabulary in a conversation about Hamlet’s conspiracy:

  • Subterfuge- A trick
  • Surreptitious- Sneaky, secret
  • Guile- Cunning, craftiness
  • Wily- Crafty
  • Conundrum- A puzzle

So here we go, keep your eye on the poison.

The fight between Laertes and Hamlet begins civilly enough. Hamlet gets in a jab at Laertes and everyone toasts! Claudius puts the poison in his glass and offers it to Hamlet on his next contact with Laertes, but Hamlet refuses. Gertrude, driven by her obvious drinking problem, takes Hamlet’s glass and drinks the poisoned wine herself. Good thing Claudius had a back up plan!

Laertes gets shot in, too, and draws Hamlet’s blood with the poisoned sword. But later in the fight, as they struggle with both swords, he is inadvertently stabbed with his own poisoned sword. Gertrude falls to the floor, announcing that the wine must have been poisoned. Laertes confirms that he also has been poisoned by the sword and that both plans were Claudius’s idea.

Hamlet is furious and stabs Claudius with the poisoned sword and makes him finish the poisoned wine. He then feels the effects of the poisoned jab himself and sinks to the floor near Laertes so the two can exchange apologies. (I’m sorry, Dude. No, I’m sorry Dude.) Hamlet lives long enough to tell his story to Horatio and dies himself.

No one writes a bloodbath like Shakespeare.

Jessica Buck has been both a teacher and Department Head of English at the middle and high school level. She is happily married and currently taking on her greatest teaching challenge, raising their one-year-old daughter.

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