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Hamlet Act 4 Scene 7
Transcript of Hamlet Act 4 Scene 7
Act 4 Scene 7
Characters & their Roles
Claudius and Laertes discuss Polonius’s death.
Claudius explains that he acted as he did, burying Polonius secretly and not punishing Hamlet for the murder, because both the common people and the queen love Hamlet very much.
Claudius finds out Hamlet is alive
As a king and as a husband, he did not wish to upset either of them.
A messenger enters with the letter from Hamlet to Claudius, which informs the king that Hamlet will return tomorrow.
Laertes is pleased that Hamlet has come back to Denmark, since it means that his revenge will not be delayed.
Claudius plans with Laertes
Claudius agrees that Laertes deserves to be revenged upon Hamlet, and he is disposed to encourage Laertes to kill Hamlet, since Hamlet’s erratic behavior has made him a threat to Claudius’s reign. The devious king begins to think of a way for Laertes to ensure his revenge without creating any appearance of foul play. He recalls that Hamlet has been jealous in the past of Laertes’ prowess with a sword, which was recently praised before all the court by a Frenchman who had seen him in combat. The king speculates that if Hamlet could be tempted into a duel with Laertes, it might provide Laertes with the chance to kill him. Laertes agrees, and they settle on a plan. He will use a sharpened sword rather than the customary dull fencing blade. Laertes also proposes to poison his sword, so that even a scratch from it will kill Hamlet. The king concocts a backup plan as well, proposing that if Hamlet succeeds in the duel, Claudius will offer him a poisoned cup of wine to drink from in celebration.
Gertrude's Tragic News
Gertrude enters with tragic news. Ophelia, mad with grief, has drowned in the river. Anguished to have lost his sister so soon after his father’s death, Laertes flees the room. Claudius summons Gertrude to follow. He tells her it was nearly impossible to quiet Laertes’ rage, and worries that the news of Ophelia’s death will reawaken it.
The scheming Claudius encounters Laertes at approximately the same moment as he learns that Hamlet has survived and returned to Denmark. Claudius’s behavior throughout this scene, shows him at his most devious and calculating. Shakespeare shows Claudius’s mind working overtime to derail Laertes’ anger, which is thus far the greatest challenge his kingship has faced.
Claudius has clearly decided that he can appease Laertes’ wrath and dispense with Hamlet in a single stroke: he hits upon the idea of the duel in order to use Laertes’ rage to ensure Hamlet’s death. The resulting plan brings both the theme of revenge and the repeated use of traps in the plot to a new height—Laertes and Claudius concoct not one but three covert mechanisms by which Hamlet may be killed.
Ophelia’s tragic death occurs at the worst possible moment for Claudius. As Laertes flees the room in agony, Claudius follows, not to console or even to join him in mourning but because, as he tells Gertrude, it was so difficult to appease his anger in the first place. Claudius does not have time to worry about the victims of tragedy—he is too busy dealing with threats to his own power.
The image of Ophelia drowning amid her garlands of flowers has proved to be one of the most enduring images in the play, represented countless times by artists and poets throughout the centuries. Ophelia is associated with flower imagery from the beginning of the play. In her first scene, Polonius presents her with a violet; after she goes mad, she sings songs about flowers; and now she drowns amid long streams of them. The fragile beauty of the flowers resembles Ophelia’s own fragile beauty, as well as her nascent sexuality and her exquisite, doomed innocence.
-"he which hath your noble father slain/Pursued my life"
- Claudius confirms that Hamlet killed Polonius.
-"The queen his mother lives almost by his looks"
"Why to a public count I might not go, is the great love the general
gender bear him"
- The quotes above explain why Claudius hasn't brought Hamlet into
account for the murder of Polonius. The first reason is that he loves
Gertrude, and Gertrude loves her son. The second reason is that
everyone loves Hamlet, so any accusations against him might backfire.
-"High and mighty, You shall know I am set naked on your kingdom.
Tomorrow shall I beg leave to see your kingly eyes"
- Hamlet's letter to the king specifies he will return in a day.
-"And for his death no wind of blame shall breathe"
- Claudius and Laertes are now planning Hamlet's death.
-"One woe doth tread upon another's heel, so fast they follow; your
sister's drown'd, Laertes."
- The Queen interrupts Claudius and Laertes, notifying them that Ophelia
-Claudius is always calculating, always careful to manipulate events and perceptions of events. He has already blunted Laertes' purpose.
-Claudius uses flattery of Laertes swordsmanship to convince Laertes to join his plot. Claudius doesn't care about Laertes' honor. He just wants to get rid of Hamlet. Compare Laertes willingness to kill Hamlet in church; this is exactly what Hamlet refused to do to Claudius.
-Laertes, who prides himself on honor, has been corrupted. He's joined an ignoble plot using deception and poison.
-The male response to tragedy is to seek revenge. Ophelia, who cannot "act" because she's a woman, opts for suicide.
-Claudius only cares about how Ophelia's death might affect him and his power.
- Poison-tipped sword (plan
- Foreshadows imminent death of either
Laertes, Hamlet, or both.
- Cup of Wine (plan B)
- If plan A fails, drinking this
poisoned cup is sure to foreshadow
the death of someone.
- Flower garlands
- Ophelia used flowers as symbols of
her deep sorrow and grief, where
she ends up drowning with them too.
-The Queen loves Hamlet too
-Hamlet has too much public
-Claudius has a tendency to
manipulate and deceive
others for personal gain.
-Claudius motivates Laertes