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Scene 3.4

Scene 3.4 - In Gertrude's Chamber, Within the Castle

Hamlet goes to his mother and asks, straight-faced, what is the matter. She says he has greatly offended "his" father (meaning Claudius), while he counterclaims that she has greatly offended "my" father (meaning Hamlet Senior). Hamlet, perhaps because an annoyed Gertrude is already trying to end their meeting, says she must sit and first listen to his words which will act as a mirror to reveal her true self. Frightened, Gertrude thinks Hamlet might be plotting to murder her on the spot, so she cries out for help. Polonius, concealed behind a curtain, attempts to answer her cry. Wasting no time, Hamlet stabs blindly at the voice he hears, thinking (or hoping anyway) that he is striking Claudius dead. Polonius slumps to the floor, dead. Gertrude, appalled, calls Hamlet's deed most rash and bloody, but he counters that it's "Almost as bad, good mother, / As kill a king and marry his brother." Hamlet here clearly accuses Gertrude of having a hand in his father's murder, but oddly she neither denies it nor presses for an explanation of this accusation; Hamlet, too, drops the issue. He instead verbally attacks Gertrude by implying that she has committed adultery and by openly stating contempt for her ill-advised exchange of Hamlet for Claudius. Cut to the quick, Gertrude is horrified by the sin she sees within and begs Hamlet to stop his barrage of incriminating words.

The ghost suddenly enters, visible only to Hamlet. He addresses it, prompting Gertrude (who sees nothing) to think he has now positively lost his mind. The ghost reprimands Hamlet, saying "Do not forget. This visitation / Is but to whet thy almost blunted purpose." That is, Hamlet needs to redirect his energies against Claudius and leave his mother alone, as the ghost originally commanded him. The ghost vanishes. To defend himself against his mother's charge of madness, Hamlet memorably declares "I essentially am not in madness, / But mad in craft," explaining his antic disposition to Gertrude before advising her to conceal this knowledge from Claudius.

Hamlet continues to counsel his mother, saying that she should repent and would do well to avoid Claudius' bed, so as not to persist any further in her sin. He himself then repents of Polonius' murder, well aware that it bodes a bad beginning to what will most likely be a worse end. This killing will no doubt, Hamlet knows, hasten his expulsion to England. The scene closes with Hamlet lugging Polonius' cold corpse off stage.

Browse all book notes

Historical Context
Main Characters
Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Plot Summary
Scene 1.1
Scene 1.2
Scenes 1.3 and 1.4
Scene 1.5
Scene 2.1
Scene 2.2
Scene 3.1
Scene 3.2
Scene 3.3
Scene 3.4
Scenes 4.1, 4.2, and 4.3
Scenes 4.4 and 4.5
Scenes 4.6 and 4.7
Scene 5.1
Scene 5.2



 






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