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Scenes 4.4 and 4.5

Scene 4.4 - On a Field, Outside the Castle

Fortinbras, the Prince of Norway, is currently passing through Denmark en route to Poland, as his father and Claudius had previously arranged. Fortinbras pauses and dispatches a captain to let Claudius know his army has arrived on Danish territory. The captain encounters Hamlet (in the company of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern) by chance and makes known the present purpose of Norway's military, stating that they hope "to gain a little patch of ground / That hath in it no profit but the name." Hamlet is mightily impressed by Fortinbras' resolve to fight - "even for an egg-shell" - when honor is at stake, and he feels once again convicted of his own glaring inaction. Certainly his honor and name have been slighted. In a significant soliloquy at the scene's end, Hamlet chides himself for having "cause, and will, and strength, and means," and yet doing absolutely nothing. His father killed, his mother stained, Hamlet vows - and not for the first time either - "Oh from this time forth, / My thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth." There is an impending sense here that Hamlet is indeed now - at long last! - hell-bent on revenge, ready to carry out his promise to the ghost at the very next opportunity.

Scene 4.5 - Within the Castle

A gentleman enters on Ophelia's behalf, petitioning the Queen to speak with her. Ophelia has apparently lost her mind, for her words no longer make sense. Gertrude reluctantly agrees to see her, afraid this is only the latest sign that everything is rotten in Denmark. Ophelia comes on stage singing; her various songs appear at first to be utter nonsense, but in fact they express the double disillusionment and hurt she feels because 1) Hamlet has abandoned her and 2) her father, Polonius, is dead. Claudius enters and cheerlessly observes Ophelia's madness, dispatching Horatio to look after her as she exits. Alone with Gertrude, Claudius acknowledges that the people are restless and upset about Polonius' death, and that Laertes has secretly returned from France to sort out the matter. A messenger then arrives to inform the King and Queen that Laertes is causing quite a stir outside, for the masses have given him their allegiance and have even decided he should be king.

Moments later Laertes and his cohorts successfully break inside. He demands his father and, upon hearing Polonius is dead, he further demands to know how it happened. Daring damnation and vowing revenge, Laertes is Hamlet's exact opposite here: bloodthirsty, he is ready to kill even before he hears an account of his father's death. Claudius, ever calm, maintains his innocence as Ophelia reenters, distractedly singing again. Realizing that he has now essentially lost both father and sister, Laertes can only stare at Ophelia in horror. His desire for revenge swells. Claudius promises Laertes an investigation into Polonius' murder, declaring that he will surrender his crown and life if his name is not cleared. Laertes has reason to distrust Claudius, after all, because his father's funeral was undistinguished, an odd thing indeed considering he was Claudius' closest advisor. The King, understanding Laertes' suspicion, additionally promises to join Laertes in carrying out justice on the guilty party. Claudius knows, of course, that Hamlet is at fault, and so he wisely exploits Laertes' anger to justify having sent Hamlet to England.

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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