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Scenes 4.6 and 4.7

Scene 4.6 - Within or Near the Castle

Horatio is told sailors have arrived, bearing letters for him. He correctly concludes the letters must be from Hamlet, for he knows no one else presently at sea. For the audience's benefit, Horatio reads the letter aloud: the ship on which Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern was sailing came under attack by pirates and Hamlet was taken captive. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern managed to escape and are en route to England. Hamlet, while acknowledging that his captors are treating him mercifully, requests that Horatio come quickly to his aid - the sailors who have given Horatio the letter will lead the way. Horatio, as any best friend would, doesn't hesitate to set out for the sea.

Scene 4.7 - Within the Castle

Claudius' name has been cleared offstage in the murder of Polonius. The vindicated King thus hopes to enlist Laertes' rage against Hamlet, even claiming that he himself has been hunted by Hamlet. Now directing his hatred against Hamlet, Laertes is nevertheless troubled by Claudius' failure to rid himself of Hamlet sooner, if he did indeed pose such a threat to all. Claudius explains that Gertrude's love for Hamlet, coupled with the public's high esteem of the Prince, barred Claudius from taking any action. Laertes again vows revenge, and not without Claudius' active encouragement. A messenger enters and interrupts their conversation, bearing letters to the King and Queen from Hamlet. For Laertes' benefit, Claudius reads the letter aloud: Hamlet will arrive back at Elsinore tomorrow! Claudius is completely puzzled, for Hamlet should already be dead. Decidedly desperate, the King knows his only hope to remain undiscovered lies in killing Hamlet immediately upon his arrival, but the question is how to do this tactfully and guiltlessly.

Claudius' plan is ingenious: Laertes, an excellent swordsman and as such long the envy of Hamlet, will fence good-naturedly with Hamlet. His blade, however, will not be blunted as it should be. Laertes has a further suggestion: he will apply a poisonous ointment to his blade, so that even the smallest scratch - a playful mistake - will kill Hamlet. In the midst of this scheming, Claudius makes a brilliant off-hand comment to incite Laertes' anger even more: "Laertes, was your father dear to you?" A master rhetorician, Claudius insures that Laertes' hatred for Hamlet does not flag for a moment (as Hamlet's own impulse to revenge has). Laertes confesses he would be more than happy to slit Hamlet's throat even in church. Claudius, relieved he now has a pawn to do the bloody deed, enthusiastically cheers Laertes on: "Revenge should have no bounds." Careful to cover all of his bases, Claudius mentions one foolproof backup plan: when the fencers pause for a drink during their match, Claudius will make sure Hamlet's glass is poisoned. Here Gertrude enters unannounced and interrupts their discussion. She bears news of Ophelia's death by drowning. Apparently Ophelia fell in the brook and, oblivious to the danger of her situation, she was pulled under by her water-logged clothing. Laertes, unsurprisingly, is greatly disturbed by his sister's death and sullenly marches off stage. Claudius and Gertrude follow, as Claudius tells his wife of the difficulty he had in "calming" (redirecting, really) Laertes' rage.

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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