Act Iii Scene I Hamlet Analysis Essay

Act III, Scene 3:

Claudius enters as he speaks with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Afraid that Hamlet might prove dangerous to him, Claudius informs Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that they will be sent to England along with Hamlet. Polonius enters and tells Claudius that Hamlet is on his way to Gertrude’s room. Polonius intends to hide himself behind a tapestry curtain, and he reiterates how important it is that someone other than Gertrude hear this conversation, as mothers cannot be impartial toward their children. After Polonius leaves, Claudius begins to speak aloud of his guilt over having murdered his brother. Though he yearns to cleanse himself of sin, he finds that his guilty conscience prevents him from praying. He wonders whether or not he would even be able to receive heavenly forgiveness, since he is still reaping the benefits of his sin. After an internal struggle, Claudius eventually manages to kneel in repentance. Unseen, Hamlet enters the room. Seeing Claudius kneeling, Hamlet draws his sword, declaring that this would be the perfect time to kill Claudius and avenge his father. Hamlet takes pause, however, when he sees that Claudius appears to be praying. Hamlet wonders whether killing Claudius while he is purging his sins might cause Claudius to go to heaven. Remembering how his own father was cruelly killed before he had the chance to repent for his sins, Hamlet decides that he should wait until Claudius sins again to kill him.

Act III, Scene 4:

As they wait for Hamlet to arrive, Polonius instructs Gertrude to sternly chastise Hamlet for his recent behavior. Gertrude agrees, and as Hamlet approaches, Polonius hides behind a tapestry. When Gertrude informs Hamlet that he has offended his father, he bluntly replies thatshe is the one who has offended his father. Hamlet forcefully tells his mother that she cannot leave until he shows her the reflection of her innermost self, causing her to cry out for help. Gertrude’s cries prompt Polonius to also yell for help from behind the tapestry. Hamlet thrusts his sword through the tapestry, suspecting the spy to be Claudius. When Hamlet sees Polonius’s dead body, he criticizes him for being foolish and meddlesome. Hamlet insists that his mother listen to what he has to say, though she bristles at his rudeness. He accuses her of committing a terrible act, and when she claims not to know what he is talking about, Hamlet produces two pictures—one of Claudius and one of his late father. Contrasting the two, Hamlet asks how she could have forgotten his good, noble father and married such a poisonous villain, declaring that lust must overrule all reason and virtue. Visibly upset, Gertrude begs Hamlet to stop, saying that he has forced her to recognize the blackness and guilt within her soul. Hamlet continues to berate his mother, however, until he is interrupted by the appearance of his father’s ghost. Unable to see the ghost, Gertrude sees Hamlet talking to nothing and assumes he’s mad. Hamlet believes that the ghost has come to scold him for taking too long to get revenge, but the...

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Analysis of Act III, Scene 4

Hamlet clearly enters his mother’s room with an agenda, but its content isn’t clear. Is he trying to get to her to admit that she knows Claudius killed her father, thus implicating herself? Or does he want to know whether she actually participated in the murder? Does he want to confess his own deceptions to her, to get her on his side?

While any or all of these are possible, what Hamlet actually does is to urge his mother to repent choosing Claudius over his father, her former husband. Rather specifically, he urges her to avoid sleeping with Claudius, using a number of rather graphic details to describe what she should not be doing with him. In this scene, the theme of incest developed earlier in the play through Laertes’ rather graphic conversations with Ophelia and Hamlet’s initial problems with his mother and uncle marrying come back to the fore.

Hamlet’s speech to his mother also develops the play’s motif of words working as poison that enters through the ears; he uses multiple metaphors regarding ears, hearing, and poison, all of which have to do with what his mother has heard others – specifically Claudius – say about him.

This scene also provides the most nuanced development of Gertrude’s character, another topic that has divided critics for centuries. Some critics see Gertrude as a hidden villain, complicit in her first husband’s murder as a way to get rid of him and marry Claudius. Others see her as desperate to preserve her social standing, thus driving her to marry Claudius in order to remain queen. Whatever the case, Gertrude goes through a number of emotional changes in this scene. She is haughty at first, becomes genuinely afraid Hamlet will hurt her, is shocked when Hamlet kills Polonius and when he accuses her of being involved in his father’s death, terrified as Hamlet harangues her, and disbelieving when Hamlet sees the ghost. The scene ends with Gertrude, completely broken down by the series of emotional shocks she endures, contrite and willing to do whatever it is Hamlet asks.

Some critics have interpreted Gertrude’s compliance at the end of the scene as evidence that she tends to be dominated by powerful men and to need a man to tell her what to think and how to feel. This explanation would also explain why she married Claudius so soon after her first husband’s death (whether or not she participated in the murder) and why she is so willing to take Hamlet’s side in this scene – as well as why she immediately reports Hamlet’s behavior to Claudius when he asks, even though she had promised Hamlet not to do so.

Hamlet’s stabbing of Polonius is perhaps the only decisive action he takes until the play’s final scene, making it highly significant. While it is decisive, it is also undertaken blindly – he stabs through the tapestry without thinking about the possible consequences or even knowing who is actually on the other side. If Hamlet had stopped to think, he almost certainly would not have acted. When he realizes what he has done, Hamlet interprets his actions in the same terms of sin and retribution he used when deciding whether or not to kill Claudius at prayer.

Contents

  • Home
  • Plot Summaries & Analysis
    • Act I, Scene 1
    • Summary
    • Analysis
    • Act I, Scene 2
    • Summary
    • Analysis
    • Act I, Scene 3
    • Summary
    • Analysis
    • Act I, Scene 4
    • Summary
    • Analysis
    • Act I, Scene 5
    • Summary
    • Act II, Scene 1
    • Summary
    • Analysis
    • Act II, Scene 2
    • Summary
    • Analysis
    • Act III, Scene 1
    • Summary
    • Analysis
    • Act III, Scene 2
    • Summary
    • Analysis
    • Act III, Scene 3
    • Summary
    • Analysis
    • Act III, Scene 4
    • Summary
    • Analysis
    • Act IV, Scene 1
    • Summary
    • Analysis
    • Act IV, Scene 2
    • Summary
    • Analysis
    • Act IV, Scene 3
    • Summary
    • Analysis
    • Act IV, Scene 4
    • Summary
    • Analysis
    • Act IV, Scene 5
    • Summary
    • Analysis
    • Act IV, Scene 6
    • Summary
    • Analysis
    • Act IV, Scene 7
    • Summary
    • Analysis
    • Act V, Scene 1
    • Summary
    • Analysis
    • Act V, Scene 2
    • Summary
    • Analysis
  • Character Analysis
  • Themes
  • Symbols and Motifs
  • Important Quotes

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