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FREE ONLINE BOOK NOTES SUMMARY: HAMLET
ACT IV, SCENE 3
Claudius is discussing the recent "mad" behavior of Hamlet with the members of the court. He points out the necessity of restraining Hamlet, who has become dangerous. Claudius knows Hamlet cannot be punished in a court of law, since the "distracted multitude" of people in the court love Hamlet and will avoid punishing him. At this point, Rosencrantz enters and tells the King that Hamlet refuses to reveal where he has hidden Polonius' body. Hamlet is then brought in.
In answer to the King's questions, Hamlet replies that Polonius is at supper. He qualifies this answer by explaining that the worms are feeding on Polonius. Claudius persists in questioning Hamlet regarding the whereabouts of Polonius' corpse. Hamlet satirically answers that Claudius' messengers should go to Heaven in search of Polonius; he says if he is not found there, perhaps Claudius can look for him in Hell.
The King then tells Hamlet that he must at once proceed to England for his own good. Hamlet calmly accepts this news and leaves. The King then orders Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to follow Hamlet and make sure he boards the ship. Alone, the King voices the details of his scheme to dispose of Hamlet. He has written a letter to the English rulers to make sure Hamlet does not leave England alive.
It is obvious that Hamlet is still in control of his mental faculties as he taunts the king and teases about the corpse of Polonius; however, it is also obvious that he is not in control of the situation any longer. He seems preoccupied with death and morbidity; indeed, it almost seems he verges on real madness. He must know why it is that Claudius wants to send him away, yet he readily acquiesces.
The purpose of the scene is primarily to advance the plot and reveal Claudius' overt plans to protect himself. In a well-placed soliloquy after gaining the upper hand, Claudius speaks aloud about the murder he has planned for his nephew.
ACT IV, SCENE 4
This scene opens on a plain in Denmark. Fortinbras, Prince of Norway, marches with his army across Denmark on the way to Poland. Hamlet enters with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and meets a captain who describes the small and worthless piece of land in Poland young Fortinbras hopes to acquire. Hamlet reflects on the futility of war, bloodshed, and the persistent Poles, who will fight for their worthless land to the bitter end.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern walk ahead, affording Hamlet the opportunity to reflect in solitude. He contrasts his inaction to the aggressive behavior of young Fortinbras, remarking in despair, "How all occasions do inform against me, / And spur my dull revenge!" He is angry at himself for delaying his father's vengeance, especially as he watches nearly twenty thousand men bravely marching to their death for a meaningless piece of land. Hamlet resolves that from now on his "thoughts [will] be bloody, or be nothing worth."
In this scene, Shakespeare contrasts the actions of Fortinbras and Hamlet. The Prince, with shame, observes Fortinbras marching against Poland in an aggressive effort to honor his late father, a great military hero. Hamlet, in contrast, views himself as an inept son who, because of doubt and delay, has not avenged his father's murder. The young Prince knows he has let his own father down by his lack of action. Motivated by the sight of the brave soldiers marching to Poland, he promises that all of his future thoughts will be bloody ones against Claudius.