Hamlet murmurs that this is "wormwood," a bitter medicine. The player king warns the queen that vows are often broken when the situation that created them is gone, but she swears even more emphatically never to marry again. The king asks to be left alone, as he is sleepy, and she leaves him with gentle good wishes.
At this pause in the action Hamlet turns to his mother and asks her if she likes the play. "The lady doth protest too much," she answers, suggesting that she knows what is coming. Hamlet promises the queen will "keep her word," probably in a mocking tone, since Claudius asks Hamlet if he is sure the story has nothing offensive in it. Only "poison in jest," Hamlet replies. When Claudius asks the name of the play, Hamlet tells him it is The Mousetrap, based on an actual case in Vienna. It is an awful play, he says, but "free souls" like Claudius and himself can cope with it. The murderer Lucianus now enters- the central character, presumably played by the actor for whom Hamlet has written the new speech- and Hamlet identifies him as "nephew to the King," which equates him at one stroke with Claudius and with Hamlet himself. Lucianus describes the mixture of poisonous herbs he has created, and pours it into the ear of the sleeping player king. If this were not enough to upset Claudius by itself, Hamlet follows it with another few lines of mocking banter, ending with, "You shall see anon how the murderer gets the love of Gonzago's wife." This is too much for Claudius, and in one of the most electrifying moments in all theater the lines of the five major characters clatter on each other's heels in response to Claudius' reaction:
Ophelia: The King rises.
Hamlet: What, frighted with false fire?
Queen: How fares my lord?
Polonius: Give o'er [stop] the play.
King: Give me some light! Away!
© Copyright 1984 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
Electronically Enhanced Text © Copyright 1993, World Library, Inc.
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