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William Shakespeare



Hearing the queen's sighs and moans of grief, Claudius immediately comes to her. Hamlet, she tells him, is "mad as the sea and wind" during a storm, and has killed the "good old man" Polonius. "O heavy deed!" the king exclaims, adding instantly, "It had been so with us, had we been there [he uses the royal "we," meaning "I"]." Claudius worries that he will be blamed for Polonius' death since he should have kept "this mad young man" under restraint. The king calls Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and orders them to find the prince so he can be shipped away to England that morning. In the meantime he will call a council meeting, so that any slanderous rumors coming from the murder will "miss our name / And hit the woundless air."


This short and succinct scene is one of the best for observing Claudius as a character. His decisiveness and his ability to see all sides of a situation- everything that makes him a good politician- are in evidence here. You can argue forcefully that he is a hypocrite whose only strong feelings are for himself. Notice, for instance, that he shows no concern for Polonius and his family. (If you want to see what he really thinks, compare a formal scene like Act I, Scene ii, lines 44-64 with this one.) On the other hand, Claudius has not until this moment spoken of killing Hamlet and you can argue that the King truly believes that Hamlet is mad and poses a threat to Denmark.  


[Hamlet Table of Contents] []

© Copyright 1984 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
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