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Free MonkeyNotes-Hamlet by William Shakespeare-Free Book Notes Summary
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ACT III, SCENE 4

Summary

Polonius arrives to inform the Queen that Hamlet is on his way, then takes his hiding place behind the arras. Hamlet's approach to his mother is reserved and reproving. He answers her questions satirically and makes it plain that he disapproves of her incestuous marriage to her husband's brother. Queen Gertrude is alarmed by the vehemence of Hamlet's answers and his insistence that she sit down and listen to him. Hamlet takes the occasion to chastise her severely for her role in murder and incest. He tells her that he will make her see what a monstrous woman she is. She misunderstands her son, thinking he means to harm her. Polonius, hidden behind the arras, echoes the Queen's cries for help, thinking Hamlet will hurt her. Hamlet, mistaking Polonius for the King, runs his sword through the arras and kills him. The Queen cries out in horror, but Hamlet angrily remarks, "A bloody deed! Almost as bad, good mother, / As kill a King, and marry with his brother." Unrepentant over the accidental murder of Polonius, Hamlet tells his mother that the man was an interfering and meddling fool.

Hamlet grows increasingly angry, castigating his mother for having committed an act wholly devoid of modesty and virtue. He accuses her of accepting Claudius out of lust and adds that there is no comparison between her first husband, the King, and her new husband, the murderer. The Queen begs Hamlet to stop torturing her, admitting she has acted in poor judgment. Hamlet is not appeased by her sorrow, however, and continues to yell.


The ghost appears, visible only to Hamlet, and reminds him of his mission to avenge the murder. The apparition also tells Hamlet that he should not upset his mother; instead, he should help her fight the battle of conscience raging in her soul. The Queen, to whom the ghost is invisible, listens to Hamlet's conversation with "nothing" and is now convinced that her son is mad. When Hamlet calls upon her to see the apparition of her late husband, she can only conclude that he is hallucinating. When Hamlet asserts that he has not uttered anything in madness, there is cogency in his argument and clarity in his speech. He states that he is perfectly in his senses and can repeat what he has already said, proving that he is not insane. He tells his mother that she should not unburden her conscience by pretending that what he has told her comes from the tongue of a raving madman. Hamlet then implores Gertrude to give up her life of vice, returning to her past life of virtue; he further advises her not to sleep with Claudius and defile her soul further.

His passion spent, Hamlet then turns to Polonius' body and expresses regret that he killed the Lord Chamberlain. Before leaving, he pleads with his mother not to reveal his sanity to Claudius. He tells her that he suspects something underhanded in his mission to England with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and is certain that Claudius plans to dispose of him, with the help of Hamlet's longtime friends. In a mood of fierce determination, Hamlet leaves the Queen's closet, dragging away the lifeless body of Polonius.


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