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

Notes

Hamlet enters his mother's closet in a state of frenzied excitement and rage. He believes she has been an accomplice in the murder of the late King, if only by abandoning his memory too soon. His anger and disgust are increased when Gertrude, following Polonius' advice, lets Hamlet know that "his pranks have been too broad to bear with" and begins to upbraid him for his behavior toward Claudius. Hamlet's passion rises to a feverish pitch, and he turns on Gertrude with anger. His words act like daggers that shatter Gertrude's peace of mind and make her realize her failure to live up to the ideals of fidelity and constancy. The picture that Hamlet shows Gertrude of her soul is unbearable for her. She misinterprets the situation and, believing that she is in physical danger of being assaulted, cries out for help. Her cries for help are echoed by Polonius, who is hiding behind the arras. Hamlet, thinking the hidden observer is Claudius, runs his sword through the arras in a fit of passion, killing Polonius. At this stage, it becomes clear Gertrude is innocent of direct involvement in King Hamlet's death; she is totally stunned by Hamlet's words and repeats them in confusion. Polonius is not so innocent; instead he is a victim of his own despicable character. From the beginning of the play, he has been a busybody who spies on others. Ironically, his spying leads to his death.

The killing of Polonius is a complication for Hamlet, for he has now become a murderer without a just cause. Even though he has innocent blood on his hands, he is unable to repent, justifying his action by saying the Polonius was a meddling fool. Still the Prince fears that he is no longer God's minister, but a scourge destined for damnation. It is fairly certain at this point that Hamlet will have to pay for his misdeed, for unjustifiable murder cannot go unpunished, and Laertes is certain to want revenge for his dead father. Hamlet's careful deliberation and planning have been done in a quick moment of passion.


Hamlet's criticism of his mother has the desired effect, and she cries out in anguish as she recognizes the foulness of her sin; but she refuses to abandon her current husband in spite of her son's demands. When he chastises her further, she begs Hamlet to stop and admits the existence of the "black and grained spots" in her soul. But Hamlet's passion is furiously aroused, and his words to his mother grow increasingly bitter and sharp. At this point, the Ghost of the late King appears to remind Hamlet of his promise not to harm Gertrude and to hasten him towards revenge against Claudius before it is too late. Gertrude cannot see the ghost to whom Hamlet speaks and decides that her son is really mad.

Hamlet's interview with his mother has been the focus of elaborate critical and psychological commentary. The Freudian approach, which attributes Hamlet's delay in killing Claudius to his inability to resolve his oedipal feelings for his mother, holds that Hamlet's conduct in this scene is due to the fundamental instincts of jealousy and sexual affection for his mother. There is, indeed, a strong undercurrent of sexual imagery in the scene, and the language is charged with passion. In contrast, the traditional Shakespearean critics view Hamlet as a moral idealist who rightly castigates Gertrude in an effort to save her soul from damnation. They claim that he does not unduly exaggerate her guilt, nor does he try to unburden himself by laying the blame on her.


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