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Free MonkeyNotes-Hamlet by William Shakespeare-Free Book Notes Summary
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ACT V, SCENE 2

Summary

Hamlet tells Horatio about his experiences on the ship when he was being sent to England. During his first night at sea, Hamlet discovered the King's secret orders for him in the pockets of the sleeping Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. He drafted a new letter, a fake one, directing that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern be killed instead of Hamlet; he puts the new letter in the place of the old one.

The next day pirates attacked their ship, and only Hamlet was taken captive. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern continued their journey toward England, oblivious to the certain death awaiting them as a result of the switched letter. As with Polonius' death, Hamlet feels the two men deserve their fate since they meddled in affairs that did not concern them. Horatio is horrified by the magnitude of Claudius' villainy and the suffering Hamlet has undergone; he is especially amazed at the King's letter, which Hamlet produces for Horatio to read. After reading the letter, Horatio says that the Prince has been wronged and should have the right to kill Claudius for murdering Hamlet's father, debauching his mother, depriving Hamlet of his rightful throne, and plotting to kill him.

At this point Osric, a foppish courtier, enters with a message from the King that Laertes has returned to court and has become very popular. Osric seeks to arouse Hamlet's jealousy by praising Laertes; however, Hamlet turns the table on him and instead admits that Laertes does indeed possess many fine traits. Osric is confounded but finally manages to convey his message. He tells Hamlet that the King has laid a wager that in a fencing match between Hamlet and Laertes, the latter cannot win. Hamlet accepts this challenge, indifferent whether he wins or loses. On hearing the news, Horatio expresses his concern for Hamlet's safety. Hamlet assures him that he has been practicing fencing since Laertes left for France. Although Hamlet concedes an uneasy feeling, he dismisses it as trivial. Horatio urges his friend to follow his instincts and postpone the match; in the end, however, Hamlet is determined to participate.


The King, Queen, Laertes, Osric, and other lords and attendants enter the hall with foils. Before the match, Hamlet apologizes to Laertes for his gross behavior at Ophelia's funeral. He admits that he has wronged Laertes and states that he has been extremely distracted. Laertes replies with reservation; while he does not hold any personal grudges against Hamlet, they cannot be completely reconciled until he consults some elders who are more knowledgeable and experienced in the rules of honor. Hamlet is quite eager to proceed with the duel and asks for the foils.

Hamlet scores the first hit, and Claudius orders the firing of cannon and the sounding of trumpets. He urges Hamlet to drink his wine and claim the pearl (poison) the King has dropped in his glass. Hamlet refuses, eager to win the match. He scores again, and his mother offers him her napkin to wipe his forehead. Entirely by accident, she drinks from her son's poisoned cup of wine. She then offers the wine to Hamlet, who again refuses.

In the meantime, Laertes assures the King that he will strike Hamlet. The King, however, expresses his doubts, and in an aside, Laertes reveals his guilty conscience. The match resumes and Laertes wounds Hamlet. Shocked to find the sword uncovered, Hamlet is enraged and lunges for Laertes. In a fierce scuffle, Hamlet wounds Laertes. Both the contestants bleed, and the King orders them separated. The poison the Queen has drunk takes effect, and she swoons. Laertes cries out that he has been justly served and has been killed by his own treachery. The wounded Hamlet cries out in concern for his mother, but Claudius continues to lie, saying she has only fainted at the sight of the blood. The dying Queen cries out that the drink has poisoned her. Hamlet is incensed and orders the doors to be locked so that the villainous traitor can be caught. At this point, Laertes confesses; he tells Hamlet that he has stabbed him with a poisoned foil, and his death is imminent. Laertes claims, "The King, the King's to blame." Hamlet turns on the King and stabs him with the poisoned foil, exclaiming, "Then, venom, to thy work." Hamlet also forces Claudius to drink from the poisoned cup of wine and denounces him as the "incestuous, murderous, damn'd Dane." Claudius falls and dies.

Before dying, Laertes expresses his satisfaction at Claudius' death and says that the King has died as a result of his own treachery. He also asks Hamlet's forgiveness and tells him that the deaths of Polonius, of Hamlet, and of himself, are all to be blamed on Claudius. Hamlet hopes that divine mercy will pardon Laertes and says that he himself will shortly follow Laertes in death. Hamlet then turns with pity to look upon the dead body of the "wretched queen," his mother. He entrusts Horatio to "report me and my cause aright / To the unsatisfied." Distraught by all that has happened, Horatio wishes to die and insists on drinking the poisoned wine. Hamlet stops him and tells him it is his responsibility to tell his story to the Danish citizens. In the distance, the sound of marching soldiers is heard; Osric announces that Fortinbras, who has returned from his Polish conquest, has fired a cannon in honor of the ambassadors returning from England. Before dying, Hamlet pronounces Fortinbras the successor to the Danish throne. Hamlet dies in the arms of his loyal friend Horatio, who tearfully bids him farewell with the immortal lines, "Good-night, sweet prince, / And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!"

Fortinbras enters this tragic scene along with the English ambassadors and his soldiers. He is shocked by the bloody spectacle that greets him. The English ambassadors, who have come for their reward for killing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, realize that they have come too late. Horatio wryly explains the sequence of events that have led to this tragedy. He further says it is his duty to narrate the miserable deeds including adultery, murder, treacheries, and plotting, that have brought them all here. Fortinbras agrees that the violence and disharmony needs to end. His first order is to have his four captains carry Hamlet's body to a full military funeral.


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