Hamlet Act 4 summaries

Act 4, Scene 1 Frantic after her confrontation with Hamlet, Gertrude hurries to Claudius, who is conferring with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. She asks to speak to the king alone. When Rosencrantz and Guildenstern exit, she tells Claudius about her encounter with Hamlet. She says that he is as mad as the sea during a violent storm; she also tells Claudius that Hamlet has killed Polonius. Aghast, the king notes that had he been concealed behind the arras, Hamlet would have killed him. Claudius wonders aloud how he will be able to handle this public crisis without damaging his hold on Denmark. He tells Gertrude that they must ship Hamlet to England at once and find a way to explain Hamlet’s misdeed to the court and to the people. He calls Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, tells them about the murder, and sends them to find Hamlet.
Act 4, Scene 2 Elsewhere in Elsinore, Hamlet has just finished disposing of Polonius’s body, commenting that the corpse has been “safely stowed” (IV.ii.1). Rosencrantz and Guildenstern appear and ask what he has done with the body. Hamlet refuses to give them a straight answer, instead saying, “The body is with the king, but the king is not with the body” (IV.ii.25-26). Feigning offense at being questioned, he accuses them of being spies in the service of Claudius. He calls Rosencrantz a “sponge . . . that soaks up the king’s countenance, his rewards, his authorities,” and warns him that “when he needs what you have gleaned, it is but squeezing you, and, sponge, you shall be dry again” (IV.ii.11-19). At last he agrees to allow Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to escort him to Claudius.
Act 4, Scene 5 Gertrude and Horatio discuss Ophelia. Gertrude does not wish to see the bereaved girl, but Horatio says that Ophelia should be pitied, explaining that her grief has made her disordered and incoherent. Ophelia enters. Adorned with flowers and singing strange songs, she seems to have gone mad. Claudius enters and hears Ophelia’s ravings, such as, “They say the owl was a baker’s daughter” (IV.v.42). He says that Ophelia’s grief stems from her father’s death, and that the people have been suspicious and disturbed by the death as well: “muddied, / Thick and unwholesome in their thoughts and whispers / For good Polonius’ death” (IV.v.77-79). He also mentions that Laertes has secretly sailed back from France.A loud noise echoes from somewhere in the castle. Claudius calls for his guards, and a gentleman enters to warn the king that Laertes has come with a mob of commoners. The mob calls Laertes “lord,” according to the gentlemen, and the people whisper that “Laertes shall be king” (IV.v.102-106). A furious Laertes storms into the hall, fuming in his desire to avenge his father’s death. Claudius attempts to soothe him by frankly acknowledging that Polonius is dead. Gertrude nervously adds that Claudius is innocent in it. When Ophelia reenters, obviously insane, Laertes plunges again into rage. Claudius claims that he is not responsible for Polonius’s death and says that Laertes’ desire for revenge is a credit to him, so long as he seeks revenge upon the proper person. Claudius convinces Laertes to hear his version of events, which he says will answer all his questions. Laertes agrees, and Claudius seconds his desire to achieve justice in the aftermath of Polonius’s death: “Where th’ offence is, let the great axe fall” (IV.v.213).
Act 4, Scene 6 In another part of the castle, Horatio is introduced to a pair of sailors bearing a letter for him from Hamlet. In the letter, Hamlet says that his ship was captured by pirates, who have returned him to Denmark. He asks Horatio to escort the sailors to the king and queen, for they have messages for them as well. He also says that he has much to tell of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Horatio takes the sailors to the king and then follows them to find Hamlet, who is in the countryside near the castle.

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