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  • Category: English
  • Words: 10782
  • Grade: 80
Francisco, a soldier standing watch outside the gates of Elsinore Castle in Denmark, is met by Barnardo who has arrived to replace him. They are soon joined by Marcellus, another guard, and Horatio. Horatio is a scholar who speaks Latin, and he has been brought along because Barnardo and Marcellus claim they have seen a ghost. While Barnardo describes to Horatio exactly what he has seen, the ghost appears in front of them. Horatio tries to speak with the ghost in Latin, saying, "Stay, speak, speak, I charge thee speak" (1.1.49), but the ghost remains silent and then leaves.
Horatio tells Barnardo that the ghost looks like the deceased King Hamlet, also known as Old Hamlet. Horatio sees that the ghost was dressed the same way as King Hamlet was when he defeated King Fortinbras of Norway. The story is that King Hamlet went to Norway and fought Fortinbras in single combat. The loser agreed to yield all his land to the other king. However, in the time since King Hamlet died, the son of King Fortinbras, known as young Fortinbras, has been gathering together troops and is threatening to attack Denmark.
The ghost enters a second time and Horatio again begs it to speak to him. Just as it seems the ghost is about to say something, a cock crows and the ghost disappears. Horatio tells Marcellus that he will inform young Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark and the son of King Hamlet, that a ghost keeps appearing in the shape of his father. Marcellus knows where young Hamlet is and leaves with Horatio to find him.
Act One, Scene Two

King Claudius, who has assumed the throne since his brother King Hamlet died, is accompanied by Queen Gertrude and other lords and attendants in Elsinore Castle. He addresses the people, telling them that although his brother's death is fresh in their minds, it is time for them to celebrate his royal marriage to Queen Gertrude, who was also his brother's former wife. He further informs the people that young Fortinbras of Norway has assembled armies against Denmark. In response to this threat, Claudius sends two men, Valtemand and Cornelius, as messengers to the uncle of young Fortinbras with a letter in which he asks the older uncle to stop young Fortinbras from attempting to attack Denmark.
Claudius next asks a young nobleman named Laertes why he has requested an audience. Laertes informs him that although he has been fulfilled his duties and attended the coronation in Denmark, he would rather return to France. Claudius asks Polonius, Laertes' father, if he has given permission for his son to go. Polonius assents, and Laertes is allowed to leave Denmark.
Turning to Hamlet, Claudius asks his nephew why he is still in mourning for his father's death, hinting that Hamlet might only be pretending to be grief-stricken. Hamlet's mother, Queen Gertrude, also asks him why he still dresses in black clothing. Hamlet replies that his grief is quite real and that he will continue grieving. Claudius tells him it is unnatural for a man to remain sorrowful for such a long time. Both Claudius and Gertrude then beg Hamlet to stay with them in Denmark instead of returning to Wittenberg where his university is located. Hamlet agrees to stay, and watches as everyone leaves the hall to celebrate his uncle's and his mother's marriage.
He is upset about the fact that his mother married Claudius within less than two months after the death of King Hamlet. Hamlet says, "O most wicked speed, to post / With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!" (1.2.157). He is interrupted by the arrival of Horatio, Barnardo, and Marcellus, who have come to tell him about the ghost they have seen.
Horatio tells Hamlet about seeing the ghost of King Hamlet. Hamlet asks them if they have the watch again that night, and Barnardo says they do. At this information, Hamlet agrees to join them that night in order to see the ghost and hopefully to speak with it.
Act One, Scene Three

Laertes, about to leave for France, says farewell to his sister Ophelia. He warns her to beware of Hamlet, whom he tells her is insincere. "For Hamlet and the trifling of his favour, / Hold it a fashion and a toy in blood, / ...sweet not lasting" (1.3.5-6, 8). Laertes then lectures Ophelia, telling her that Hamlet will say anything to win her heart. He tells her to hold off, and if Hamlet still loves her after he has been made king, only then should she consider marrying him. Ophelia agrees to remember what he has told her.
Polonius then arrives and tells Laertes to hurry up and catch his ship before it leaves the harbor. As he walks Laertes towards the ship, Polonius gives his son fatherly advice. "Be thou familiar but by no means vulgar. / The friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, / Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel" (1.3.61-63). Laertes promises to obey his father, and leaves after he reminds Ophelia to remember what he has said.
Polonius asks Ophelia what advice Laertes gave her. Ophelia tells him, and Polonius gets mad at her for believing what Hamlet has told her. He orders her to give less of her time to Hamlet in the future, saying, "From this time, daughter, / Be somewhat scanter of your maiden presence" (1.3.120-121). Ophelia tells her father she will do what he commands: "I shall obey, my lord" (1.3.136).
Act One, Scene Four

Hamlet and Horatio are outside waiting for the ghost to arrive. They hear a cannon go off, and Hamlet tells Horatio that the cannon is fired whenever the king empties a draught of Rhenish wine. Hamlet is upset about the custom, because he thinks it makes Denmark appear to be a land of drunkards. The ghost arrives and Hamlet tries to speak to it, but it only beckons him to follow it. Horatio and Marcellus try to make him stay, but Hamlet tells them to let go of him. Marcellus and Horatio watch him leave and decide to follow him. Marcellus remarks, "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark" (1.4.67).
Act One, Scene Five

Hamlet follows the ghost, who finally speaks and informs Hamlet that he is the spirit of Old Hamlet, Hamlet's father. The ghost indicates that he is in purgatory, "I am thy father's spirit, / Doomed for a certain term to walk the night / And for the day confined to fast in fires / Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature / Are burned and purged away" (1.5.9-13). The ghost then tells Hamlet to listen to him closely.
Old Hamlet orders his son to revenge his murder. Hamlet is confused, not understanding what the ghost is speaking about. The ghost tells him that "sleeping in mine orchard, / A serpent stung me" (1.5.35-36), alluding to the fact that he was murdered. He goes on to say that the serpent is his brother, Claudius, who entered the garden where he was sleeping and poured poison into his ear. He died without having a chance to confess his sins, and is therefore forced to suffer in Purgatory until his sins are burned away.
The ghost leaves Hamlet with the words, "Adieu, adieu, Hamlet. Remember me" (1.5.91). Hamlet wonders about what he has heard, and decides that he believes the ghost. He makes Marcellus and Horatio swear to never reveal what they have seen. He then makes them swear a second time, this time on his dagger which is shaped like a cross. He tells Horatio, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in our philosophy" (1.5.168-169). They all swear yet again and return to the castle.
Analysis

Hamlet is fundamentally a play about seeking the truth. The opening scene is a miniature play which introduces the questions that will have to be answered throughout the rest of the work. Barnardo asks, "Who's there?" and is answered by Fransisco with, "Nay, answer me. Stand and unfold yourself" (1.1.1-2). The entire plot is encapsulated in these words, with Hamlet struggling to know who is really standing across from him, and with his own unfolding of himself to the audience. Thus Hamlet will seek to know the truth about whether the ghost is really his father while simultaneously trying to figure out who he himself is as a person.
The ghost presents a figure of antiquity that contrast strongly with the more modern Denmark ruled by Claudius. Barnardo comments, "Looks it not like the King?" (1.1.41), responding to the image of Old Hamlet as the old warrior, wearing complete armor and holding a truncheon. In fact, we are told he looks the same as when he defeated Old Norway. Even the language of the ghost relies on mythology to compare things, "I find thee apt, / And duller shouldst thou be than the fat weed / That rots itself in ease on Lethe wharf" (1.5.31-33). This conflict between the new world which has defeated the old world is made clear by Hamlet, who comments, "That thou, dead corpse, again in complete steel" (1.4.33). Later this contrast will come across even more clearly, in the choice of armor and weaponry. Whereas Old Hamlet appears wearing full armor, the new weapons will be the rapier and the fencing armor, showing how combat is made in sport rather than in war.
Claudius represents the voice of this new society; he is the perfect new politician and stands in contrast to Old Hamlet. This is evidenced strongly by their choice of words: Old Hamlet is of the old Senecan tradition and uses repetition, Claudius uses prose. Claudius further prefers to define himself with the words, "though", "ourselves", and "therefore", as opposed to ghost who uses "I". In true political vein, Claudius' words flow smoothly but the his meaning runs counter to the words. For instance, only by listening closely does the audience realize that he is speaking about incest but hiding it with the language he chooses. We have to listen closely to realize there is something wrong with what he is saying, such as when he contradicts himself: "With mirth in funeral and with dirge in marriage" (1.2.12).
One of the most interesting parallels is the non-play concerning Fortinbras, a man whose story is told only be others until the very end. He is almost a perfect parallel to Hamlet: his father has been murdered, his uncle has taken the reigns of power, and he desires revenge. However, in contradiction to Hamlet, he is also a man who is able to act. We learn in the first act that he has raised an army to attack Denmark, and by the final act he actually appears with his army. Hamlet's growth as a character can in many ways be seen as a progression to what Fortinbras is able to do, namely take action. Claudius will underestimate Fortinbras' army, much the way he underestimates Hamlet's madness, thereby causing his own destruction.
The clothes that Hamlet wears during the opening scenes indicate both his state of mind and also his perception of his mother and Claudius. Queen Gertrude begs Hamlet to remove his black clothing, "Good Hamlet, cast thy nightly colour off" (1.2.68). The clothes take on two separate meanings here, the first of which deals with melancholy. Melancholy was traditionally viewed as the cause of madness by physicians of Shakespeare's time, and thus Hamlet's wardrobe serves to foreshadow his future madness, or at least lends credence to it. The clothes also indicate that Hamlet is an actor. He is not still in mourning for his father, evidenced by his comment to his mother that mourning clothes do not necessarily mean he is still mourning. The inference that can be drawn from this is that Hamlet thinks that the king's clothes do not mean he is a real king. Hamlet's rejection of his clothes after the first act lends credence to the argument that he is merely acting, as do his words in which he tells the audience that he will no longer pretend the way Claudius does.
Hamlet is also a play about watching plays, a job that can quickly become dangerous. There are the watch sentries watching the ghost, Polonius watching Hamlet, Claudius watching the Mousetrap play, etc. All of this ties in with the fact that Claudius and Gertrude are actually a player king and a player queen, both literally and figuratively. Hamlet alone is able to overcome this by not being illusory. He tells his mother, "Seems, madam? Nay, it is. I know not 'seems'" (1.2.76). This "seems" also plays on the phonic similarity of "seems" and "scenes". Hamlet is basically refusing to be called an actor. He states, "These indeed 'seem', / For they are actions that a man might play" (1.2.83-84). His rejection of illusion is based on a rejection of fakeness and lies, not merely acting. Thus his feigned madness, while at first glance an form of acting, is actually lucidity, Hamlet uses his madness to speak truthfully without being punished.
The imagery of gardens, used often in Shakespeare's plays, re-emerges here. Hamlet says, "'Tis an unweeded garden / That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature / Possess it merely" (1.2.135-137). He is referring to his mother, whose lust for Claudius allowed her to marry him barely two months after his father's death. The garden is traditionally associated with Eden, and thus the imagery here is that of Eden falling apart. Indeed, his father's ghost makes this same connection, saying that he was stung by a serpent while in his garden (1.5). Thus Denmark under Old Hamlet can be viewed as Eden, whereas now the serpent, in the form of Claudius, has taken over.
The profound change in Hamlet as a person can be seen in his comparison of himself to Hercules. He first states, "No more like my father / Than I to Hercules" (1.2.152-153). Here he indicates he is not Hercules, meaning he is not strong and confrontational. However, by the end of the play, he will be say "Let Hercules himself do what he may, The cat will mew and dog will have his day" (5.1.298). This change, from a man who first indicates his weakness compared to Hercules to a man who claims that even Hercules could not stop him, shows the growth in Hamlet from indecisive weakling to active tragic hero.
There is a great deal of advice given by fathers to their sons. Polonius is the first example of this, when he uses platitudes to tell Laertes how to behave in France. However, this use of platitudes hides his real meaning. This contrasts with Old Hamlet, who also gives advice to his son Hamlet. Here the advise is direct, the orders are clear. In fact, the ghost tells Hamlet to, "List, Hamlet, list, O list!" (1.5.22). The order is to listen to his every word because of its directness.
Ophelia is a Shakespearian woman who is caught, as in so many of the comedies, between a strong father and a strong lover. She must choose right in the first act whether to obey her love for Hamlet or her father's orders. The tragedy for Ophelia is that she chooses her father, saying, "I shall obey, my lord" (1.3.136). By choosing her father, Ophelia displays a passivity that will lead to her own destruction when he is killed.
Ears play a significant role in the imagery of this play. They are everywhere, showing up in the advise to sons, eavesdropping, "words like daggers", the ghost crying "List, list", and the poison poured into Old Hamlet's ear. Ears, through their ability to absorb words, are actually the way many of the characters become poisoned. Old Hamlet literally has poison poured into his ear to kill him, but he then pours the poison of words into his son Hamlet's ears, crying out for revenge. Indeed, when Marcellus says, "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark" (1.4.67), the rot is actually the tale that the ghost tells, the poison poured into Hamlet's ear. This will instigate the other forms of ear imagery, with Hamlet sending "dagger" into his mother's ears in an attempt to make her realize what Claudius has done.
There is a great deal of uncertainty about the ghost, namely he raises the question of whether he is a good ghost or a demon pretending to be Hamlet's father. He states that, "I am thy father's spirit, / Doomed for a certain term to walk the night / And for the day confined to fast in fires / Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature / Are burned and purged away" (1.5.9-13). The problem here is that he is describing purgatory, a middle world between heaven and hell where the sins are burned away over time. However, Protestant Denmark did not believe in purgatory, and instead considered anyone who did to be a Catholic. This clash of religions makes the ghost seem untrustworthy in a Protestant world. The ambiguity about the ghost's truthfulness will culminate in Hamlet trying to test and validate the ghost's claims.
Act Two, Scene One

Polonius is in his apartments with his servant Reynaldo. He is sending Reynaldo to France with instructions to keep tabs on the behavior of Laertes. Polonius tells Reynaldo to first inquire what other Danes are in the area, and then to tell them that he knows Laertes. He wants Reynaldo to hint to the other Danes that Laertes has a reputation for gambling, drinking, or whoring. The purpose of this lie is to see if the other Danes agree with Reynaldo and tell him about real things that Laertes has done. Polonius is careful to insist that Reynaldo does not harm his son's honor in the process, saying, "none so rank / As may dishonour him, take heed of that" (2.1.20-21). Reynaldo leaves the room to depart for France.
Ophelia arrives and tells Polonius that she thinks Hamlet has gone mad. She claims that while she was sowing he came to her looking completely disheveled. Hamlet took her by the wrist and looked at her for a long time. He then turned to walk away, all the while keeping his eyes on Ophelia and even walking through the doors without averting his gaze. Polonius is upset when he hears this, and he concludes that her refusal to see Hamlet anymore has driven the young prince mad. Polonius takes Ophelia to go see King Claudius and tell him what has happened.
Act Two, Scene Two

Claudius and Gertrude meet with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two former friends of Hamlet. Claudius informs them that he has summoned them to Denmark due to Hamlet's madness. He wants them to spend time with Hamlet and find out what the reason for the madness is. They both agree to do this, and leave to find Hamlet.
Polonius arrives and informs Claudius that the ambassadors he sent to Norway have returned. Claudius tells him that he always brings good news. Polonius, delighted by the compliment, further tells him that he thinks he knows the cause of "Hamlet's lunacy" (2.2.49). Claudius is excited by this news as well, but orders the ambassadors to enter first.
Valtemand, one of the ambassadors, tells Claudius that Old Norway, the uncle of Fortinbras, was unaware that his nephew was raising an army against Denmark. He informs Claudius that Old Norway summoned Fortinbras to meet him as soon as he heard about his nephew's plans. Fortinbras complied with the summons and was forced to vow to never attack Denmark. His uncle, believing him, immediately gave him an annual income of three thousand crowns and also gave him permission to attack Poland instead. Old Norway further wrote a letter to Claudius asking him to allow Fortinbras a safe passage through Denmark on the way Poland.
Claudius is very pleased with the way things appear to have turned out, and heartily agrees to allow Fortinbras to march through Denmark. After the ambassadors leave, Polonius turns to Claudius and Gertrude and tells them that Hamlet is mad. They both become impatient to hear what he is saying, and Polonius finally produces a letter from Hamlet to Ophelia in which Hamlet professes his love to her. Gertrude then asks Polonius how Ophelia received Hamlet's overtures of love. Polonius is forced to tell them that at his request she ignored Hamlet or rebuked his love. Claudius is not completely convinced that this is the full cause of Hamlet's insanity. He and Polonius decide to put Ophelia into the hall where Hamlet is known to spend hours pacing each day. They plan to hide behind a tapestry and watch what happens.
Hamlet arrives at this moment dressed as if he is mad and reading a book. Polonius asks the king and queen to leave so that he may speak with Hamlet alone. Hamlet pretends not to recognize Polonius, whom he calls a fishmonger. He then asks Polonius if he has a daughter, and tells him to keep her out of the sun. When Polonius, thoroughly convinced that Hamlet is deranged, asks what he is reading, Hamlet tells him, "Words, words, words" (2.2.192). Polonius gives up trying to reason with Hamlet and leaves.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern arrive and are greeted warmly by Hamlet who immediately drops all pretense of madness. He recognizes them and asks them what brings them to Denmark, referring to it as a "prison". They refuse to give him a straight answer, and Hamlet infers from this that "you were sent for, / and there is a kind of confession in your looks which your modesties have not craft enough to colour" (2.2.271-272). Guildenstern finally admits that Hamlet is correct in his assumption that they were sent for. Hamlet tells them that he has been extremely melancholy during the past few months.
The two friends of Hamlet inform him that some players, a theatrical group, arrived in Denmark with them that day. Hamlet discusses the actors with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern until a trumpet announces the arrival of the performers. He then personally goes to greet them and welcome them to Denmark. Polonius arrives at that moment and, still thinking that Hamlet is mad, tells Hamlet that the best actors in the world have arrived. Hamlet plays word games with Polonius until he starts to ignore him.
Hamlet asks one of the players to perform a speech for him. The player asks him which speech he is so keen to hear, and Hamlet begins to recite lines from Dido and Aeneas, taken from Virgil's Aeneid. Finally he stops and asks the actor to continue the speech. The man does, describing how Pyrrhus kills Priam (the king of Troy). Polonius starts to get bored and soon Hamlet is forced to stop the actor. He orders Polonius to take care of the actors and ensure their comfort for the night. Hamlet also asks the actors whether they can perform a play about the murder of Gonzago. They tell him they can, and he then asks them whether they can also perform some lines he wishes to write for them. They agree to do this as well and then leave, following Polonius. Hamlet tells Guildenstern and Rosencrantz that he will see them that night.
Left alone onstage, Hamlet speaks to himself. He wishes that he were able to act as eloquently as the actor who performed the speech. Hamlet is still torn with indecision about revenging the murder of his father on Claudius or keeping silent due to uncertainty about whether Claudius really killed his father. He decides to try and make the player's enact the murder scene as it was described to him by the ghost. Hamlet is hoping that Claudius, when he sees the scene, will reveal himself as the true murderer of King Hamlet. "I have heard that guilty creatures sitting at a play / Have by the very cunning of the scene / Been struck so to the soul that presently / The have proclaimed their malefactions" (2.2.566-569). By watching Claudius when the actors perform this scene, Hamlet expects to discover whether the ghost told him the truth.
Analysis

The character of Polonius emerges in this scene not as a fatherly figure giving advice, but as an old conniving fool. His orders to Ophelia to avoid Hamlet are overturned when he realizes Hamlet has gone mad. He further feels that he has to become involved in the conflict between Hamlet and Claudius because he now blames himself for Hamlet's madness. In the first scene we see him sending Reynaldo to keep an eye on Laertes in France, and he orders Reynaldo to instigate rumors about Laertes in order to find out if Laertes has been acting properly. However, his nature is best encapsulated in his forgetfulness, his inability to see himself for an old fool. He asks Reynaldo, "what was I about to say? By the mass, I was about to say something. Where did I leave it?" (2.1.50-51), indicating that in spite of all his plots, he really has no idea what is going on around him.
Claudius suffers from a misleading impression of Polonius, whom he is unable to see through. Indeed, Claudius thinks that Polonius is actually helping him, "Thou still hast been the father of good news" (2.2.42). Only the audience realizes that Claudius is exactly wrong since Polonius is bringing incorrect news. He thus brings bad news disguised as good news. This first occurs with the news from Old Norway, which soon will reveal itself as merely a trick. Polonius then brings news that he knows the cause of Hamlet's madness, when nothing could be further from the truth.
There is a strong parallel between Claudius as an uncle who seized power versus Old Norway who thinks he rules Norway. Hamlet is unable to rebel against his uncle, whereas Fortinbras has no such scruples. There is an open question of whether Old Norway is aware of Fortinbras' true ambition, whether this is all a ploy. Fortinbras misleads Claudius so easily that he calls into question Claudius' abilities as king. However, it is because of the difference between the two men that Fortinbras can mislead. This is a battle between the ancient warrior tradition and the new political and verbal tradition. Fortinbras represents revenge and war, whereas Claudius and also Hamlet prefer letters and words to achieve their ends.
Hamlet's choice of Dido and Aeneas as the speech that he wishes to hear is not trivial. Hamlet is trying to point out that Troy equals Denmark when Old Hamlet ruled. In fact, Troy is the story of what should have been, a last glance backwards for Hamlet. Through the speech, Hamlet realizes that the players speak the truth. He comments afterwards, "Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain!" (2.2.558), showing his changing opinion of Claudius.
Act Three, Scene One

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are reporting to Claudius and Gertrude what they have noticed about Hamlet. They tell the king and queen that Hamlet has not revealed to them why he acts mad some of the time, but that he also seems distracted. They mention that Hamlet seemed much happier when the actors arrived and that he ordered them to perform for the court that very night. Polonius interrupts and mentions that Hamlet had asked him to invite Claudius and Gertrude to the evening's performance. Claudius happily accepts the invitation.
Claudius then asks Gertrude to leave, telling her that they will put Ophelia alone in the room so that she and Hamlet may "accidentally" meet. She agrees to depart and wishes Ophelia luck in bringing Hamlet out of his supposed madness. Claudius and Polonius proceed to hide themselves behind a curtain or tapestry in order to spy.
Hamlet enters the room giving his famous soliloquy, "To be, or not to be; that is the question" (3.1.58). He is grappling with the difficulty of taking action against Claudius and the fact that he has not been able to revenge his father's murder yet. Hamlet's introspective commentary is interrupted when he sees Ophelia.
Ophelia greets Hamlet and tries to hand him back some of the tokens of his affection he previously gave her. Hamlet tells her that she should never have believed him when he told her he loved her, and that she was deceived. He tells her, "Get thee to a nunnery. Why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?" (3.1.122). Hamlet then says that women are liars and should not be allowed to marry, unless the men they marry are fools. He is likely alluding to the fact that Ophelia rejected him after he proclaimed his love for her.
Ophelia is upset by his reactions, and says, "O what a noble mind is here o'erthrown!" (3.1.149). Claudius and Polonius emerge from their hiding-place and tell her they heard everything. Polonius still thinks the cause of Hamlet's misery is Ophelia's rejection of his love. Claudius, however, is convinced that Hamlet is not mad, merely deeply depressed and possibly dangerous. He tells Polonius that he will send Hamlet to England as soon as possible.
Act Three, Scene Two

Hamlet has written a scene for the actors and he is instructing them on how to perform it. He tells them not to be overdramatic, but also "Be not too tame, neither" (3.2.15). The actors tell him they can perform it exactly as he desires it to be.
Polonius, Guildenstern and Rosencrantz arrive and Hamlet sends them all to make the actors hurry up and get ready. Horatio soon shows up and Hamlet tells him that one scene in the play that night directly mimics the murder of his father. He asks Horatio to, "observe mine uncle" (3.2.73) in order to determine whether the ghost was lying or not. They plan to meet afterwards and compare their separate judgments as to what the reaction of Claudius means.
Horatio goes to find a seat, and Claudius enters along with the rest of the court. He greets Hamlet and asks him how he is. Hamlet gives a nonsensical answer and then asks Polonius if he was an actor during his university days. Polonius says he was a good actor, and that he played Julius Caesar.
Gertrude asks Hamlet to sit by her, but he says, "No, good-mother, here's mettle more attractive" (3.2.99) and sits next to Ophelia instead. He proceeds to make bawdy comments to her, all of which Ophelia tries to respond to appropriately.
The actors come out onto the stage and proceed to perform a dumb show, a silent scene in which they enact the murder of a king through poisoning. Ophelia is confused by the show, but assumes it foretells the actual plot. The players emerge a second time and start to perform the actual play. They pretend to be a king and queen. The queen protests her love for the king, telling him that she will never consider marrying a second man. The king tells her that such vows are quickly forgotten, but the queen continues to swear she will never marry a second time.
Hamlet turns to Queen Gertrude and asks her what she thinks of the play. Gertrude tells him that the queen "protests too much" (3.2.210). Claudius is worried that the play may be offensive, and asks Hamlet what the play is called. Hamlet says, "The Mousetrap" (3.2.217), alluding to the fact that he wants to catch Claudius.
An actor named Lucianus arrives onstage, and Hamlet tells them that he is meant to portray the nephew of the king. Lucianus pours poison in the king's ears, and Hamlet comments that he kills the king in order to steal his estate. Ophelia informs Hamlet that Claudius has stood up out of rage, thereby stopping the performance. Hamlet happily replies, "What, frighted with false fire?" (3.2.244). Claudius demands light to shone on him and leaves the room, followed by everyone except Hamlet and Horatio.
The two friends remain behind and Hamlet gleefully tells Horatio, "O good Horatio, I'll take the Ghost's word for a thousand pound" (3.2.263-264). Horatio agrees with him that Claudius is guilty. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern arrive and tell Hamlet that the king is in a terrible mood and that Gertrude has sent for him. He agrees to meet with his mother soon, but they continue to ask him why he is so "distempered" (3.2.308). Hamlet gets mad at them for their insistence and grabs a recorder from one of the actors. He shows it to them and demands that Guildenstern play it. When he refuses, saying he does not know how, Hamlet says,
Why, look you now, how unworthy a thing you make of me! You would play upon me, you would seem to know my stops...do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe?" (3.2.334-335,339-340).

Polonius enters and Hamlet immediately pretends to be crazy again. Polonius also tells Hamlet that his mother wants to see him in her private chamber. Hamlet plays with him a little, pointing to the clouds and pretending to see various animals. Finally he makes Polonius leave, and tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to depart as well. In a soliloquy, Hamlet indicates that he will be "cruel, not unnatural. / I will speak daggers to her, but use none" (3.2.365-366). He wants to make his mother aware of the fact that Claudius murdered her former husband, but not physically harm her in the process.
Act Three, Scene Three

Claudius meets with Guildenstern and Rosencrantz. He tells them that Hamlet has become too dangerous to keep in Denmark, and that he is therefore sending him to England. He orders the two young men to prepare to accompany Hamlet on the voyage, to which they readily assent.
Polonius informs Claudius that Hamlet will meet with his mother in her private chamber. Polonius decides to conceal himself behind a tapestry in order to overhear their conversation. He promises to tell Claudius everything that happens.
Claudius, finally alone, states, "O, my offense is rank! It smells to heaven" (3.3.36). He then admits to killing his brother and laments the fact that he cannot repent his crime. He prays to the angels to help him. Hamlet enters behind him and draws his sword, preparing to kill Claudius. However, when he realizes that Claudius has been praying, and therefore would be absolved of all his sins, he decides not to kill him. "A villain kills my father, and for that / I, his sole son, do this same villain send to heaven.../ When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage.../ At gaming, swearing, or about some act / That has no relish of salvation in't, / And that his soul may be as damned and black / As hell whereto it goes" (3.3.76-78,89,91-92,94-95). Hamlet chooses to wait and kill Claudius when he is sure that Claudius will be sent to hell.
Act Three, Scene Four

Polonius admonishes Gertrude to rebuke Hamlet for the way he has acted. He quickly hides himself as soon as he hears Hamlet coming. Hamlet arrives and is immediately rude to his mother; he mentions her incestuous marriage to Claudius and tells her she has offended his father. He promises to hold up a mirror to her face so that she can see what she has become. "You go not till I set you up a glass / Where you may see the inmost part of you" (3.4.19-20). Queen Gertrude becomes afraid of her life and cries for help, a cry that Polonius foolishly answers.
Hamlet, having heard Polonius make a sound behind the curtain, pulls out his sword and thrusts it through the curtains, killing him. Hamlet asks Gertrude if it is the king, but then realizes he has instead killed Polonius. Gertrude is upset, but Hamlet comments that his act is, "A bloody deed - almost as bad, good-mother, / As kill a king and marry with his brother" (3.4.27-28). Gertrude does not understand what Hamlet means, and he is forced to explain to her. He pulls out two miniatures of King Hamlet and Claudius and compares them for her, telling her that Claudius killed King Hamlet in order to seize the throne.
Gertrude is upset and confused, struggling to believe Hamlet. The ghost reappears at that moment and Hamlet speaks to it, saying, "What would you, gracious figure?" (3.4.95). Gertrude, who is unable to see the ghost, believes that Hamlet has gone completely mad. The ghost tells Hamlet to keep speaking to Gertrude and to convince her, but she becomes even more convinced that Hamlet is mad as she watches him speak to empty air. Hamlet points to his father and urges her to look, but she cannot see anything and finally exclaims, "this is the very coinage of your brain" (3.4.128).
Hamlet shows her that his pulse is constant, convincing her that it is not a hallucination. She finally asks him what she must do. Hamlet tells Gertrude to go to bed that night, but to avoid sleeping with Claudius. He further tells her to let Claudius know that he is not mad, but rather merely cunning. Hamlet then leaves to get ready to go to England, tugging Polonius out of the room behind him.
Analysis

Hamlet's famous soliloquy is actually an internalized conflict between the old world and the new one. Hamlet is struggling to figure out whether he should use his mind (and consequently words) to overcome Claudius, or whether he should resort to vengeful violence.
"To be, or not to be; that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And, by opposing, end them."
Ophelia ends up in a very compromising situation in this act. Through her obedience of Polonius, she has lost her lover and is therefore reliant on her father. Hamlet, understanding what has happened, is cruel to her and orders her to, "Get thee to a nunnery. Why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?" (3.1.122). However, the nunnery is also an Elizabethan slang for a whorehouse. Either way, this is not a viable alternative for her, she must either marry and leave her father or suffer. With the loss of her father at the end of the act, Ophelia is left without anyone to protect her and eventually goes insane as a result.
Ophelia, while talking with Hamlet, mentions the fact that Hamlet has failed to live up to expectations, especially now that he is mad. "O what a noble mind is here o'erthrown! / The courtier's, soldier's, scholar's eye, tongue, sword, / Th'expectancy and rose of the fair state" (3.1.149-151). She is addressing the fact that Hamlet cannot hope to become king since he has "overthrown" his own self. Through his madness he has disqualified himself from being elected to the kingship, forcing him to either exact revenge on Claudius or flee the state of Denmark.
Acting takes on several important roles in this scene. It is foremost a form of action, since Hamlet is unable to act against Claudius until he pretend acts via the scene he has written for the actors. Through The Mousetrap, Hamlet tries to become sure whether the ghost is telling the truth. To do this, he will use a fiction, namely the play, to help discover the fact. It is only after Hamlet is convinced that Claudius is guilty that he is able to start taking action, evidenced by his failed attempt to kill Claudius immediately thereafter.
It is worth noting that there are two directors vying for supremacy throughout this act. Hamlet is staging a play which is sandwiched between two of Polonius' plays. It soon, however, becomes obvious that Hamlet a better director than Polonius. What Polonius fails to realize is the danger involved in staging a play, something Hamlet is acutely aware of. Polonius casts Hamlet in two plays, 3.1 and 3.4, first with Ophelia then with Gertrude. These plays frame The Mousetrap and the subsequent confession of Claudius. In both scenes where Hamlet is "acting" he fails to be drawn out of his shell. In fact, he kills the director Polonius in the final scene. Hamlet himself is more successful as a director, note the fact that he does get Claudius to confess. However, being aware of the danger facing him, he also realizes that he will have to leave for England as a result of his actions.
The Mousetrap is the story of Gonzago, a modern thriller, an Italian play that was current when Shakespeare wrote it into Hamlet. Italy traditionally has a reputation of intrigue and scandal, based on the Machiavellian plotting associated with the city-states. This is therefore a modern play, and it sends a signal to Claudius that Hamlet is ready to take action. Claudius deals with the new situation immediately by ordering Hamlet to be sent to England and out of Denmark.
There is a subtle shift in the description of light throughout these acts. Hamlet in the first act says, "I am too much in the sun", implying either that he receives too much attention from Claudius or that he himself is the rightful son and heir to the throne. This contrasts with the dark Denmark that Claudius rules over by the end of Act Three. After watching The Mousetrap, Claudius says, "Give me some light. Away" (3.2.247). This indicates that Denmark has become darker and bleaker throughout these acts. It will continue to get worse when Ophelia dies and the entire court will start to wear black clothing. In fact, the play goes from Gertrude in her presumably white wedding dress to black funeral robes, whereas Hamlet has the opposite progression, from black clothes to a white fencing uniform.
It is only after The Mousetrap that Hamlet is able to accept the word of the ghost. He says, "O good Horatio, I'll take the Ghost's word for a thousand pound" (3.2.263-264). Horatio agrees with this sentiment, allowing Hamlet to start to take action against Claudius.
The final scene where Polonius is killed is surrealistic in nature. After the murder, both Hamlet and Gertrude ignore the body on the floor and continue their dialogue. Hamlet indicates that he will be "cruel, not unnatural. / I will speak daggers to her, but use none" (3.2.365-366), which is exactly what he does. While avoiding physical harm, he still plays mindgames and accuses her of murder. Gertrude becomes very confused by this but possibly would have believed Hamlet if the ghost had not appeared. In fact, that ghost lends to the surrealism because it can only be seen by Hamlet. This contrasts the first act where everyone can see the ghost. For the first time we the audience question whether Hamlet is merely hallucinating. Indeed, Gertrude is forced to lie to Hamlet to get him to leave her alone.
The use of mirrors is always a powerful yet dangerous tool in Shakespearian plays. In Julius Caesar it is used by Cassius to turn Brutus into a traitor. Here, Hamlet promises to hold up a mirror to Gertrude's face so that she can see what she has become. "You go not till I set you up a glass / Where you may see the inmost part of you" (3.4.19-20). However, even though Hamlet tries to represent a true mirror, Gertrude is convinced of his madness and therefore views the image she sees as false.
The political world represented by Claudius is again contrasted with the old world of Old Hamlet. Hamlet holds two miniatures of the men in his hand and compares them to Gertrude. We already know what he thinks of Claudius, "O that this too too solid flesh would melt" (1.2.129), he compares Claudius to a fat man. Claudius is fleshy, not spiritual, and contrast strongly with the spirit of revenge that Old Hamlet represents. When Hamlet compares the two brothers directly, he notes that his own father has "Hyperion's curls, the front of Jove himself" (3.4.55), a mythological reference rather than a contemporary one. What Hamlet has failed to realize is that it will be difficult to return to old world, in fact it may not be possible anymore.
Act Four, Scene One

Claudius asks Gertrude to tell him what the matter is. She informs him that Hamlet is completely mad and describes how he killed Polonius behind the curtain. Claudius decides to pardon Hamlet's life, but calls Guildenstern and Rosencrantz into the chamber. He orders them find Hamlet and Polonius' body, and to bring the body into the chapel.
Act Four, Scene Two

Hamlet hears someone calling for him and responds to them. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern run onstage and demand to know where Polonius' body is. Hamlet riddles with them, and tells them that they are like sponges who soak up the king's favors. He refuses to reveal where he has hidden Polonius and runs away from them.
Act Four, Scene Three

Claudius is upset that Hamlet is running around the palace but cannot order Hamlet killed because the populace likes him. Rosencrantz arrives and tells Claudius that he cannot find the body, but that Guildenstern is holding Hamlet. Claudius orders Guildenstern to bring in Hamlet, and then asks him where Polonius is. Hamlet riddles some more, telling Claudius to seek for Polonius in heaven or possibly hell.
Hamlet finally gives them a hint, and says, "you shall nose him as you up the stairs into the lobby" (4.3.35-36). Rosencrantz immediately goes to seek the body. Claudius tells Hamlet that because of his "deed", the murder of Polonius, he must leave Denmark for England. Hamlet walks out after calling Claudius his "mother" and is followed by Guildenstern. Claudius, now alone, prays that the King of England will obey his letters, which ask the King of England to kill Hamlet for him.
Act Four, Scene Four

Fortinbras has reached the Danish castle and orders a captain to inform Claudius that his army is there and that he requests safe passage through Denmark so that he may invade Poland. The Captain leaves to deliver the message.
Hamlet arrives, accompanied by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and approaches the captain. He asks the man whose army it is, and learns that Fortinbras has marched into Denmark on his way to "Poland". The captain is ambiguous about the exact location, saying only that they are fighting over a worthless piece of ground.
Hamlet sends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern on ahead and remains to ponder the fact that nearly twenty thousand men are in the army, all willing to die for nothing. He realizes that he has been unable to revenge his father's death, but decides that now is the time for decisive action. Hamlet says, "O, from this time forth / My thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth" (4.4.9.55-56).
Act Four, Scene Five

Horatio begs Queen Gertrude to come see what has happened to Ophelia. She reluctantly agrees, and Ophelia enters singing to herself. Ophelia has gone completely mad due to the death of her father and the loss of Hamlet, and she incoherently sings her songs rather than respond to Gertrude.
Claudius arrives and Gertrude shows him what has happened to Ophelia. She continues singing, the songs getting raunchier as she continues. Finally Ophelia tells them that Laertes must find out about the death of their father, and she leaves to go find him. Horatio follows her in order to keep an eye on her.
Claudius tells Gertrude that they made a mistake in trying to secretly dispose of Polonius. He further informs her that Laertes has secretly come from France to Denmark to avenge his father's death. A noise interrupts him, and a messenger rushes in telling Claudius to save himself. He asks what the problem is, and learns that Laertes has gathered a mob of citizens together and rushed the castle, breaking past all the guards. The mob wants to make Laertes king and is therefore fighting for him.
Laertes bursts through the doors and tells the mob to wait for him outside. He then demands that Claudius reveal to him why Polonius was killed. Gertrude intervenes and informs Laertes that Claudius did not kill his father. Laertes then demands to know who his real enemy is. Ophelia enters at that moment, completely mad, and gives them each some flowers. Claudius turns to Laertes after Ophelia leaves and tells him that he will personally arrange his revenge.
Act Four, Scene Six

Horatio receives a letter from Hamlet which tells him a strange story. The ship Hamlet was on was caught by pirates, and Hamlet alone boarded the pirate ship. After the battle was over he became their prisoner but was treated well because he could do them a favor. Guildenstern and Rosencrantz are still on their way to England.
Act Four, Scene Seven

Claudius has explained to Laertes that Hamlet killed Polonius. Laertes asks why Hamlet was not punished at the time and Claudius says that it was for his mother's sake. Laertes tells Claudius that his revenge will come soon.
Some messengers arrive and hand Claudius letters from Hamlet. He is surprised to receive the letters, and reads his out loud. The letter indicates that Hamlet is returning to Denmark alone. Laertes is excited by this because it means that he will be able to revenge his father's death. Claudius asks him to "be ruled" and listen to a plot which will make Hamlet's death seem like an accident, even though Laertes will be allowed to kill him.
Claudius proposes that Laertes fight Hamlet in a fencing match with rapiers. Laertes agrees to this provided he be allowed to put poison on the tip of his rapier so that even the slightest scratch will cause Hamlet to die. Claudius is uncertain as to whether they can trust the poison, and so he offers to also create a poison drink for Hamlet. That way, they will have two ways of killing Hamlet and will not fail.
Gertrude enters the room and informs Laertes that Ophelia has drowned herself while sitting on a willow branch over a brook. Laertes is overcome with grief and starts to shed tears for his sister. He leaves the room but Claudius urges Gertrude to follow him for fear that Laertes will erupt in rage again.
Analysis

The flowers that Ophelia gives to Laertes, Claudius and Gertrude are a symbolic gesture of her lost sanity. Once she goes mad, she is unable to give herself to anyone, and therefore cannot be "deflowered" in the sexual sense. Ophelia makes up for this by instead giving flowers, her version of "deflowering", because she cannot give herself. "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance. Pray, love, remember. And there is pansies; that's for thoughts" (4.5.173-174). Her inability to go to a nunnery leads Ophelia to her eventual suicide in light of the fact that she has lost both her lover and her father.
The trip to England actually serves as a physical journey that mimics the journey of Hamlet's mind. England is after all a place of madmen according to the gravedigger in Act Five, and thus Hamlet's madness makes it the right place for him to go. This journey of the mind can be seen in the manner that Hamlet throws off his clothes of mourning once he meets the ghost. He thus removes the fake clothes that make him just as fake as Claudius and Gertrude. His new role is madness, a role that allows him to speak the truth without being punished, because he plays a fool. This is the same as a voyage to an enchanted place, a journey, that later results in a return after he has been changed. Hamlet thus journeys into madness. When Shakespeare brings the players to Denmark, they suggest through Hamlet what is rotten in Denmark. Claudius then sends him on the physical journey into madness, namely to England.
Act Five, Scene One

Two gravediggers (clowns) are digging out Ophelia's grave. They discuss the fact that Ophelia drowned herself, and therefore should not receive a Christian burial under Christian law. However, the one gravedigger points out that the coroner has declared it a natural death rather than a suicide, and therefore they must dig the grave for her.
Hamlet overhears the first gravedigger singing to himself and remarks on the fact that the man is so cheerful at his occupation. Horatio tells him that it must come from doing the job for such a long time. Hamlet approaches the man and asks him whose grave it is. The gravedigger, taking every word literally, tells him, "Mine, sir" (5.1.109). Hamlet finally gives up asking and instead inquires for news about Prince Hamlet while pretending to be someone else.
The gravedigger tells him that Hamlet was sent to England because he was mad. He then informs Hamlet that a body will last in the grave for eight or nine years at the most. He picks up a skull and shows it to Hamlet, telling him it has been in the earth for twenty-three years. Hamlet asks whose skull it is, and is shocked to learn that it is the skull of Yorick, a jester who entertained him as a youth. He comments that even parts of Alexander the Great's body might now be used as a flask stopper and they would never know it.
Hamlet and Horatio run and hide when they hear Claudius, Gertrude, Laertes, and other attendants arriving. Hamlet wonders whose corpse they are carrying with them to the grave. He overhears Laertes arguing with the priest about the last rites. Due to the strange manner of Ophelia's death, the priest will only allow the body to be buried in holy ground, but he refuses to read her the prayers. Hamlet soon realizes that the body is that of Ophelia.
Laertes is so overcome with emotion once the coffin has been placed into the grave that he leaps in after it. Hamlet, seeing this, reveals himself and jumps into the grave as well. Laertes immediately grabs Hamlet by the throat and starts to choke him. Claudius order the other men present to pull them apart and Hamlet shouts that he loved Ophelia more than forty thousand of her brothers combined. He tells Laertes that, "I loved you ever. But it is no matter. / Let Hercules himself do what he may, / The cat will mew, and dog will have his day" (5.1.275-278). Hamlet leaves and Horatio follows him.
Act Five, Scene Two

Hamlet tells Horatio what really happened on the way to England. He rose on night and stole the letters that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were taking to the King of England. The letters told the king to kill Hamlet and listed several reasons why this would benefit both nations. Hamlet immediately wrote out several new letters and sealed them using his signet. The new letters ordered that the two men accompanying him should be put to death.
Hamlet is not at all upset about ordering his two "friends" to die in England since, "they did make love to this employment" (5.2.58). Horatio warns Hamlet that Claudius will soon discover what has happened when news arrives from England.
A man named Osric arrives and tells Hamlet that he has news from the king for him. Hamlet plays a game with the man, telling him to alternately put on and take off his hat. Osric finally gets frustrated with the game and informs Hamlet that Laertes, whom he describes in glowing terms, has placed a wager with Claudius. Claudius has bet Laertes that he cannot beat Hamlet by at least three hits in a fencing match with twelve passes. Hamlet agrees to the match and orders Osric to have them bring out the foils.
A lord soon enters and tells Hamlet that everything is prepared and that they are waiting for Hamlet to come. He further tells Hamlet that Gertrude wishes that he would treat Laertes with respect and courtesy, to which Hamlet agrees. Horatio tells Hamlet that, "You will lose this wager, my lord" (5.2.147), but Hamlet tells him that he has been in continual practice since Laertes left for France. Horatio again tries to dissuade him from fencing with Laertes, and again Hamlet tells him that he will go and fight.
Claudius and the rest of the court arrive and Claudius orders Hamlet to greet Laertes. Hamlet offers Laertes an apology for killing Polonius and blames the act on his madness. Laertes stiffly asserts that his honor is still at stake and that he must therefore have his revenge. They then call for the foils and prepare for the match.
Claudius orders his attendants to bring him a cask of wine. He then announces that if Hamlet is able to score a hit in the first, second or third exchange then he will drink some wine and drop a pearl of exceptional value into the cup for Hamlet. Claudius then drinks to Hamlet as a salute for good luck and orders them to begin.
Hamlet and Laertes fight until Hamlet shouts, "One" (5.2.220). Laertes disputes the hit and Osric decides in favor of Hamlet. Claudius halts the match and drops a pearl into his wine cup. He then offers the cup to Hamlet, who refuses to take it and tells him that he would rather continue the match. They fight and Hamlet again claims a hit that Laertes grants him. Gertrude takes the cup with the pearl in it and offers to drink for Hamlet. Claudius begs her not to, but she ignores him and drinks anyway, thereby ingesting the poison that Claudius had planned to give to Hamlet.
Laertes meanwhile has poisoned his rapier's tip and in the next scuffle he manages to wound Hamlet. They continue fighting and Hamlet accidentally exchanges rapiers with Laertes after which he wounds him as well. Both men stop fighting when they realize that Gertrude has fallen onto the ground. She tells Hamlet, "The drink, the drink - I am poisoned" (5.2.253) before she dies. Laertes also falls to the ground from the poison he received when Hamlet wounded him. He tells Hamlet that both of them are poisoned to death and blames the king for everything.
Hamlet, realizing that the point of the rapier is envenomed, slashes at Claudius and wounds him with it. The courtiers cry out, "Treason, treason!" (5.2.265), but they cannot stop Hamlet who has also grabbed the poisoned wine and is making Claudius drink it. Claudius quickly dies from the poison. Laertes, still barely alive, tells Hamlet that he forgives him for Polonius' death before he too dies.
Hamlet orders Horatio to stay alive and report everything he knows to the public. Horatio instead has grabbed the cup and is preparing to commit suicide, but at Hamlet's plea he relinquishes the poison. Osric enters the room and tells them that Fortinbras has arrived with his army. Hamlet gives Fortinbras his vote to become the next King of Denmark before he dies.
Fortinbras and the English ambassadors arrive together. Fortinbras looks over the scene of carnage and compares it too a massacre. The Englishmen inform Horatio that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have been put to death. Horatio takes charge and tells Fortinbras and the ambassadors to put the bodies on a stage in view of the public so that he may tell the full story of what has happened. Fortinbras agrees with this and orders his men to obey Horatio. He compares the scene to a battlefield and ends the play by ordering the soldiers to shoot their guns in honor of Hamlet's death.
Analysis

This act marks a move to action, evidenced by the lack of soliloquies and the decisive murder of all four main characters. Hamlet's language likewise undergoes a shift to active verbs only. For example, when Hamlet searches for the letters from Claudius to the King of England, he says, "In the dark, / Groped I to find out them, had my desire, / Fingered their packet, and in fine withdrew / To mine own room again, making so bold, / My fears forgetting manners, to unseal / Their grand commission" (5.2.14-19). Thus Hamlet has now reached the same level as Fortinbras in that he is able to attack Claudius or alternately defend himself from Laertes.
The gravediggers, or clowns, are the only characters who finally disabuse language of its political double meaning. The First Clown in particular takes every word literally, forcing Hamlet to say exactly what he means. He further coherently evaluates the use of the word "act", saying, "if I drown myself wittingly, it argues an act; and an act hath three branches: it is to act, to do, and to perform" (5.1.10-11). This raises the question of why Hamlet fails to act before this scene. After all, he has acted, he knows what he needs to do, but he is unable to perform the final action needed to kill Claudius.
This scene also marks a return to material death in contrast with the ghost. Hamlet confronts death directly rather than metaphysically when he handles Yorick's skull and holds it in his hand. For the first time, the skull is material, it is not a ghost, and it reveals the true person underneath without any makeup or lies. Thus, just as the gravedigger strips language to its essential meaning and speaks the truth without realizing it, Hamlet is able to strip the murder of his father to its brutal meaning. Hamlet finally learns to act at this point, and he shows his change by assuming his father's name for the first time, using a description that denotes the King of Denmark, "This is I, Hamlet the Dane" (5.1.241-242).
However, even though Hamlet assumes the title of the King of Denmark later, he actually starts to act like the king on his voyage to England. He uses his signet ring to mark the letters that he falsifies when he has Rosencrantz and Guildenstern put to death. "I had my father's signet in my purse, / Which was the model of the Danish seal; / Folded the writ up in the form of th'other, / Subscribed it, gave't th'impression, placed it safely" (5.2.50-53). Thus Hamlet is growing more powerful and more kinglike even before he sees the skulls.
The choice of weapons again marks the distinct break from the past that Claudius represents when contrasted with Old Hamlet. Hamlet and Laertes use rapiers in a fencing match. These are new weapons for revenge, not the old armor of Old Hamlet. They also are weapons of sport, not war, showing how politics has become a game rather than a bloodbath. It is interesting to note the parallel between this murder scene and the final scene of Romeo and Juliet, which also ends with a dagger and a poisoned cup.
There is strong foreshadowing during the burial of Ophelia. Laertes leaps into her grave, thereby sealing his own death. Hamlet follows, also foreshadowing his death following that of Laertes.
Only in the final scene does Hamlet speaks to directly to us, not just himself or Horatio. "You that look pale and tremble at this chance, / That are but mutes or audience to this act...Report me and my cause aright / To the unsatisfied" (5.2.276-277,281-282). Thus he asks the audience to make sure his story is told correctly. The reason is because only we can testify properly, since only we have heard the soliloquies. The injunction to tell the story is how humans make tragedy bearable, and it also serves to bring the play full circle, from the tragedy of Old Hamlet ordering Hamlet to "remember me" to the new Hamlet asking Horatio "To tell my story" (5.2.291). This is an order to replay the play.
Fortinbras recognizes Hamlet as the hero in the end, "Let four captains / Bear Hamlet like a soldier to the stage, / for he was likely, had he been put on, / to have proved most royally" (5.2.340-342). Indeed, Hamlet does all the criteria of a tragic hero by the time Fortinbras arrives. In the final scene he is a man of action who is killed by circumstances rather than any direct fault of his own. The debate over whether Hamlet is a hero depends heavily on how much weight is placed on the final act versus the play as a whole. It is difficult to call Hamlet a hero based on his actions during the beginning and middle of the play, where his madness seems to be a form of escape from action rather than a way to defeat Claudius.

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