Hamlet Act 4 Blog Post
1) At what point can Hamlet’s thirst for vengeance be considered insanity?
2) Why do you think Gertrude is so insistent upon turning on her own son in favor for Claudius?
In this Act, we begin with the aftermath of Hamlet’s killing of Polonius. Although Gertrude “promised” Hamlet to not let Claudius know of the death of Polonius, she exclaims his “madness” when the King returns. She states,
“Mad as the sea and wind, when both contend
Behind the arras hearing something stir,
Whips out his rapier, cries “A rat, a rat!”
And in this brainish apprehension kills
The unseen good old man.” (4.2 Line 7-12)
Though Gertrude’s loyalty to her son can be questioned throughout this play, this is the most prominent and shocking instance of all. Why is Gertrude so insistent upon “banishing” Hamlet to England? Does she believe he poses too much of a threat to Claudius’ throne? Or does she honestly think that he has “gone mad” and seeks to avenge his father’s death through any means possible? Personally, I believe Gertrude sees Hamlet as a legitimate threat to Claudius’ throne. Since Claudius and Gertrude share many of the same viewpoints, a radical and unpredictable individual like Hamlet would not be ideal to them. As a result, Claudius and Gertrude want Hamlet sent to England for execution.
As a result of Polonius’ death, we see Ophelia’s spiral into madness. As stated in Act 4 Scene 7 Line 163, the Queen says, “On woe doth tread upon another’s heel, So fast they follow; your sister’s drowned, Laertes.” However, it’s unclear if this was an accident or suicide. The Queen describes her death scene,
“There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide,” (Act 4 Scene 7 Line 172-175)
From this description, it can be argued that this could’ve been an accident by Ophelia. However, when considering what has taken place, it’s possible that she could’ve killed herself to ease the pain of her father’s death. In addition, this may mark the point where Claudius realizes that there is another prominent reason for Hamlet’s “insane” behavior, other than his proclaimed love for Ophelia.
All of these factors result in Laertes seeking vengeance for his father’s death. Since Claudius sees Hamlet as a threat to his reign, he wants Hamlet executed in a not-so obvious way. Claudius suggests that Laertes should duel with Hamlet, as the King plans to poison Laertes’ sharpened sword, which would kill Hamlet on impact. In the case that Hamlet wins, Claudius plans to poison his drink during his celebration.