Isn't this a wonderful scene? One of my favorites. Not the first part so much, with Claudius deciding Hamlet needs to leave Elsinore after all because he's just getting too close to the truth. But the next part, when Claudius gets his own soliloquy and confesses everything -- that part, I love. And not just because we as audience now have our proof too, that yes, Claudius killed his brother to get the crown, satisfy his thwarted ambitions, and marry Gertrude. But I love this window into Claudius' mind -- it always makes me feel sorry for him, because he's gnawed away with guilt over what he's done, and rightly so. If he could feel carefree after what he's done, he would be so monstrous, but this scene here really humanizes him. Deepens the tragedy, in a way.
And clearly Hamlet's not the only good actor in Elsinore -- Claudius has been fooling everyone all this time. Even Hamlet wasn't sure of his guilt until the incident at the play.
I think it's this scene that really makes people think Hamlet has trouble making up his mind, or changes his mind a lot, because he does start out to kill Claudius, but then realizes he doesn't think that will be very good vengeance. Hamlet believes that his father is suffering in Purgatory to atone for his sins before he can get to Heaven, and so he doesn't want to kill Claudius while he's praying and thus communing with God, because then Claudius might go right to Heaven and beat King Hamlet there, which would be most unfair, in Hamlet's humble opinion.
This is such a short scene, and I love it so much, that I'm going to share my favorite version of it with you. Here are Patrick Stewart and David Tennant as Claudius and Hamlet from the 2009 version, which I definitely recommend.
"Up, sword, and know thou a more horrid hent" (88).
"My words fly up; my thoughts remain below.
Words without thoughts never to Heaven go" (97-98).
(I quoted this during Adult Bible Class at church once a few years ago when we were studying prayer. I love finding real-life moments to slip Hamlet quotes into conversation.)
Possible Discussion Questions:
What do you think of Claudius now? Does this scene change your thoughts or feelings about him?
If Hamlet had overheard Claudius' final two lines, turned around, and killed him right then, how do you think all this would have ended?