Thursday, October 29, 2015

Hamlet Read-Along: Act III, Scene 3

I'm sorry I'm kind of falling down on my hosting job here -- my kids and I are visiting my parents right now, and we have been far too busy doing things like making homemade ice cream and buying new toys and going to the playground.  But right now, Grandpa and the three kids are in the basement eating "secret chocolate" (he's feeding them chocolate cupcakes and they think I don't know about it), so hey!  I will stop folding laundry and use these few quiet minutes to post here.

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.

Favorite Lines:

"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?


  1. Aw, this scene actually made me feel sorry for Claudius, which I never thought would happen. Especially with his last lines there. While Hamlet is flip-flopping around, trying to figure out what to do and when to do it, he seems to be getting plenty of punishment via guilt!

    Gosh, Hamlet is so complicated. With this bit, I can see both sides. He could very well just want the revenge to be prefect and doesn't mind waiting for the "opportune moment." But, he could also really be hesitating. If it were me in the situation, I would probably make up excuses for why I should wait, and do it so well that I believe it myself -- and wouldn't even know that the real reason I'm waiting is because I'm scared. I wouldn't say he's indecisive though. He seems determined to do it, but is just delaying it.

    That clip was awesome. I can't wait to watch the whole thing sometime!

    That's so cute about your kids and their secret chocolate!! :D

    1. Sarah, yes, this scene is so moving, isn't it? Suddenly we see a whole different side of Claudius.

      And yes, Hamlet is a complex guy. I tend to think he doesn't really want to kill Claudius, but he feels like he needs to. Poor guy, it's a terrible situation.

      I hope you can see that whole version at some point! I'm still hoping to find a used copy of the Tennant to offer up as a giveaway at the end of this. We shall see!

  2. I'm afraid my sympathy for Claudius is pretty limited. Yes, it's good to know that he feels some guilt over what he's done, but not enough to actually confess or give up what he's gained by his crimes. There's no true repentance here... more a desire to keep his ill-gotten gains while escaping the spiritual consequences of his actions. And, as he finally admitted to himself, that's not possible.
    If Hamlet had killed Claudius then, the body count at the end of the play would have been a lot lower, that's for sure. Of course, unless he could produce some actual evidence of Claudius' crimes, Hamlet would probably have to go on the lam for killing the king- though this would be preferable to what actually happens. I'm not advocating the stabbing of one's enemies as a method of dispensing justice, but in this case, well, at least the collateral damage would have been a lot less.

    1. Lynn, it's true -- he's not repentant, just guilt-ridden. There's a major difference.

      And yup, I tend to really wish Hamlet had paused in the doorway, heard Claudius' last words, realized he wasn't actually praying, turned around, and killed him right there. Then off he would go, leaving Denmark without a king, though perhaps Gertrude could have continued ruling? Still, body count would be down by 7.

  3. I liked that Claudius simply decided to send Hamlet away. If he was truly bad, he could have tried to orchestrate his death, which would have been cleaner in a way, and rid him of a most dangerous enemy.

    I liked the tension between thought and action. So far Hamlet has been thinking and has done little action (for which he feels guilty) and Claudius has been active (killing King Hamlet and marrying Gertrude) with little thought as to what his actions are going to bring (guilt). They are acting in opposite ways yet both are suffering guilt. Very creative of Shakespeare!

    Okay, now the kill or not kill scene makes more sense to me. I couldn't understand clearly what he meant. Thanks for the clarification!

    1. Cleopatra, that's a good point -- Claudius does have a conscience. He's trying to stay safe from Hamlet, but not just do him in forthwith. Makes me wonder how long he harbored animosity toward King Hamlet before he finally acted, and what prompted the action. Was it just convenient/easy, or did the brothers argue? We never know.

      And good point on the thinking vs. doing being contrasted in Hamlet and Claudius! Well put.

      Glad to help clarify things :-)

  4. I loved this scene - especially Claudius' soliliqouy - finally the reader gets some irrefutable proof of what happened. And the whole guilt thing is really deepening the character - I love when we are shown that villains are also humans.

    1. Rose, yes! I love that we get proof of what happened. And villains who are fully-realized and human are the best, aren't they? It's what makes Claudius so much more interesting than a sort of stereotypical villain.


What do you think?

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