Clearly, I just don't have the wherewithal to do read-along posts regularly while visiting my parents this time. I promise that next week, I'll get back to my more usual posting schedule.
So here we are in Act III, Scene 4, and things have started going downhill fast, haven't they? I mean, first Hamlet gets very sarcastic and disrespectful with his mom, and then he goes and kills Polonius. Accidentally, as it were -- he thought the person hiding behind there was surely Claudius, and that he'd found exactly what he'd wished for in the previous scene: a chance to kill Claudius while he was sinning. But nope, it was that "wretched, rash, intruding fool" (31).
I really like the line "I took thee for thy better" (32) because you can understand it two ways: either "I mistook you for your better" or "I killed you in place of your better." Love passages with multiple meanings like that.
Finally, Hamlet convinces Gertrude that Claudius killed his father and that she did wrong to marry her dead husband's brother. Like the Ghost, Hamlet spends a lot more time talking about the latter issue than the former, and while some read this as indicating he has an Oedipus-like desire for his mother, I think it more reflects the Ghost's accusations as well as the moral code of the time and culture in which Shakespeare wrote this. Killing someone was bad, but fairly commonplace. Marrying your in-law, though, was seen as icky. And so often, our human nature reacts more strongly to "icky" than "bad." Anyway, I'm not saying the more Freudian interpretation is totally invalid, I just don't see it as the only valid one.
Did you catch that "ears" theme cropping up again? Gertrude says, "Oh, speak to me no more! These words like daggers enter in my ears" (94-95). I really think Shakespeare deliberately had Claudius poison King Hamlet by pouring the poison in his ear -- it's not how you usually poison someone, after all. And here again -- words like daggers, ears the place where you are vulnerable. Hearing things, Shakespeare seems to say, can be just as dangerous as doing them. I'm always reminded of a Bible passage, the part in James where it says "no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison" (James 3:8). I wonder if Shakespeare had that passage in mind while writing Hamlet.
Anyway, the Ghost pops up again! This time inside the castle. And here we have an enduring question: Why Doesn't Gertrude See It? Horatio and Marcellus and Barnardo could see it. Does Gertrude truly not see it? Or is she only pretending not to see it because she doesn't want to? That's our Possible Discussion Question for today.
Hamlet promises the Ghost to get on with the revenging business, then adjures Gertrude to quit sleeping with Claudius and to absolutely not tell him that Hamlet isn't actually mad, just pretending. Then off he goes, pulling Polonius' body out behind him. He clearly suspects that the whole "send Hamlet to England" idea is a trap, and tells Gertrude he doesn't trust Rosencrantz and Guildenstern a bit. Poor Hamlet -- he basically can't trust anyone but Horatio anymore. Even Ophelia was helping her father and Claudius spy on him. Hamlet, Hamlet, get out while the getting is good!
One last thing: pay attention to this idea of someone being "hoist with his own petard" (207), or destroyed by the violence or trap they intended for someone else. It's going to come up again.
"O Hamlet, speak no more!
Thou turn'st my very eyes into my soul" (88-89).
"This is the very coinage of your brain" (137).
"My pulse as yours doth temperately keep time
And makes as healthful music. It is not madness
That I have uttered" (140-42).
"O Hamlet, thou hast cleft my heart in twain" (156).
"Assume a virtue if you have it not" (160).
"I must be cruel only to be kind" (178).
"Indeed this counselor
Is now most still, most secret, and most grave
Who was in life a most foolish, prating knave" (213-15).