Monday, November 16, 2015

Hamlet Read-Along: Act IV, Scene 3

Claudius and Hamlet confront each other at last, verbally circling each other like wolves or knife-fighters, each looking for an opportunity to strike.  Claudius keeps asking where Polonius' body is, and Hamlet keeps making mocking or cryptic answers.  

Since Hamlet has been attending the University of Wittenburg, we can assume that his line "Your worm is your only emperor for diet" (20-21) probably refers obliquely to the famed Diet of Worms in 1521, where Martin Luther (who taught at Wittenburg University) and a bunch of Roman Catholic officials argued over the idea of transubstantiation during Holy Communion.  ("Diet" in that case meant "meeting," and Worms is a city in Germany, pronounced Vorms.)  I like this little nod to his life as a student, a life we know so little about. 

And then comes one of my favorite passages, when Hamlet basically tells Claudius to go to Hell, only in a far subtler and funnier way.  He says Polonius is "[i]n Heaven.  Send thither to see.  If your messenger find him not there, seek him i' th' other place yourself" (32-33).  Zing!  

Here's a clip from the 2000 movie starring Ethan Hawke as Hamlet and Kyle MacLachlan as Claudius -- it's very menacing, and more violent than the scene usually gets played, which really brings home the seriousness of the situation, I think.


And when everyone else leaves, we get a tiny soliloquy from Claudius about his plan to have the king of England kill Hamlet.  Bad, naughty, evil Claudius :-(

Favorite Lines:

"Do it, England" (61).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Why is Claudius getting other people to kill Hamlet for him instead of just poisoning him like he did King Hamlet?

11 comments:

  1. When I read and study _Hamlet_, I am far less concerned about Claudius' motivations and actions than Hamlet's; I think Shakespeare was similarly focused, and it was in other plays that he worked his special magic on villains (e.g., Iago). I know that doesn't answer your question, but that is nevertheless my perspective on the play. And to be a bit more flippant in my answer, I could say this: remember the play is entitled _Hamlet_ rather than _Claudius_, and that should help sharpen our focus and concerns.

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    1. R.T., it's true that Hamlet is the focus, but I think the other characters are also richly developed and, I think, deserve attention. Claudius isn't meant to be in the same league as Iago, I don't think -- he's more like Don John the Bastard, I think. Conniving and treacherous, but not quite devious enough to get away with all his mischief.

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  2. That's an interesting question, Act IV scene VII Claudius gives Laertes 3 reasons to stay behind the scenes, so to speak: "The Queen his mother lives almost by his looks;and for myself, my virtue or my plague, be it other which - she is so conjunctive to my life and soul but as the star moves not but in his sphere I could not but by her. The other motive, why to a public count I might not go, is the great love the general gender bear him...." Maybe, now that he knows Hamlet is out for revenge, & realizes he really blew it by telling Hamlet not to leave town for Wittenberg, he wants to arrange Hamlet's death but he would prefer to put the blame on anyone except himself.
    ~Kelda







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    1. Oh! Now this never occurred to until I saw this again! "....she is so conjunctive to my life and soul but as the star moves not in his sphere I could not but by her." One sentence, and I wonder if it does tell us that his primary reason for King Hamlet's murder is for the Queen, with the crown and ambition secondary to those.If so, then he certainly wouldn't have told her anything about it.
      ~Kelda

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    2. Kelda, I like it! Claudius and Gertrude really are one of the happiest couples in all of Shakespeare, until Hamlet starts causing trouble, aren't they? I think Claudius did truly want/need Gertrude as much as the crown, if not more -- that line you pulled out is great support for that theory. Excellent job doing some really close reading.

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    3. y'know, Sx is awfully hard on his loving couples, isn't he? Ophelia & Hamlet, Gertrude & Claudius, Othello & Desdemona, Romeo & Juliet. I can't remember the MacBeths - do they both die?
      To a less developed extent, Portia and Marcus Brutus, who both commit suicide,all though there's some historical confusion about which died first. Brutus, struggling in Sx's version is far away at war, trying to hold fast to his Stoic philosophy up on news of her death.
      ~Kelda

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    4. Even in the comedies, well... the course of true love never did run smooth.

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  3. Haha, that is a good zinger! A few lines before that one, I was reading along, all like, "Mmhmm, mmhmm, oh yeah, he's talking about the circle of life. I love it when people do that... mhmm... WAIT A MINUTE -- THE CIRCLE OF LIFE. CAUSE THE LION KING IS BASED ON HAMLET SO THIS IS LITERALLY WHERE THEY GOT THAT PART FROM!" (If you don't know, The Lion King is one of my favorite things.) And then I was very pleased with myself, but also kinda ashamed for taking so long to make the connection. :P

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    1. Sarah, you're right! It does tie in with "The Circle of Life" song here :-)

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  4. I liked this scene! Hamlet truly has a way with words, it also underlines how intelligent he is. My favourite line too, was when he told Claudius to "seek him the other place yourself".
    I hadn't even noticed that Claudius was planning to have Hamlet killed until you mentioned it...Well, just shows what a great help your posts are.

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    1. Rose, yes, Hamlet is a beautiful wordsmith, isn't he? Rather like Shakespeare in that regard, I think -- he can't help expressing himself well.

      Claudius' little aside there can be kind of easy to skim, so I'm glad me pointing it out helped you pay attention to it :-)

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