This is it, the final scene. Once again, I'm splitting it into two posts, so this post is about lines 1 through 195.
It opens quietly, calmly. Gielgud says, "This scene must start in a light mood, as if it's the beginning of a new play with a different color. It should have a reckless curiosity, with a great charm and sweetness. Hamlet has resolved all his problems" (John Gielgud Directs Richard Burton in Hamlet (72). And I think it really feels that way, sort of peaceful and calm after all the angsty drama that came before.
We start with Hamlet telling Horatio how he discovered Claudius' murderous plot and subverted it. That "hoist with his own petard" theme comes in again -- Rosencrantz and Guildenstern get killed because they agreed to escort Hamlet to his death. We also come back to the idea of Laertes as a foil for Hamlet. For Hamlet not only tells Horatio that he's sorry he fought with Laertes, but adds, "by the image of my cause I see The portraiture of his" (76-77).
Anyway, in comes Osric. Shall I make a confession? I can't stand Osric. In every version I've ever seen, he makes me cringe, and I want to shoo him off the stage. And of course, he's supposed to make me feel that way, I'm well aware of that. Doesn't mean I have to like him, though. He's a perfect caricature of empty, meaningless talking meant to flatter and please. Blech. I do get a kick out of lines 96-103, though, when Hamlet mocks him by speaking similarly. And Horatio and Hamlet's snarky asides to each other are pretty funny. But still, I can't stand Osric.
I probably also dislike Osric because he comes to tell Hamlet about the proposed fencing match between him and Laertes, which we all know is A Treacherous Plot. And Hamlet agrees to it. He obviously knows it's A Treacherous Plot of some sort, because he says, "Thou wouldst not think how ill all's here about my heart" (185), but dismisses it as a weak nervousness. Horatio urges him to follow these instincts and delay the fencing match. But Hamlet refuses. As Harold Bloom puts it, "Their plot, absurd and messy, would fool no one except that the Hamlet of Act V wishes to make an end, and will accept any Claudian wager, whatever the odds" (64). I concur.
Hamlet has accepted that, at some point, he is going to die, and he's done struggling against the inevitable. Whether he dies right now or when he's an old man, it's going to happen. He's decided that "[t]he readiness is all" (194). That's my favorite line in this whole play, by the way. If I ever got a tattoo, that's what it would say.
We'll stop here for today, teetering on the brink.
"There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will" (10-11).
"If it be now, 'tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all" (192-94).
Possible Discussion Questions:
When Hamlet says that the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern do not weigh heavily on his conscience, Horatio says, "Why, what a king is this!" (61). Do you think he means Hamlet, and what a king he could be, or Claudius, and what he's doing as king?