So then they fence a while. Laertes has the "unbated" foil, that is, the actually sharp sword that doesn't have anything protecting the tip. And of course it's poisoned too. Claudius brings out his poisonous "union," aka a pearl, and poisons the wine with it. But Hamlet won't drink -- he wants to stay sharp, I think. Who wouldn't, ringed around by bad guys as he is?
And then Gertrude drinks the poison. Different productions play this different ways -- does she know it's poisoned and drink in an effort to save her son? Does she realize he was right about Claudius and not want to live on with such a bad guy as her husband? Does she have zero idea that it's poisoned? Lots of different ways to play it, each with really cool insights into her character to be had.
A couple scenes ago, Claudius claimed that he basically can't live without Gertrude. So the way he says his line, "Gertrude, do not drink" (265) can really tell us whether he was being truthful then or not. Does he say it desperately? Resignedly? Angrily? It can be so revelatory.
Of course, we return again to that idea of being caught in your own trap. Laertes says, "I am justly killed with mine own treachery" (284) and also, "The foul practice Hath turned itself on me" (295). Claudius gets killed by both the poisoned sword and the wine he poisoned, and Gertrude basically gets caught in her own trap when she dies of poison set out by the man she married after he poisoned her first husband. She, like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, may have been initially unwitting of the nature of her actions, of course. And obviously Hamlet, by seeking vengeance for his father, has vengeance served against him for things he did during that quest.
As Hamlet dies, he echoes his father's ghost. Horatio tries to commit suicide, to follow his friend into the grave the way Roman soldiers would follow their leader when he died. But Hamlet tells Horatio not to die just yet, but to "[r]eport me and my cause aright To the unsatisfied" (315-16). In fact, just like the Ghost asked him to listen to his tale "[i]f ever thou didst they dear father love" (I, 5, 23), Hamlet asks Horatio to do this "[i]f thou didst ever hold me in your heart (322). Striking similarity, eh?
And after Hamlet dies, in comes Fortinbras. John Gielgud says, "All the people in the play are shut up in this castle... There is this curious feeling, except on the battlements and in the churchyard, that they are all really locked in the castle, in a miasma of corruption and sensuality. It isn't until Fortinbras comes at the end that the whole thing opens and all are free (John Gielgud Directs Richard Burton in Hamlet p. 17). I really like that insight, that in the end, it's Fortinbras who frees the Danish people from this sickness of corruption and duplicity that has poisoned the castle's inmates.
"I am more antique Roman than a Dane" (317).
"The rest is silence" (334).
"Now cracks a noble heart.--Good night, sweet Prince,
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!" (335-36).
Possible Discussion Questions:
Well, what did you think of it?
So. We've finished it. Yay? Yay for us, anyway. Thanks so much for taking this journey with me! I think this is my favorite read-along that I've led thus far.
Of course, if you haven't quite finished reading it yet, please feel free to continue commenting and discussing this on your own time here! I'm going to start up a giveaway today, and in the next day or two I'll be posting a link-up for anyone who might want to share their own blog posts about Hamlet, like if you're reviewing it for the Classics Club or what have you.