In Hamlet, how does this quote develop theme, plot, and conflict?
"And where the offence is let the great axe fall." (Claudius: IV.v.215)
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In this scene (Act IV, Scene v), Laertes demands to know who is responsible for his father's, Polonius', death. By this time, Ophelia is completely mad as a result of her despair from her father's death and Hamlet's mistreatment of her. Unlike Hamlet who delays, Laertes rushes in ready to take revenge on Claudius. But, ever the manipulator, Claudius convinces Laertes that he is not responsible for Polonius' death. Laertes agrees to be patient and see how things play out, but he plans to at least find out why Polonius was buried so quickly and without proper ritual. Claudius acknowledges what Laertes plans to do and notes that "the great axe" will fall on the one who is responsible for the death of Polonius.
This foreshadows the duel between Hamlet and Laertes. It is also ironic that Claudius speaks these lines because the axe or sword will eventually fall on himself for his own offence of killing the king. In a larger perspective, Hamletis about the state of Denmark, which is initially "rotten," in the political and spiritual sense. If those who've committed offences are met with justice, perhaps Denmark will return to a peaceful, ordered state.
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