Why does Hamlet kill Polonius through the arras even though he passed Claudius praying?
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In this scene we see Hamlet's first impulsive action, the killing of Polonius. Why, after passing by Claudius, does Hamlet kill Polonius? The answer is that he does not know who is behind the arras: he does not know he is killing Polonius.He is striking out at a hidden person, a spy, who has started to shout for the palace guards. Hamlet reacts instinctively, without thought. His blood is already boiling because of his enraged confrontation with Gertrude. She has started to call for the palace guards herself. Another voice raises the alarm at the same time. He doesn't think; he reacts to an alarm, an alarm that threatens him. Afterward, he says he is punish for not avenging his father by killing Polonius by mistake, while Polonius is punished for his treachery by being killed by Hamlet.
After he skips out on this opportunity to kill Claudius because he thinks Claudius is praying, Hamlet is scolding himself for not taking action. Remember that we found out that Claudius was not praying, so it in fact would have been a good time to carry out his vengeance plot, but Hamlet missed the opportunity by looking for his own revenge instead administering the Ghost's revenge: Hamlet himself didn't want to give Claudius the chance to be forgiven and go to heaven.
Remember, too, that Hamlet pledges to be more active. His first act after that pledge is to speak with his mother and then to kill whom he thinks is Claudius behind the tapestry hanging on her wall. It is conceivable that Claudius would have time to get to Gertrude's chambers since in many castles there were secret passages from the King's chambers to his Queen's, or his mistress's or both.
I don't think these scenes are to be seen as unrelated. I see it more as Hamlet is/has always been more about confronting his mother than obeying his father. In Hamlet's mind, Claudius might be back there after receiving forgiveness. This would send Claudius to heaven as well.
He instead cannot keep from possibly killing her lover in front of her eyes, regardless of giving Claudius his heavenly reward. It is a rash and bloody deed. This prompts the visitation to whet his almost blunted purpose.... he wasn't just going about this in the wrong way, his wrong direction is hitting a dead end.
Hamlet did not kill Claudius for the simple reason Claudius was praying before he died (Hamlet did not want Claudius to be praying whilst he died, which would guarantee him a place in Heaven - whereas Hamlet clearly believes Claudius should go to Hell.
He kills Polonius seemingly by mistake, as as soon as the Queen exclaims - "O, what a rash and bloody deed!", he asks - "is it the King?". He was not aware it was Polonius behind the arras, and was hoping it to be the King - however, he clearly shows no remorse for murdering Polonius - "what a rash...intruding fool."
Certainly, Hamlet is totally repulsed by Polonius, who is duplicitous and hypocritical. Perhaps he thinks that Claudius is behind the arras and he takes his second chance to be rid of him rather than let it go as he has done the first. When Hamlet sees that he has killed Polonius there is no regret because the fatuous man is repugnant to Hamlet.
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