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, then, after seeing Claudius moments before, does he kill Polonius instead? The answer is that it feels like moments before when we're reading through it, but the pieces are totally separate. After he skips out on this opportunity to kill Claudius because he thinks he's praying Hamlet is scolding himself for not taking action. Remember that we found out that Claudius was not praying so it would have been a good time to carry out his vengeance plot, but Hamlet was looking for an excuse. Then in his mother's chamber his blood was already boiling from their conversation so when he heard the "rat" behind the arras his mustered up his newly found courage and took action. He felt little remorse that the target was not Claudius, but Polonius because Polonius should not have been in his mother's chamber hiding out eavesdropping in the first place.
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.
in reply to 3: killing whom he thinks might be claudius wasnt a pledge, i know he wants to avenge his father but if he was that intent on becoming the avenger then he would be too much like Laertes or even Fortinbras. Hamlets hesitation and confused action/inaction surely sets himself apart from the other revenge tragedies that were written before Hamlet.
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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