In Shakespeare's Hamlet, in Act 3, scenes 1 and 2, how does Hamlet feel about his situation: about himself, other characters, etc.?

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lmetcalf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

These two scenes taken together are quite long and a lot of different aspects of Hamlet's character are revealed.  Here is a brief overview with some suggestions of ideas to review.

In scene 1, Hamlet walks on stage alone and gives the now famous "To be or not to be" soliloquy.  The speech is ripe with information about how Hamlet feels about himself and his situation.  He opens the speech talking about the choice between action and inaction, life and death.  The fact that he talks about how death is like sleep suggests how depressed he is.  In his questioning of why people don't just end the "heartache that flesh is heir to" clearly shows this.  But the important point of the speech is the final section where he realizes that "conscience makes cowards of us all."  Because the consequences of out actions are often unknown, we fear taking action. This seems to be an excuse for his slow action in avenging his father's death.  He is cautious for fear of the consequences. 

This speech ends when Ophelia enters-- part of the plan of Polonius and Claudius to spy on Hamlet.  In this conversation we can see his crazy act, but as always, we hear the truth of what he says.  He is rude to Ophelia; he tells her to get herself to a nunnery and stay away from men thus revealing his misanthropic attitude; he gets frustrated when he asks where her father is and seems to know that she is lying when he says, "let him be a fool nowhere but in's own house."

Hamlet seems to be enjoying himself and taking pleasure in the play that he has planned in the hopes of "catching the conscience of the king."  He is teasing Ophelia and making jokes at Polonius's expense.  He is giving sound advice to the players about their performance.  He is "as good as a chorus" in making sure that all of his audience understands the story of the play.  It is important to him that this play do the job he intends. He clearly has no qualms about discovering Claudius's guilt.  He demonstrates his close friendship with Horatio when he reveals the play/plan and talks about how he admires Horatio's balance of personality: a balance between blood and judgment.

Hamlet is gleeful when Claudius storms out of the play, thus revealing his guilt in the murder of King Hamlet.  Finally, Hamlet has the proof he needs to carry out his plans for justice for his father.  He has no use for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's attempts at friendship.  He makes it perfectly clear that he knows what they are up and he "won't be played upon."

There are many shifts in attitudes about self and others, but all of this sets up the climatic moments to come and ultimate resolution of the play.

booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Shakespeare's Hamlet, in Act Three, scenes one and two, Hamlet starts out feeling guilty that he has not avenged his father's murder. He is depressed as well, mostly for his father's death and mother's hasty remarriage: and he contemplates suicide in his famous "To be or not to be" speech. It is safe to assume he is greatly discouraged.

Hamlet resents Ophelia because he feels she has betrayed him, but she really has had no choice. In this male-dominated society, there is no way she could refuse to help her father; she is especially powerless against the King. Hamlet treats her badly by showing her callous disrespect, and then making sexually lewd comments to her that embarrass her. She is very much the victim in this story, but Hamlet can only see her as a traitor because it seems he actually cared for her before his father's death.

Gertrude is a disappointment to Hamlet. Since the beginning of the play, he has made comments about her hasty remarriage. His interactions with her in scene two are surrounded by feigned madness. He ends the scene fully intending to take her to task for her behavior. He hopes he can be strong in this confrontation, and hopes madness (his reference to Nero) does not enter into their discussions. He will speak harshly ("daggers") to her, but use none.

Soft! now to my mother! (375)

O heart, lose not thy nature; let not ever

The soul of Nero enter this firm bosom.

Let me be cruel, not unnatural;

I will speak daggers to her, but use none. (lines 375-379)

Hamlet has prepared a trap very carefully to "The play's the thing / Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king," (in Act Two). It is his hope that Claudius will reveal his guilt when he sees Old Hamlet's murder acted out in front of him. When the King rises in the midst of murder sceme and leaves the room, Hamlet has his proof. He is jubilant at this point, celebrating with Horatio who also saw Claudius' guilt.

As for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, he knows they are "in the King's pocket;" like Polonius, they will do anything they can to endear themselves to the King, even if it means acting unethically, and Hamlet has no time for them. He uses them as the butt of his jokes, insulting them whenever possible.

By the end of these two scenes, Hamlet appears to feel justified in his plan to make Claudius pay for his actions, and prepares to speak to his mother. He will want to know if she was a part of the scheme, but either way, he is confident as he goes to talk with her.

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