In Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act 3, scene 4, discuss Hamlet's lack of remorse for the killing of Polonius.

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act Three, scene four, Hamlet shows little remorse for killing Polonius.

Hamlet has finally received the proof he needs to kill Claudius with a clear conscience, after seeing the King's guilty response to the players' reenactment of Old Hamlet's murder. When Hamlet enters his mother's room, he begins to scold her, while she takes him to task for his behavior. When he grabs her and appears threatening, Gertrude cries out. At the same time, Polonius, hiding behind the curtain in Gertrude's room to spy on them, also cries out. Hamlet believe it is his step-father and stabs through the curtain. He is ecstatic as he thinks he has finally avenged Old Hamlet's murder.


How now, a rat? [Draws.] Dead for a ducat, dead! (26)

Gertrude says to her son, what have you done? Hamlet is still unaware of what he has done, asking if it is the King.


Nay, I know not. Is it the King? (29)

Hamlet soon realizes that it is not Claudius. He is not upset by what he has done—probably for several reasons. Hamlet may well be tired of the subterfuge, the spying and the lying. Polonius has also "sold" his honor by practicing deceit with the King, and even "sacrificing" Ophelia by using her to trap Hamlet. Polonius was not a malicious person, but foolish, and Hamlet has no respect for the dead man, believing Polonius brought his death upon himself. Hamlet's "apology" comes in the form of admitting that he thought he was killing the King, almost like saying, "It was nothing personal." He also tells dead Polonius that there is danger in being busy, as we might refer to a "busy body," or one who puts his/her nose where it does not belong. Hamlet says:

Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell! (35)
I took thee for thy better. Take thy fortune.
Thou find'st to be too busy is some danger.

By the end of the scene, Hamlet and his mother have shared heated words, and Hamlet has informed her not only of what Claudius has done, but of his plans for Hamlet's death in England. The two make their peace, and Gertrude asks what she can do. Hamlet tells Gertrude she must refuse to sleep with Claudius, and that she must keep their conversation a secret. She agrees, and then he gathers up Polonius to remove his body. He comments upon Polonius, a counsellor who was really a foolish man. Hamlet says:

Indeed, this counsellor (230)
Is now most still, most secret, and most grave,
Who was in life a foolish prating knave.
Come, sir, to draw toward an end with you.


lmetcalf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is important to remember that Hamlet kills Polonius unknowingly.  He does the deed and then asks ""Is it the King?"  Think about the fact that Hamlet is in a private conversation with his mother in her private rooms.  What was Polonius doing there?  Spying.  Who would more likely have been hiding in these rooms?  Claudius.  Hamlet just walked away from an opportunity to kill Claudius because Hamlet thought Claudius was in prayer.  He explicitly states in the soliloquy that he will wait and kill Claudius when the king is in a state of doing something sinful.  In this way his soul will have no time for purging of sins and he will go straight to hell, which the punishment Hamlet thinks is most fitting.  To kill Claudius while is spying would certainly come close to the kind of circumstances that Hamlet thinks might damn Claudius's soul.  He makes his feelings very clear when he says

Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell!(35)
I took thee for thy better. Take thy fortune.
Thou find'st to be too busy is some danger.

He has no words of remorse because he thinks that Polonius got what he deserved.  When you do dangerous things, bad things can happen to you.  Hamlet was excited to know the truth about Claudius; ready to kill him but thwarted; and in this scene releases the pent-up energy and drive to commit the vengeance.  Unfortunately, this act give Claudius the upper hand because now Hamlet looks more crazy and to be more of danger in the court.  This Claudius the perfect excuse to send Hamlet away for everyone's safety. 


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