How does the Queen’s line (about line10) echo a “experimental” theme introduced earlier in the play?act 4 scene 1Mad as the sea and wind, when both contend Which is the mightier: in his...
How does the Queen’s line (about line10) echo a “experimental” theme introduced earlier in the play?
act 4 scene 1Mad as the sea and wind, when both contend
Which is the mightier: in his lawless fit,
Behind the arras hearing something stir,
Whips out his rapier, cries, 'A rat, a rat!'
And, in this brainish apprehension, kills
The unseen good old man.
In the last scene of Act 3 when Hamlet hears someone calling out behind the arras in Gertrude's room, Hamlet says, "How now? A rat?" before he kills the unseen Polonius. When Gertrude reports the old man's death in the passage you have quoted, Claudius responds, "It had been so with us, had we been there" (4.1.14), meaning that if Claudius had been behind that arras (as he was when he and Polonius were spying on Hamlet and Ophelia), Hamlet would have killed him. Gertrude is repeating what Hamlet said before he thrust his rapier through the arras; Hamlet hoped indeed that the unseen person was the king because then the prince would have accomplished his goal of revenge.
The play-within-a-play that Hamlet prompted the Players to present, remember, was titled "The Mousetrap" because it was designed to "catch the conscience of the king" (2.2). Claudius is now referred to as a "rat," a term that echoes the earlier "experiment" that Hamlet used to determine Claudius' guilt. Now, however, since the king has revealed his guilt, he is not a mouse but a more repulsive creature, a "rat."