How does the Queen’s line echo a “rodent” theme introduced earlier in the play?  Act IV, Scene I, Lines 7-12 Quote: Mad as the sea and wind, when both contend Which is the mightier: in his...

How does the Queen’s line echo a “rodent” theme introduced earlier in the play?

 

Act IV, Scene I, Lines 7-12

Quote:

Mad 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.

Expert Answers
jane-jacobson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The rat or rodent motif is working on both the literal and figurative levels in the play Hamlet.  In Act IV Scene I, Claudius is asking the Queen about Hamlet’s mental status. Reporting that Hamlet is crazy, she gives as evidence his killing of Polonius in Act III.  Essentially the Queen is quoting Hamlet when she says that he “Whips out his rapier, cries, a rat, rat!” (IV [i] 10)  The moment before stabbing Polonius, Hamlet says “How, now?  A rat? Dead for a ducat, dead!” (III [iv] 28)  No doubt, Hamlet could mistake the noise behind the curtain in his mother’s room for the scurrying of a rat.

But Hamlet also has in mind the words of his father’s ghost accusing his mother of adultery.  “lust…will sate itself in a celestial bed/ and prey on garbage.” (I [v] 63-64)  In this sense then, Claudius the rat feeds on the garbage the Queen has become by sleeping with her dead husband's brother. The play is filled with sexual innuendo.

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Hamlet

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