How did Hamlet approach Claudius to get him to reveal the murder of his father, without directly accusing him? What was the method?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Shakespeare's Hamlet, Hamlet believes that his uncle, Claudius, has killed his father. A ghost has appeared to tell Hamlet this news, and Hamlet wants to use a play presented at court to test out his theory. The full quote reads, "I'll have grounds/ More relative than this—the play's the thing/ Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King" (Hamlet Act 2, scene 2, 603–605). Hamlet believes that if he presents a play at court that includes a scene of regicide, Claudius will be moved to admit his guilt. Hamlet can then feel justified in revenging his father's death. 

This method of trapping Claudius in his lie involves the cathartic power of drama. In other words, Shakespeare, of course himself a playwright, believed that a play was so powerful that it could simulate real life and move a person to confess his or her guilt. Drama could motivate people to reveal what was in their conscience. This indeed might be a good method to entrap someone without confronting them directly. For example, if you wanted to force someone to admit a wrong without confronting them directly, you might tell them a story about a similar incident. The telling of an incident involving a wrong similar to what they committed might result in their admitting guilt. This method might be far more effective than confronting them directly, which might cause them to be defensive.