In Act 3, Scene 2 of "Hamlet," what action in "The Murder of Gonzago" distresses Claudius?
Claudius sees Lucianus, "nephew to the king," pour poison in the sleeping king's ear. This action is an imitation of the exact method Claudius used to murder his own brother. He is horrified to see another king, even one in a play, killed in the same way he killed old King Hamlet, and he cannot control his reaction, just as Hamlet had hoped when he created this "play within a play." Claudius rushes from the room when Hamlet comments, “You shall see anon how the murderer gets the love of Gonzago’s wife." His comment alludes to Claudius' relationship with Gertrude.
Indeed, "the play's the thing...to catch the conscience of the king." Claudius reveals his guilt when he rises and gives Hamlet the evidence he needs to fulfill the Ghost's direction for revenge.
I discuss this scene in depth in our free, online lessons on "Hamlet". Please see the first link below. You may also wish to read previous summary and analysis, and view and participate in discussion questions.
Thank you for using eNotes!