In Hamlet, the audience goes through Hamlet's emotional journey to understand how his father died and how his mother could remarry so soon. Because Shakespeare utilizes dramatic irony, the audience is aware of actions going on that all the characters do not see.
In act 4, scene 3, Claudius decides to send Hamlet to England. He knows the Prince of Denmark is popular with the people of Denmark, and Cladius knows he would never be forgiven if he were to execute him for the death of Polonius. However, if he sends his stepson to England and they kill him, his hands will be clean. Claudius tells Hamlet that he is sending him to England for his own protection.
Hamlet, this deed, for thine especial safety—
Which we do tender as we dearly grieve
For that which thou hast done—must send thee hence
With fiery quickness. Therefore prepare thyself.
The bark is ready and the wind at help,
Th' associates tend, and everything is bent
It is in his letters to England that we see Claudius's true purpose for Hamlet's travels.
The present death of Hamlet. Do it, England,
For like the hectic in my blood he rages,
And thou must cure me. Till I know ’tis done,
Howe'er my haps, my joys were ne'er begun.
The dramatic irony here is the king telling Hamlet (and Gertrude
) that he will send him to England to be safe, but the audience knows that he is really sending him to England to be killed.
Later, in act 4, scene 4, Horatio
receives a letter from Hamlet, and the audience now knows more than the king. We know that Hamlet did not die in England; in fact, he is alive and coming back to Denmark.
Act 5 is comprised of Claudius's detailed plans to kill Hamlet. As the audience, we hear all the aspects of the plan and watch as it unfolds. Claudius, using Laertes
's anger for his murdered father and dead sister, arranges a duel between Laertes and Hamlet. Claudius masterfully plays both sides: he tells Laertes that he is a master sword fighter and must do this to seek revenge, and he knows that Hamlet's pride will prevent him from turning down the challenge.
Claudius has two backup plans in case the duel does not kill Hamlet. He tells Laertes that he will raise a toast to Hamlet and then put poison in the glass. Once Hamlet takes even the slightest sip, he will die. He also tells Laertes that he will put poison on the end of Laertes's sword so that even if he just lightly scratches Hamlet, Hamlet will die.
The audience knows all of these points and watches them unfold. Osric
brings Hamlet news of the duel with Laertes and reminds the prince how good Laertes is with a sword: "But in the imputation laid on him by them, in his meed he’s unfellowed." He also explains that the king has placed a large wager that Hamlet will beat Laertes. When Hamlet asks if can turn the challenge down, Osric says that his manhood would be questioned, "I mean, my lord, the opposition of your person in trial." We know that Osric is saying exactly what Claudius has told him to say and that it is all a part of Claudius's trap to kill Hamlet.
At the beginning of the fight, Hamlet is doing well, so Claudius decides it is time for the toast and poisoned wine. However, Hamlet does not want to drink wine just yet, so his mother makes a toast in her son's honor and takes a sip.
The queen carouses to thy fortune, Hamlet.
(picks up the cup with the pearl)
Claudius and the audience are left to watch her drink poison and know that she will die soon. As the poison begins to take effect, we know that her husband has killed her, but he says, "She swoons to see them bleed." It is too late, but with her dying breath, Gertrude tells Hamlet that the drink is poison.
Claudius's second plan to put poison on the sword also creates dramatic irony and situational irony. During the fight, Hamlet and Laertes get into a fight after Laertes takes a cheap shot and cuts Hamlet with the poisoned sword. The audience knows that Hamlet will now die, but the audience continues to watch the two men fight. They then mix up their swords in the process. Hamlet picks up Laertes's sword and stabs him, delivering the poison to him too. Laertes lays out the whole plan and begs Hamlet's forgiveness.
It is here, Hamlet. Hamlet, thou art slain.
No medicine in the world can do thee good.
In thee there is not half an hour of life.
The treacherous instrument is in thy hand,
Unbated and envenomed. The foul practice
Hath turned itself on me. Lo, here I lie,
Never to rise again. Thy mother’s poisoned.
I can no more. The king, the king’s to blame.
Shakespeare's use of dramatic irony keeps the audience on their toes. They think they know what will happen, but the audience has to keep watching to see how all of the plans unfold in unexpected ways.