Why did Hamlet request the actors to perform the play The Murder of Gonzago?

Hamlet requested the actors to perform the play The Murder of Gonzago because it would be the perfect opportunity for Hamlet to gauge Claudius's reaction to a ficticious murder tailored to echo the murder of King Hamlet. Claudius views Hamlet's inspiration for directing the play as a positive outlet for his emotions, and in some ways it is. Claudius leaves the play completely flustered, and Hamlet's suspicions are confirmed.

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In act one, Hamlet interacts with his father's ghost, which informs him that Claudius is responsible for his death while he was sleeping in the orchard. The Ghost proceeds to instruct Hamlet to avenge his death by murdering King Claudius. Following Hamlet's interaction with his father's ghost, he contemplates the...

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In act one, Hamlet interacts with his father's ghost, which informs him that Claudius is responsible for his death while he was sleeping in the orchard. The Ghost proceeds to instruct Hamlet to avenge his death by murdering King Claudius. Following Hamlet's interaction with his father's ghost, he contemplates the Ghost's intentions and wonders if it is a malevolent spirit sent from hell to doom his soul. Hamlet is also mentally unstable and confused by the entire ordeal and unsure that the Ghost is telling the truth. When the actors arrive in act two, scene two, Hamlet requests that they perform The Murder of Gonzago and mentions that he will add a few lines of his own. Once everyone leaves the scene, Hamlet reveals his plan to discern whether or not King Claudius is guilty of assassinating his father. During Hamlet's soliloquy, he says,

I have heard
That guilty creatures sitting at a play
Have, by the very cunning of the scene,
Been struck so to the soul that presently
They have proclaimed their malefactions.
For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak
With most miraculous organ. I'll have these players
Play something like the murder of my father
Before mine uncle. I'll observe his looks;
I'll tent him to the quick. If he but blench,
I know my course (Shakespeare, 2.2.576-586).

Hamlet instructs the actors to perform The Murder of Gonzago so they can reenact King Hamlet's assassination on stage. Hamlet plans on carefully watching Claudius's reaction to the play as an actor pretends to pour poison into the king's ear while he is sleeping. Hamlet hopes that Claudius will reveal his guilt when he witnesses the performers reenact his crime, which will confirm the Ghost's message and justify Hamlet's revenge. During the performance, Claudius reveals his guilty conscience by requesting more light, then rising out of his seat and leaving the room.

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Hamlet wants the traveling actors who arrive at the castle to perform The Murder of Gonzago because he wants to the test his father's ghost's assertion that Claudius murdered him.

At this point, Hamlet has only the word of his father's ghost that Claudius crept up on him as he was sleeping and poured poison in his ear that killed him. He wonders: was that really my father's ghost, or was it an evil spirit sent by Satan to tempt me to kill an innocent man? He decides he will test whether the ghost's words are true or not by staging a play in which one person murders another by pouring poison in his ear. That play happens to be The Murder of Gonzago.

Hamlet encourages the players to be as realistic as possible as they perform the silent pantomime of the murder. He doesn't want them to ham it up because he wants to see how Claudius reacts to a scene as close as possible to the real event.

Ironically, Claudius couldn't be more pleased at Hamlet's interest in the actors. He has been worried about Hamlet's moping, depressed, angry behavior. In fact, however, the last thing Claudius should be encouraging is Hamlet's involvement with this play.

Claudius's frightened and guilty reaction to the performance shows Hamlet that he is guilty; the ghost did not lie.

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Hamlet's intent is to confirm his belief that King Claudius killed Hamlet's father. By having the actors perform The Murder of Gonzago, he's having a mirror of the King's own actions presented in a theatrical setting in front of the whole court. And, as Hamlet hopes and predicts, Claudius is immediately shaken upon seeing the play, gets up, and walks out.

Hamlet has also used the play to observe other people's reactions, including that of his mother, and to provide his own running commentary expressing his general feelings about, essentially, the "phoniness" of the courtiers and of the world overall.

Hamlet's somewhat chaotic ranting is a way of his connecting the real world with the artificial representation of the world in the performance of the players. It is also his way of describing what he regards as hypocrisy: that of Claudius, his mother, and perhaps even what he views as Ophelia's falseness. His crude sexual remarks and jabs at religion ("but he must build churches, or else suffer not thinking on, with the hobby horse!") are a kind of verbal dissection of the falseness of those around him, just as The Murder of Gonzago is a dramatic dissection of Claudius's crime and of the complicity in it which Hamlet sees in his mother and perhaps Polonius as well.

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Until the staging of the play within the play, Hamlet has only the assertion made by his ghostly father as proof of Claudius's guilt. So when a troupe of actors come to Elsinore, Hamlet seizes the opportunity to test Claudius by arranging the performance of a play he calls "The Mousetrap." Hamlet asks the players to perform "The Murder of Gonzago," a reference to the murder committed by Luigi Gonzaga, who poured poison in the ear of Francesco Maria I Della Rovere, Duke of Urbino, in 1538. Because the ghost has told Hamlet that Claudius murdered Hamlet's father, who was asleep in his orchard, by pouring poison into his ear, Hamlet expects to get a reaction from Claudius when he watches the scene. Claudius does not disappoint, leaving the performance obviously flustered, and Hamlet secures the proof that seems to confirm what his father's ghost has told him.

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