Act IV, Scene 2 Summary and Analysis
Hamlet enters, having “Safely stowed” the body of Polonius. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter, seeking the corpse, but Hamlet won’t tell where it is hidden, saying only he has “Compounded it with dust, whereto ’tis kin.” Then Hamlet calls Rosencrantz a “sponge . . . that soaks up the King’s countenance, his rewards, his authorities.” But that when the King needs what they “have gleaned, it is but squeezing you and, sponge, you shall be dry again.” When they ask again of the body’s whereabouts, Hamlet again refuses to say, but agrees to go with them to the King, whom Hamlet says is “a thing . . . Of nothing.” Hamlet dashes offstage as if they are pursuing him in a game of hide-and-seek: “Hide fox, and all after.”
True to her word to Hamlet, Gertrude is at great pains to assure Claudius that Hamlet’s madness is genuine. She even stretches the truth by saying Hamlet “weeps for what is done”—Hamlet repents, but says “heaven hath pleased it so, . . . That I must be their scourge and minister.” Claudius is at equally great pains to convince Gertrude that he is acting in Hamlet’s best interest in shipping him off to England. Claudius plans to manipulate the public disclosure of information to his best advantage. Similarly he will attempt to manipulate England’s allegiance in arranging Hamlet’s murder (Scene 3), and to manipulate Laertes’ anger by excusing his own inaction out of love for Gertrude and public sentiment for Hamlet (Scene 7).