Hamlet Act IV, Scene 6 Summary and Analysis

William Shakespeare

Act IV, Scene 6 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Sailors: seafaring men who bring news from Hamlet

Summary
Horatio and a few others are accosted by Sailors with a letter from Hamlet to Horatio, detailing his capture at sea by pirates, who, he says, treated him well. The letter instructs Horatio to deliver the “letters I have sent” to the King, and then come at once to him, guided by “these good fellows.” Hamlet adds that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern still sail toward England, and says “Of them I have much to tell thee.”

Horatio promises to reward the Sailors for delivering the messages.

Analysis
The unlikely capture-rescue of Hamlet by the pirates is, of course, dramatically necessary to effect Hamlet’s return to Denmark, but it strains plausibility even more than the turn of events in the final sword fight (Act V, Scene 2). The interface between possibility and plausibility is stretched taut. This unlikely series of events, however, does reinforce Hamlet’s frequent remarks about the role of fate in men’s lives.

Hamlet’s use of the phrase, “compelled valor,” echoes his rebuke to his mother in Act III, Scene 4: “Assume a virtue, if you have it not.” As Hamlet feigned bravery in boarding the pirate ship, Gertrude was urged to feign virtue in absenting herself from Claudius’ bed. The motif of illusion versus reality, seeming versus being, play acting versus genuine, is again foregrounded.