Hamlet Act IV, Scenes 5–7 Summary and Analysis
by William Shakespeare

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Act IV, Scenes 5–7 Summary and Analysis

Act IV Scene 5:

Queen Gertrude, Horatio, and a Gentleman enter. On Horatio’s advice, Gertrude reluctantly agrees to speak with Ophelia, who has been requesting an audience with her. The Gentleman informs the queen that Ophelia’s condition is pitiful; she frequently mentions her father, but her words are jumbled and nonsensical. Ophelia walks in singing a song and is oblivious to the queen’s attempts to speak with her. When Claudius sees Ophelia’s deteriorated state, he orders that she be watched closely. Alone with Gertrude, Claudius laments all the unfortunate things that have recently happened: Polonius has been killed, Hamlet has been sent away, the people are suspicious about the circumstances surrounding Polonius’s death, Ophelia has lost her mind, and Laertes has secretly returned from France—undoubtedly convinced that Claudius is to blame for his father’s death. A messenger then enters and informs the king and queen that an enraged Laertes has overcome Claudius’s soldiers and now approaches with a mob of rebels who call for Laertes to be king. Laertes suddenly bursts into the room and demands to know where his father is. Though Gertrude tries to restrain Laertes, Claudius tells her to let him go, claiming that a king is always protected by his divine right to rule. Claudius informs Laertes that Polonius is dead but insists that he had nothing to do with his death. Ophelia wanders into the room singing, and Laertes, incensed by the sight of her obvious insanity, vows revenge. Attempting to calm him down, Claudius tells Laertes to select the wisest of his friends to sit in judgment over the matter. He assures Laertes that if this friend judges him to be in any way guilty of Polonius’s murder, he will surrender both his life and his throne to Laertes. Somewhat mollified, Laertes brings up the hurried and undignified nature of Polonius’s burial, and the two men exit the stage discussing it.

Act IV, Scene 6:

Some sailors approach Horatio, claiming to have a letter for him. Horatio is surprised to see that the letter is from Hamlet. Hamlet explains that his ship to England was attacked by pirates, who have now returned him to Denmark. In his letter, Hamlet tells Horatio that the sailors also have letters for the king. He instructs Horatio to oversee the delivery of the letters and then come meet him as soon as possible afterward. Hamlet mentions that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are still headed for England and says that he has much to reveal about them.

Act IV, Scene 7:

Claudius and Laertes enter, discussing Polonius’s death. Laertes now agrees that Claudius is not at fault but wonders why he did not openly punish Hamlet. Claudius explains that he loves Gertrude and cannot bear to upset her by punishing her only son. He also says that it would be risky to publicly accuse Hamlet, since he is so well-loved by the people. Reflecting on all that he has lost as a result of Hamlet’s behavior, Laertes vows revenge. A messenger arrives, bringing Hamlet’s letters. Claudius is shocked to learn that Hamlet will be returning the next day, but Laertes is pleased to have the chance to kill his enemy so soon. Claudius admits to Laertes that he has been trying to come up with a way to dispose of Hamlet and make it look like an accident. He then mentions that Hamlet is quite envious of Laertes’s skill at swordsmanship. Claudius suggests arranging a duel between the two men, and he proposes that Laertes secretly use a sharpened fencing foil so that he may actually injure Hamlet. Laertes agrees and takes the plan even further, suggesting that he poison the blade of his sword so that even the tiniest nick will kill Hamlet. As a backup plan, Claudius decides that he will have a cup of poisoned wine on hand to offer to Hamlet should Laertes fail to wound him during the duel.

Gertrude then enters to tell Laertes of yet another tragedy : his sister, Ophelia, has drowned. Gertrude explains that Ophelia was leaning on the branches of a willow...

(The entire section is 1,461 words.)