Summary and Analysis of Act 3
An entourage consisting of the king and queen,
enters to begin the Act.
asks Rosencrantz and Guildenstern what
they have learned about
’s malady. The two reply that they have not been able to find its
cause. They do mention, however, that Hamlet was very enthusiastic about the players’
performance that night, which prompts Claudius to agree to attend the play. Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern leave. Polonius and Claudius then begin their plan to loose Ophelia on Hamlet
and mark their encounter, hoping to find the root of his madness. They instruct Ophelia to
pretend that she is simply reading a book and withdraw behind a tapestry.
Hamlet enters and delivers the most famous speech in literature, beginning, “To be or
not to be.” After this long meditation on the nature of being and death, Hamlet catches sight of
Ophelia. After a short conversation she attempts to return some of the remembrances that
Hamlet gave when courting her. Hamlet replies caustically, questioning Ophelia’s honesty. He
then berates Ophelia, telling her off sarcastically and venomously, with the refrain, “Get thee to
a nunnery,” or in other words, “Go become a nun to control your lust.” After this tirade, Hamlet
exists, leaving Ophelia in shambles.
Claudius and Polonius step out of their hiding place. The king states that he does not
believe that Hamlet is mad because of his foiled love for Ophelia, or really mad at all, but
tormented for some hidden reason. He determines to send Hamlet on a diplomatic mission to
England before he can cause any serious trouble. Polonius endorses this plan, but persists in his
belief that Hamlet’s grief is the result of his love for Ophelia. He consoles his daughter.
Polonius suggests in parting that Claudius arrange a private interview between Hamlet and his
mother after the play that evening and Claudius agrees.
Just as the play is about to begin, Hamlet instructs the players on the art of acting, telling
them to act naturally and to avoid bombast. He sets the players to their preparations and then
. After complimenting Horatio in the most sterling terms, Hamlet asks
his friend to assist him in watching the king’s response to the play they are about to see
(apparently Hamlet has by this time told Horatio what the ghost revealed). Horatio seats
himself so as to view the king properly. The royal entourage enters. Hamlet manically chatters
with Claudius, Polonius,
and Ophelia, reserving special attention for the latter, whom
he sits next to and teases.
The play begins with a “Dumb Show,” which is a pantomime of the drama to come. On
stage, the basic form of the alleged murder is repeated: a king and queen are shown happily
married; the king takes a nap; a poisoner enters and pours something in the king’s ear, killing
him; the poisoner than takes possession of the queen. Ophelia seems confused by this plot but