Literature Study GuidesHamletAct 4 Scene 1 Summary

Hamlet | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 4, Scene 1

Professor Regina Buccola, Chair of Humanities at Roosevelt University, explains Act 4, Scene 1 in William Shakespeare's play Hamlet.

Hamlet | Act 4, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

King Claudius and Queen Gertrude, along with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, come together once again in Elsinore Castle. Gertrude dismisses Rosencrantz and Guildenstern so that she may tell Claudius of her meeting with Hamlet. Comparing the prince's madness with the wild power of the wind and the sea vying to see which is mightier, Gertrude tells Claudius of all that transpired between them, including how Hamlet killed Polonius.

Claudius says Hamlet must be sent away at once, and immediately summons Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. He tells them Hamlet has slain Polonius, asks them to find Hamlet, and instructs them to bring Polonius's body to the chapel. Claudius and Gertrude leave to inform their closest supporters, hoping they can control the fallout.

Analysis

Gertrude's transition from the end of the last scene to the beginning of this one is notable. At the end of Act 3, she was spent, having watched in terror as Hamlet raged about her, killing Polonius, talking with a ghost that she suspects was a hallucination of his addled brain, then calmly leaving with a body in tow. Despite all that Hamlet has told her, however, she assumes him mad and we find her at the opening of this scene with Claudius, emotions under control, and reporting on it all.

Claudius forces himself to remain calm as Gertrude tells him of the death of Polonius and Hamlet's seemingly mad ramblings. He seizes on the incident as further reason to send Hamlet away. Beyond putting that plan in motion, however, Claudius's major concern is damage control. After Rosencrantz and Guildenstern go in search of Hamlet, preparing to sail that night, Claudius suggests that he and Gertrude seek out their wisest friends and tell them what has happened. He is convinced that putting their spin (or interpretation) on the news will prevent Hamlet's crime from staining their reputation. As always, Claudius remains concerned with appearances just as Polonius was.

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