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Literature Study GuidesHamletAct 4 Scene 3 Summary

Hamlet | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 4, Scene 3

Professor Regina Buccola, Chair of Humanities at Roosevelt University, explains Act 4, Scene 3 in William Shakespeare's play Hamlet.

Hamlet | Act 4, Scene 3 | Summary



Claudius, by himself, talks of his intent to send Hamlet to England—a plan made all the more reasonable because Hamlet has killed Polonius. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern come to the king with Hamlet in tow. When Claudius asks the whereabouts of Polonius's body, he too is answered in riddles until at last, as if tired of the game, Hamlet tells them where to find the corpse.

Claudius then tells Hamlet they must send him away—for his safety—to England. Hamlet consents, and as he exits, Claudius instructs Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to follow, saying they must set sail tonight.

Once alone, Claudius reveals the papers he has sent with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ordering Hamlet's death.


The more opportunities audiences have to see Claudius on his own, the more information is provided about the inner workings of his brain. As this scene opens, Claudius expounds on Hamlet's slaying of Polonius as an excellent rationale for sending him abroad. Oddly, something about Claudius's use of the royal "we" and the points he is making to himself come across as someone desperately seeking to regain control of a situation. Shakespeare, ever in command, may certainly have intended his speech to straddle the line between sanity and madness.

Hamlet's banter with Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Claudius about Polonius's body seems to be one more example of Hamlet's having slipped into a position of control. The differences are subtle between Hamlet's behavior then and now, but it is clear: the game is turning—regardless of the ship headed for England that will soon have Hamlet aboard.

In the final moment of this scene, Claudius is again talking with himself. From his musings—said as if he is speaking to England—it is revealed he feels that Hamlet's presence is driving him mad and that he plans to have the prince executed upon his arrival.

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