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Literature Study GuidesHamletAct 4 Scene 4 Summary

Hamlet | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 4, Scene 4

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

Hamlet | Act 4, Scene 4 | Summary



In this scene, set somewhere near Elsinore Castle, Hamlet, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern are headed for the ship that will carry them to England. They pass Fortinbras and his army, which is passing Elsinore en route to Poland. Hamlet stops to speak with the captain whom Fortinbras has sent to greet King Claudius and thank him for permission to pass through Denmark.

When the captain presses on, Hamlet stops a moment, alone, and compares himself to young Fortinbras. He rebukes himself for his failure to seek revenge for his murdered father when Fortinbras, another young prince who also lost his father, goes to war for honor over a worthless piece of land. At the close of this soliloquy, he again pledges himself to the act the ghost has assigned him.


This scene brings Fortinbras back into the picture as contrast to Hamlet. As Hamlet considers the similarities between the two (his definition of greatness and his own shortcomings), the audience may feel a shift in Hamlet's resolution. He sees the doggedness with which Fortinbras and his men pursue their goal, even though their goal is obtaining a tiny plot of soil that, at best, is "a little patch of ground that hath in it no profit but the name." Something in that realization and in his discussion with Fortinbras's captain seems to settle in Hamlet.

The scene closes with the prince's renewed resolution that "from this time forth my thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!" This quote leaves the audience with the impression that something of Fortinbras—something of his quickness to action—has inspired Hamlet.

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