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Literature Study GuidesHamletAct 4 Scene 6 Summary

Hamlet | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 4, Scene 6

Professor Regina Buccola, Chair of Humanities at Roosevelt University, explains Act 4, Scene 6 in William Shakespeare's play Hamlet.

Hamlet | Act 4, Scene 6 | Summary



Horatio is approached by sailors bearing letters from Hamlet. One of the letters is for him; the others are for the king. In the letter to Horatio, Hamlet explains that en route to England their ship was overtaken by pirates, and he alone was taken prisoner. He explains the pirates are "thieves of mercy," and he is to do something for them. He asks that Horatio help the sailors get the other letters to the king and then have the sailors deliver Horatio to Hamlet. Having read his letter, Horatio departs with the sailors to find Hamlet.


Through the continued quick scenes, audiences learn of a sudden turn of events: Hamlet has returned to Denmark. In letters that he has delivered to Horatio and Claudius, Hamlet acquaints everyone with his situation. Having been taken by pirates who treated him well, he has since returned to Denmark. (Undoubtedly, the sailors who present the letters are the pirates, but that is not addressed.) A growing sense of boldness radiates from Hamlet's actions. Instead of overthinking, Hamlet seems to be finding his footing and striking a better balance between thought and action.

Interestingly, the plot seems to be shedding some of the focus on truth versus deceit. As is true of Hamlet himself, there appears to be a greater focus on the action. Claudius and Laertes are perhaps the last characters to still display the deceit that was so prevalent in Elsinore during the early acts.

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