Literature Study GuidesHamletAct 4 Scene 7 Summary

Hamlet | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 4, Scene 7

Professor Regina Buccola, Chair of Humanities at Roosevelt University, explains Act 4, Scene 7 in William Shakespeare's play Hamlet.

Hamlet | Act 4, Scene 7 | Summary

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Summary

Claudius and Laertes are together in Elsinore. As promised, Claudius explains the circumstances of Polonius's death to Laertes, as well as his reasoning for sending Hamlet abroad. Just as they touch on the subject of Laertes's revenge for his father and sister, a messenger enters with letters for the king from Hamlet.

Hamlet informs Claudius that he is back in Denmark and wishes to meet with him the next day. Hamlet writes that he will explain everything when they meet. Knowing that Hamlet has returned, Claudius and Laertes devise a plan for a fencing match where Laertes will use a poisoned foil. As a backup plan, Claudius will also have a poisoned drink waiting for him.

Just as the plan is settled, the queen enters with news that Ophelia has drowned.

Analysis

The action in this scene speeds along, giving audiences a feeling of certainty that a collision of some sort is imminent but that the who, when, and where are yet mysteries. Shakespeare, the master storyteller, is at his best here, giving detail and maintaining excitement and tension.

As the scene begins, we find Claudius and Laertes together when Hamlet's letter arrives; Claudius has cunningly managed to convince Laertes of his innocence with regard to Polonius's death. Now his deception evolves even further, as he persuades Laertes to follow his lead in a plot to kill Hamlet. Laertes is so driven by revenge that he agrees, as long as he himself can be the one who deals a death blow to the prince.

Hamlet's return to Denmark creates the opportunity. Claudius is now so certain that Hamlet must die that his ego tells him they can murder Hamlet in front of Gertrude and have her be none the wiser. The plan that Claudius and Laertes devise is simple. He flatters Laertes regarding his fencing skill and Laertes becomes so eager to kill Hamlet that he devises a plan to poison his sword; the slightest cut will kill the prince. Claudius devises a backup plan; he will have a poisoned drink standing by for Hamlet in case Laertes fails to wound him. As usual, Claudius has concocted the plan so that even if it fails, it should not touch him.

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