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Act Two, Scene Two

Claudius and Gertrude ask Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, friends of Hamlet, to spend time with him and
report back to the cause of his depression. Again, the action is driven by a need to know what Hamlet is
really thinking and feeling. In this situation, Claudius has an agenda different that Gertrude, which gives
the actors different attitudes and subtext to express.
As Rosencrantz and Guildenstern leave, Polonius comes on the scene to announce that he knows the cause
of Hamlet's melancholy, but his news is interrupted by two courtiers coming to report that the King of
Norway has given Fortinbras permission to march across Denmark to meet and fight a Polish army. Since
Fortinbras has threatened to avenge his father's death, this keeps the issue of a war with Fortinbras on the
Polonius now relates what he considers to be the cause of Hamlet's madness, prodded by Gertrude who is
frustrated by his need to embellish the news with his borrowed, witless witticisms. Polonius offers to have
Ophelia meet with Hamlet to prove his theory, but Hamlet then comes on the scene, and the king and
queen leave so Polonius can try and prove that Hamlet is mad over rejection by Ophelia.
Hamlet calls Polonius a fishmonger (procurer) and speaks oddly. Polonius suspects that Hamlet is hiding
some deeper truth in his odd riposts, and decides the best course is to get Ophelia on the scene and gauge
Hamlet's reaction.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern arrive and Polonius leaves. Hamlet spars with them verbally, trying to get
them to admit their purpose in coming to see him, which Hamlet intuits. This deepens his depression, that
his friends are in service against him. The scene continues with Hamlet telling his friends...
"I am but mad north-northwest: when the
wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw."
Hamlet works to confound and confuse his enemies, using his appearance of madness to speak deeper
Hamlet spares again with Polonius, accusing him in veiled language of sacrificing his daughter (the
reference to Jeptha). Then the company of players arrive. Hamlet jests with them, then orders them on the
next day to do a play about a queen poisoning her husband, adding a speech that Hamlet writes.
When all leave, Hamlet ponders why he hasn't taken stronger action against Claudius. He decides that
Claudius' reaction to the play will confirm whether he is complicit in the death of Hamlet's father or
whether Hamlet is being tempted by a demon to commit murder. Even thought Hamlet came to the end of
act one determined to act, he now wants more proof. Like many people, he swings from certainty to doubt.
This ends the second act, which has revolved around the question, for the other characters, is Hamlet mad
from the loss of Ophelia or for another reason? The audience knows the truth and is able to enjoy Hamlet's
seeming madness and confounding of his enemies.
The pressing question, will Claudius betray himself during the play, is clearly framed.

Act Three, Scene One

This act begins with the principals arranging for Hamlet to 'meet' Ophelia.
Hamlet enters and does his most famous, oft quoted soliloquy, "To be, or not to be."
Hamlet's deepening state of narrative tension is calling him to deeply examine the meaning of life. This
questioning also delays, again, his taking any action, just as the less elevated rumination of ordinary
people delay or become a substitute for action, or an end in itself.
Hamlet's advice to Ophelia, "Get thee to a nunnery." There's an element in this play of Hamlet's feelings
toward women becoming darker. Ophelia's response, "O what a noble mind is ere overthrown." She can
feel some of the blame for Hamlet's state since she rejected him.
The king decides sending Hamlet to England will deal with the problem. Polonius suggests that Hamlet
meet with Gertrude first.

Act Three, Scene Four

Polonius tells Gertrude that he'll be hiding in her room when Hamlet comes. When Hamlet arrives, he spars
with Gertrude and, when she fears he's speaking of killing her, Polonius speaks up. Hamlet slays him by
thrusting a sword through a curtain, thinking it is the king.
Hamlet tells Gertrude that she is complicit in his father's death until Gertrude says...
"Thou turn'st mine eyes into my very soul,
And there I see such black and grained spots
As will not leave their tinct."
The ghost of Hamlet's father appears and commends Hamlet take care of Gertrude. This leaves open the
question of whether the ghost is real or just a projection of Hamlet's.
Hamlet asks his mother to not tell Claudius what Hamlet knows about the death of his father and that she
avoid her new husband's bed.
This scene raises questions about whether Hamlet's mother knew about or participated in her husband's

This scene ends Act Three, with Hamlet facing exile (and death) in England, but he is determined to outwit
his foes yet. He says...
"For 'tis the sport to have the engineer
Hoist with his own petard."

Trumpets play. CLAUDIUS and GERTRUDE enter withROSENCRANTZ, GUILDENSTERN, and attendants.
Welcome, dear Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Ive wanted to see you for a long time now, but I sent for you so
hastily because I need your help right away. Youve probably heard about the change thats come over Hamlet
thats the only word for it, since inside and out hes different from what he was before. I cant imagine whats made
him so unlike himself, other than his fathers death. Since you both grew up with him and are so familiar with his
personality and behavior, Im asking you to stay a while at court and spend some time with him. See if you can get
Hamlet to have some fun, and find out if theres anything in particular thats bothering him, so we can set about
trying to fix it.
Gentlemen, Hamlets talked a lot about you, and I know there are no two men alive hes fonder of. If youll be so
good as to spend some time with us and help us out, youll be thanked on a royal scale.
And you cant put your heads together and figure out why hes acting so dazed and confused, ruining his peace and
quiet with such dangerous displays of lunacy?
He admits he feels confused, but refuses to say why.
And hes not exactly eager to be interrogated. Hes very sly and dances around our questions when we try to get
him to talk about how he feels.
Did he treat you well when you saw him?
Madam, some actors happened to cross our paths on the way here. We told Hamlet about them, and that seemed
to do him good.

Yes, Ill go. As for you, Ophelia, I hope that your beauty is the reason for Hamlets insane behavior, just as I hope
your virtues will return him to normal some day, for the good of both of you.