Hamlet, Corrupt society – Act 4

Act 4 scene 1 – Gertrude tells Claudius that Hamlet killed Polonius. She knows he is not mad now and to protect him she gives a distorted version of events. Claudius sends R & G to fetch Hamlet and they are to leave for England immediately. Meanwhile, Claudius will try to avoid further damage to his own reputation as a result of Polonius’ murder. Gertrude defends Hamlet, “He weeps for what is done” but it is only now that she defends him when it is too late, after he has been driven to murder. Is there a flaw in Gertrude’s personality in this respect? Claudius is only concerned about his reputation despite his friend and counsellor being murdered “may miss our name”.
Act 4, scene 2 – R & G find Hamlet, ask him where Polonius’ body is, and summon him to go with them to Claudius. Hamlet is unhelpful and in the end turns and runs away, offering to play hide and seek. Hamlet tells R & G that Claudius is using them, “it is but squeezing you and, sponge, you shall be dry again”
Act 4 -scene 3 – Claudius fears for his own life. R infirms him that Hamlet has been captured and waits outside under guard. Claudius sends for him and asks where the body of Polonius is Hamlet uses his “antic disposition” to mock Claudius. Claudius tells Hamlet that he is sending him to England for his own safety. He reveals his plan to have Hamlet killed in England. Hamlet is amoral from here on out and is almost as villanous as Claudius. Shakespeare offers a simple perspective on all of humankind as being equal in the end as we all, beggars or kings, end up the same way, “Your fat king and your lesn beggar is but variable service – two dishes, but to ine table – that’s the end”. This poses the question, why are there differences in class? To have marginalised people in society is futile when in the end we are merely food for the “worm that hath eat a king”. Shakespeare not only tries to portray corruption and apathy through the heriarchal characters such as Gertrude, Claudius and Polonius, but through Hamlet’s words as he becomes increasingly desensitised as the play develops. Ironically, Hamlet is becoming more like Claudius at this point in the play. Claudius, in his soliloquy speaks of his plan to have Hamlet die in England and that he won’t be happy until he is dead, “Till I know ’tis done, Howe’er my haps, my joys were ne’er begun.” The fact that Claudius says here that no matter what happens to him, he still wants Hamlet dead, in this there is pure ruthlessness for the sake of it.
Act 4, scene 4 – Hamlet meditates once again on teh cintrast between Fortinbras and himself as he meets them on his way to the harbour setting out for England. In his 6th soliloquy Hamlet tries to justify his plan to kill his uncle, “Sith I have cause, and will, and strength , and means To do’t”. He yearns to have “Bestial onblivion” in order to act on the revenge his late father’s asked of him. While he contrasts his lack of bravery to kill to that of Fortinbras p, he refers to him as a “delicate and tender prince”. Referring to a man who can effortlessly kill “twenty thousand me”, as delicate and tender is a bit of a paradox begging the question, is there any justice in killing, military or not? If Hamlet aspires to being like Fortinbras who has the power and the ruthlessness to have two thousand men killed then what does this say about Hamlet and the society in which he lives? “My thiughts be bloody, or be nothing worth”, Hamlet yearns to be more ruthless than he is.
Act 4, scene 4 – Ophelia has lost her sanity over her father’s death. The fact that Hamlet hasn’t actually gone mad, ( or has he?) makes us question what he is more uoset about, his father’s death or his mother’s incestuous marraige. Laertes demands to know how his father died and Claudius assures him that the murderer will not go unpunished. Despite her madness however, Ophelia reveals the play’s core message that once one has lost one’s mind, every tivial event foretells some disaster. In other words, one bad thought leads to another, “To my sick soul, as sin’s true nature is, Each toy seems prologue to soem great amiss”. Another very philosophical message in the play.Claudia’s iterates a simliar point “when sorrows come, theyou come not single pies,But in battalions”. Referring to her father’s death, Claudius pretends to have empathy for Ophelia. He momentarily shows some heart through the word “sorrows” yet in the same speech belittles the death of Polonius as “buzzers to infect his ear” when he speaks about Laurie’s not needing to hear “pestilenthe speeches” about his father’s death. Claudius is a true hypocrite plaumause everyone around him. Ironically, Laertes’ expression of his grief for his deceased father is treated wit has compassion by Gertrude and Claudia’s. Laertes’ narrative of his feelings about Polonius’ death mirrors Hamlet’s state of mind early on in the play, a man grieving for his father.
Act 4, scene 6 – Hamlet sends Horatio a letter informing him of his return to Denmark and asks him to deliver letters to his mother and his uncle and then to meet him asap. Hamlet, tnrough the tone in the letter to Horatio is portrayed in a way that we have not seen before. He seems confident and upbeat. This shows how once Hamlet (or anyone) is away from corruption and a society in which evil prevails, he becomes the better version of himself/ of man. Albeit I very short scene, it is a very significant one regarding the theme of corruption in society. A more mature, decisive, grounded and confident Hamlet exists temporarily in the play, of only through his words in a letter. Their adds to the tragic element of the play.
Act 4; scene 7 – Claudius and Laertes conspire to killing Hamlet l. Laertes plans to poison him using the tip of his sword in a fencing match and Claudius, to ensure the success of his murder, says he will put poison in Hamlet’seems drink also. Gertrude brings news of Ophelia’s death by do reining. Laertes’ grief is heightened and therefore more vengeful than ever. Claudius wants to be classed as a hero yet he debates the idea that a killer is a hero. Claudius’ arrogance and sense of invincibility prevails and is unhindered by events so far. “I will work him, To an exploit now ripe in my device”.Claudius praises and flatters Laertes with over-the-top compliments even insisting that Hamlet was jealous of Laertes, “Did Hamlet so envelop with his envy”. Here he suggests to Laertes that Hamlet’s jealousy toward Laertes was the reason for the murder of Polonius. Claudius’ increasin ruthlessness and deception causes others to become the same.