IOC Discussion: Plot of Hamlet

A1, S1The soldiers on watch learn that the ghost of Hamlet’s father still roams and plot to tell Hamlet of his appearance. Introduced to Marcellus, Horatio and the Ghost.
A1, S2Claudius grants Laertes’ request to return to France and Gertrude urges Hamlet to cease grieving for his father. Hamlet longs for death in his soliloquy but knows it is against God. He is disgusted that his mother remarried. Hamlet is told of the Ghost and tells the others not to divulge the secret. Introduced to Hamlet and Gertrude as well as Claudius. We understand Hamlet is in mourning as Claudius has killed his father. We are introduced to the theme of disturbance, misplacement and corruption.
A1, S3Laertes warns Ophelia not to trust Hamlet as women are vulnerable. Polonius questions Ophelia on her relationship with Hamlet and orders her to stop seeing him. Introduced to Ophelia as Hamlet’s possible romantic interest as well as images of deceit. Polonius warns her of Hamlet’s appearance as a conquest of lust vs. the reality of his royal position.
A1, S4The Ghost appears and Hamlet follows him. He threatens Horatio and Marcellus with death if they attempt to restrain him. The gesture of threatening his friends, the ambiguous nature of the Ghost and Marcellus’ remark (something is rotten in the state of Denmark) creates a sense of corruption.
A1, S5The Ghost says it must return to its sufferings and cannot tell of the horrors it endures. The Ghost commands Hamlet to revenge – Hamlet is eager to take immediate revenge for his father’s murder. The Ghost reveals Claudius killed him and expresses disgust that Gertrude slept with him. Hamlet does not reveal this to his friends and demands they keep it a secret – as well as knowing the true nature of any strange future behavior he exhibits. This scene furthers the distress of familial ties and foreshadows domestic corruption. The Ghost also discusses imagery of Purgatory, Hell and Heaven – underlining his suffering.
A2, S1Polonius meets Reynaldo and tells him to go to Paris and spy on Laertes. Ophelia enters and tells Polonius that she has been horrified by the Prince. Hamlet came to her in her sewing room with his jacket askew and unfastened, and wearing no hat; his stockings were filthy and unfastened, drooping at his ankles; and he was pale and trembling, looking “piteous.” Polonius diagnoses Hamlet’s condition as madness due to his love of Ophelia, brought about because Ophelia obeyed her father and spurned Hamlet’s advances. Polonius decides to take his information to the king. The theme of appearance vs reality is furthered. Polonius appears faithful and trusting to his son, yet employs Reynaldo to spy on him. It appears that Hamlet is mad due to Ophelia’s rejection, yet in reality, he is pretending. The news of his madness is introduced to the king.
A2, S2Polonius tells the king and queen that he has discovered Hamlet’s foiled love of Ophelia, and that he believes this lost love to be the root cause of Hamlet’s madness. He offers to loose Ophelia on Hamlet while he is reading alone in the library. Meanwhile, he suggests, he and Claudius could hide behind a tapestry and observe the meeting. Claudius agrees. Polonius attempts to speak to Hamlet. Hamlet plays with Polonius. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter, surprising their friend Hamlet. When they admit the king sent for them, Hamlet also tells them why they were sent for – because he has been deeply melancholy. The players arrive. Hamlet welcomes them.Hamlet insists upon hearing a speech straight away. The player goes on to speak of the wild grief of Hecuba, Priam’s wife, after her husband has been killed. Hamlet commissions “The Murder of Gonzago.” for the following night, saying that he will write some speeches of his own to be inserted into the play as written.Left alone on stage, Hamlet curses himself and his indecisiveness before cursing his murderous uncle in a rage. He declares his intention to stage a play exactly based on the murder of his father. While it is played he will observe Claudius. The transition from the Hamlet of Act One Scene Five, so willing and eager to kill Claudius, to the Hamlet of Act Two Scene Two, where he is witty and evasive and ultimately impotent, is really quite absurd. It’s almost as though we’ve suddenly landed in another play – one not about revenge, but about something else, about madness or politics or about the very meaning of acting. He blurs the lines between theatricality and reality – which eventually is blurred in his acting of being mad and the reality it becomes. There is a self-awareness and passion in this speech that has not been witnessed before and leads the audience to believe a plan is being made.
A3, S1Claudius and Gertrude discuss Hamlet’s behavior with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who say they have been unable to learn the cause of his melancholy. Claudius and Polonius intend to spy on Hamlet’s confrontation with Ophelia. Hamlet enters speaking “To be, or not to be: that is the question. “Hamlet sees Ophelia approaching. Having received her orders from Polonius, she tells him that she wishes to return the tokens of love he has given her. Angrily, Hamlet denies having given her anything; he laments the dishonesty of beauty, and claims both to have loved Ophelia once and never to have loved her at all. He urges Ophelia to enter a nunnery rather than become a “breeder of sinners”. Ophelia mourns the “noble mind” that has now lapsed into apparent madness.Claudius says that Hamlet’s speech does not seem like the speech of insanity. He says that he fears that melancholy sits on something dangerous in Hamlet’s soul. He declares that he will send Hamlet to England. *See soliloquy analysis to recognize importance. We also see Claudius acting self-interestingly by sending Hamlet away. He recognizes the threat Hamlet poses to him. The theme of insanity vs sanity is present as well, and thus, inherently, appearance vs reality as Hamlet is pretending. It is much debated whether or not Hamlet knows he is being spied on: if yes, his interaction with Ophelia contains double entendres as well as twisted meanings.
A3, S2The castle hall now doubles as a theater. Having told Horatio what he learned from the ghost—that Claudius murdered his father—Hamlet now asks him to watch Claudius during the play so they might gain impressions of his behavior Hamlet warns Horatio that he will begin to act strangely. When Claudius asks how he is, his response seems quite insane: “Excellent, i’ faith; of the chameleon’s dish: I eat the air, promise-crammed” (III.ii.84-86). Hamlet asks Polonius about his history as an actor and torments Ophelia with a string of erotic puns.The players begin to enact the play in full, and we learn that the man who kills the king is the king’s nephew. Hamlet keeps up a running commentary on the characters and their actions. When the murderer pours the poison into the sleeping king’s ear, Claudius rises and cries out for light. The king flees the room, followed by the audience. When the scene quiets, Hamlet is left alone with Horatio.Hamlet and Horatio agree that the king’s behavior was telling. Hamlet continues to act frantic and scatterbrained, speaking glibly and inventing little poems. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern arrive to tell Hamlet that he is wanted in his mother’s chambers. Hamlet says he will go to her in a moment and asks for a moment alone. He steels himself to speak to his mother, resolving to be brutally honest with her but not to lose control of himself. Claudius spies on Hamlet to discover the true nature of his madness, and Hamlet attempts to “catch the conscience of the king” in the theater. The plan is successful as .Hamlet appears more in control of his own behavior in this scene than in the one before, as shown by his effortless manipulations of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and his frank conversation with Horatio. In this scene he seems to prove that he is not insane after all, given the effortlessness with which he alternates between wild, erratic behavior and focused, sane behavior. He is excited but coherent during his conversation with Horatio before the play, but as soon as the king and queen enter, he begins to act insane, a sign that he is only pretending. His only questionable behavior in this scene arises in his crude comments to Ophelia, which show him capable of real cruelty. His interchange with Ophelia is a mere prelude to the passionate rage he will unleash on Gertrude in the next scene.
A3, S3King Claudius speaks to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Badly shaken by the play and now considering Hamlet’s madness to be dangerous, Claudius asks them to escort Hamlet to England. Polonius plans to hide in Gertrude’s room and observe Hamlet’s confrontation with her. He promises to tell Claudius all that he learns. When Polonius leaves, he immediately expresses his guilt and grief over his sin. He longs to ask for forgiveness, but is unprepared to give up the crown and the queen. He falls to his knees and begins to pray.Hamlet slips quietly into the room and steels himself to kill the unseeing Claudius. But it occurs to him that if he kills Claudius, his soul to heaven (proving inadequate revenge). Hamlet decides to wait, resolving to kill Claudius when the king is sinning. Hamlet seems ready to put his desire for revenge into action. He is satisfied that the play has proven his uncle’s guilt. When Claudius prays, the audience is given real certainty that Claudius murdered his brother: a full confession. This only heightens our sense that the climax of the play is due to arrive. But Hamlet waits.Hamlet poses his desire to damn Claudius as a matter of fairness: his own father was killed without having cleansed his soul by praying or confessing, so why should his murderer be given that chance? Having proven his uncle’s guilt to himself, against all odds, Hamlet suddenly finds something else to be uncertain about (see soliloquy table).
A3, S4In Gertrude’s chamber, Polonius plans to hide in order to eavesdrop on Gertrude’s confrontation with her son.Hamlet storms into the room and asks his mother why she has sent for him. She says that he has offended his father. He interrupts her and says that she has offended his father, meaning the dead King Hamlet, by marrying Claudius. Hamlet accosts her with an almost violent intensity and declares his intention to make her fully aware of the profundity of her sin. Fearing for her life, Gertrude cries out. Polonius calls out for help. Hamlet, realizing that someone is behind the arras and suspecting that it might be Claudius, draws his sword and stabs it through the tapestry, killing Polonius. The queen says his action was a “rash and bloody” deed, and Hamlet replies that it was almost as rash and bloody as murdering a king and marrying his brother. Hamlet lifts the arras and discovers Polonius’s body. He turns to his mother, declaring that he will wring her heart. He shows her a picture of the dead king and a picture of the current king, bitterly comments on the superiority of his father to his uncle, and asks her furiously what has driven her to marry a rotten man such as Claudius. The ghost of his father again appears before him.Gertrude is unable to see it and believes him to be mad. Hamlet tries desperately to convince Gertrude that he is not mad but has merely feigned madness all along, and he urges her to forsake Claudius and regain her good conscience. Gertrude agrees to keep his secret. He reminds his mother that he must sail to England. Dragging Polonius’s body behind him, Hamlet leaves his mother’s room. It is possible that he wants her to confirm her knowledge of Claudius’ crime, to provide further proof of his guilt. Or he may feel that he needs her on his side if he is to achieve justice. He repeatedly demands that she avoid Claudius’ bed. Sigmund Freud wrote that Hamlet harbors an unconscious desire to sexually enjoy his mother. Hamlet is thus a quintessentially modern person, because he has repressed desires.Gertrude goes through several states of feeling: she is haughty and accusatory at the beginning, then afraid that Hamlet will hurt her, shocked and upset when Hamlet kills Polonius, overwhelmed by fear and panic as Hamlet accosts her, and disbelieving when Hamlet sees the ghost. Finally, she is contrite toward her son and apparently willing to take his part and help him. It demonstrated her tendency to be dominated by powerful men. Hamlet’s rash, murderous action in stabbing Polonius is an important illustration of his inability to coordinate his thoughts and actions, which might be considered his tragic flaw. In his passive, thoughtful mode, Hamlet is too beset by moral considerations and uncertainties to avenge his father’s death by killing Claudius, even when the opportunity is before him. But when he does choose to act, he does so blindly, stabbing his anonymous “enemy” through a curtain. Hamlet interprets his misdeed within the terms of retribution, punishment, and vengeance.
A4, S1Gertrude asks to speak to the king alone and tells Claudius about her encounter with Hamlet. She says that he is as mad and that Hamlet has killed Polonius. Claudius wonders aloud how he will be able to handle this public crisis without damaging his hold on Denmark. He tells Gertrude that they must ship Hamlet to England at once and find a way to explain Hamlet’s misdeed to the court and to the people. He calls Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, tells them about the murder, and sends them to find Hamlet. Where most of the other male characters in the play, including Hamlet, King Hamlet, Laertes, and Fortinbras, are obsessed with themes of honor, moral balance, and retributive justice, Claudius is a selfish, ambitious king who is more concerned with maintaining his own power and averting political danger than achieving justice through his rule. His response to Gertrude’s revelation that Hamlet has killed Polonius is extremely telling. Rather than considering that Gertrude might have been in danger, he immediately remarks that had he been in the room, he would have been in danger. Hamlet must be sent away from Denmark, he thinks, not as punishment for committing murder but because he represents a danger to Claudius. creates in Claudius a convincing depiction of a conniving, ambitious politician.Hamlet’s sensitive, reflective nature now disappears in the wake of its violent opposite: a rash, murderous explosion of activity.
A4, S2Hamlet has just finished disposing of Polonius’s body. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern appear and ask what he has done with the body. Hamlet refuses to give them a straight answer, instead saying, “The body is with the king, but the king is not with the body” (IV.ii.25-26). He accuses them of being spies in the service of Claudius. At last he agrees to allow Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to escort him to Claudius. Rather than being overwhelmed with contrition, as we might expect of a hero who has committed such a terrible mistake, he seems manic, desperate, and self-righteous, especially in his condemnation of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Hamlet’s biting, ironic wit is combined with his rash, impulsive streak, and his feigned madness seems very close to the real thing. Though Hamlet has many admirable qualities, scenes such as this one serve as powerful reminders that we are not meant to take the prince as an unqualified hero.
A4, S3Claudius explains to his assembled courtiers that he cannot jail his nephew because Hamlet remains too popular with the people. A riot would occur if he punished Hamlet, so he sends him into exile.Guildenstern and the Guards then bring Hamlet in, Claudius demands to know where Hamlet has put Polonius. Hamlet taunts him with images of rotting flesh and the corruption of death. He says that Claudius should seek Polonius in hell, even though the old man would not have arrived there yet either. Instead, Hamlet tells him that, within a month’s time, the smell “up the stairs into the lobby” will reveal to them the whereabouts of the body.Claudius tells Hamlet that a boat waits to take him to England.The King soliloquizes a plea to England to finish the Prince quickly and cleanly. The murder of Polonius and the subsequent traumatic encounter with his mother seem to leave Hamlet in a frantic, unstable frame of mind, the mode in which his excitable nature seems very similar to actual madness. He taunts Claudius, toward whom his hostility is now barely disguised, and makes light of Polonius’s murder with word games. He also pretends to be thrilled at the idea of sailing for England with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.Claudius’ subterfuge in asking the English to execute Hamlet reveals the extent to which he now fears Hamlet: whether Hamlet is sane or mad, he is a danger to Claudius. King Claudius is a crafty politician, constantly working to strengthen his own power, circumvent threats to his throne, and manipulate those around him.
A4, S4Prince Fortinbras marches at the head of his army, traveling through Denmark on the way to attack Poland. Fortinbras orders his captain to go and ask the King of Denmark for permission to travel through his lands. On his way, the captain encounters Hamlet on his way to the ship bound for England. The captain informs them that the Norwegian army rides to fight the Poles. Hamlet asks about the basis of the conflict, and the man tells him that the armies will fight over “a little patch of land / That hath in it no profit”. Astonished by the thought that a bloody war could be fought over something so insignificant, Hamlet marvels that human beings are able to act so violently and for so little gain. By comparison, Hamlet has a great deal to gain from seeking his own revenge on Claudius, and yet he still delays and fails to act toward his purpose. Disgusted with himself for having failed to gain his revenge on Claudius, Hamlet declares that from this moment on, his thoughts will be bloody. This scene the focus of the play to the theme of human action. Hamlet’s encounter with the Norwegian captain serves to remind the reader of Fortinbras’ presence in the world of the play and gives Hamlet another example of the will to action that he lacks. He is awestruck by the willingness of Fortinbras to devote the energy of an entire army to reclaim a worthless scrap of land in Poland. Hamlet considers the moral ambiguity of Fortinbras’ action, but more than anything else he is impressed by the forcefulness of it.
A4, S5Ophelia has become insane. Horatio points out that Ophelia’s mental state may attract undue attention to herself and the crown. Gertrude agrees to speak with Ophelia.Ophelia enters singing fragments of songs about chaos, death, and unrequited love. The King and Queen try to speak with her, but she replies unintelligibly. Claudius comments that her father’s death has undoubtedly driven her mad. Claudius recounts his torment over the slaying of Polonius, the secret burial to avoid uprising, the madness of Ophelia, and the arrival of her brother, Laertes, who means to incite rioting over his father’s death.Laertes tells his mob to keep watch at the door, and he angrily asks Claudius to give him his father. Gertrude tries to calm Laertes, but Claudius tells her to let him rail, that they have nothing to fear. Claudius placates Laertes until Ophelia returns, singing incoherent songs. Ophelia distributes flowers to the assembled people. Laertes, distraught over his sister’s condition, is promised satisfaction in avenging Polonius’ death Gertrude’s demeanor in relation to Ophelia possibly signifies her complicity with Claudius. She seems here to share his preoccupation with the appearance of power. However, Gertrude has presumably served as Queen all of her adult life, and affairs of state would matter to her. Perhaps the fact that her son’s treatment of Ophelia played a part in the girl’s downfall merely embarrasses the Queen. Another entirely justifiable explanation may be that, as a woman of unusual strength, Gertrude despises the weak. Ophelia’s songs all concern unrequited love. The third song, in fact, blatantly indicts a lover who has left his love’s bed. In fact, considering her father’s instructions that she not let Hamlet have his way with her, Polonius’ death could only exacerbate her guilt. Premarital sex was a sin — a sin compounded by her father’s command.Laertes emerges as another foil (opposite) for Hamlet. He, too, has a father to avenge and a woman to protect, but this son wastes no time in thought or word. He threatens the King, only restraining himself when the King promises to assist the younger man in his quest for vengeance. Claudius has consistently orchestrated emotions, and has convincingly played the role of concerned King, friend of Polonius, kindly father figure for Ophelia, and dutiful husband to Gertrude. In his very public show, he manages to manipulate the trust of everyone present.
A4, S6Horatio receives letters from a sailor sent by Hamlet. The first letter tells Horatio that pirates beset the ship on which Hamlet was being carried to England. The pirates took Hamlet captive; they treated him well and brought him back to Denmark. The other letters, says Hamlet’s first letter, are for Horatio to deliver to the King. After he has made the delivery, Horatio is to come immediately to meet Hamlet; Hamlet tells his friend that he has much news to share. Hamlet’s return is a dramatic device providing a deus ex machina (a contrived solution to a problem) for the play’s plot. Shakespeare uses a problem that seriously threatened Elizabethan/ Jacobean security: the prevalence of pirates. Only by returning to the center of the conflict can Hamlet create the forces that drive the climax, denouement, and resolution.
A4, S7Claudius confirms that Hamlet killed Polonius, though seeking to take Claudius’ life.A messenger arrives with the letters Hamlet has sent in Horatio’s care. Knowing that Hamlet is still alive, Claudius offers Laertes an opportunity to kill Hamlet by engaging in swordplay. Claudius promises to arrange a fencing match. Laertes’ foil will have an unblunted point. Thus, Laertes can kill Hamlet in front of an audience, and it will appear to be an accident. Laertes plans to dip his sword in a poison so lethal that a minor scratch will cause instant death. Claudius adds yet another safeguard of poisoning a goblet of wine for Hamlet to drink. Ophelia has drowned, describing the death graphically: how she had fallen in the brook. the willow tree branch on which she was sitting broke so that she tumbled into the water. Laertes finds his grief uncontrollable, and he runs out in a rage. Claudius’ behavior throughout this scene shows him at his most devious and calculating. Claudius’ mind works overtime to derail Laertes’ anger and Claudius decides that the way to appease Laertes was by appearing frank and honest. Claudius has clearly decided that he can appease Laertes’ wrath and dispense with Hamlet in a single stroke: he hits upon the idea of the duel in order to use Laertes’ rage to ensure Hamlet’s death. The resulting plan brings both the theme of revenge and the repeated use of traps in the plot to a new height—Laertes and Claudius concoct not one but three covert mechanisms by which Hamlet may be killed.Ophelia’s tragic death occurs at the worst possible moment for Claudius. As Laertes flees the room in agony, Claudius follows as it was so difficult to appease his anger in the first place. Claudius does not have time to worry about the victims of tragedy—he is too busy dealing with threats to his own power.The image of Ophelia drowning amid her garlands of flowers is important: Ophelia is associated with flower imagery from the beginning of the play. In her first scene, Polonius presents her with a violet; after she goes mad, she sings songs about flowers; and now she drowns amid long streams of them. The fragile beauty of the flowers resembles Ophelia’s own fragile beauty, as well as her nascent sexuality and her exquisite, doomed innocence.
A5, S1Two gravediggers discuss the burial for which they are digging fit for Christian burial. The First Gravedigger argues that the dead woman deserves no such indulgence, because she drowned herself and is not worthy of salvation. The other gravedigger explains that she deserves defending. Hamlet and Horatio enter and question the First Gravedigger.The gravedigger tells Hamlet that he has been digging graves since the day Old King Hamlet defeated Old King Fortinbras, the very birthday of Prince Hamlet, thirty years ago.He mulls again over the nature of life and death. He tosses skulls and parries with the possibilities of what each may have been in life. He asks the gravedigger whose grave he is in, and the gravedigger asserts that the grave is one who was a woman. When Hamlet finds a particular skull, he asks the gravedigger whose it might be. The gravedigger tells him the skull belonged to Yorick, the King’s jester. He dwells on the subject of death and the fact that all men are worm’s meat. Death transforms even great kings like Alexander into trivial objects.Hamlet and Horatio then observe that the Queen, King, and Laertes arrive among a group of mourners escorting a coffin. The funeral is not a full Christian rite but that the body is being interred in sacred ground.The priest refuses the burial saying that, because she committed suicide, he must deny Ophelia the requiem mass.The Queen says: “I hoped thou shouldst have been my Hamlet’s wife.” Hamlet now realizes that it is Ophelia who lies dead in the casket, and he attacks Laertes. Hamlet and Laertes argue over who loved Ophelia best. Claudius asks Horatio to look after Hamlet and promises Laertes immediate satisfaction. The gravediggers indulge in a spate of black comedy that culminates in Hamlet’s matching wits with the adeptly paradoxical First Gravedigger.His juxtaposing of lofty concepts such as theological law against the lowliness of the gravediggers’ station works as the essence of this scene’s comedy. Shakespeare reiterates his theme of death as the great equalizer in this scene while exploring the absolute finality of death. Each of the gravediggers’ references to death foreshadows Hamlet’s imminent participation in several deaths, including his own. Laertes and Hamlet’s fight symbolizes Hamlet’s internal struggle to control his inability to act. Hamlet’s challenging Laertes, whom he calls “a very noble youth,” is uncharacteristically rash. Faced with his mirror opposite, a man who is all impassioned action and few words, Hamlet grapples to prove that he loved Ophelia though he was unable to demonstrate his feelings for her.
A5, S2Hamlet replaced the sealed letter carried by the unsuspecting Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, which called for Hamlet’s execution, with one calling for the execution of the bearers of the letter—Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. He tells Horatio that he has no sympathy for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who betrayed him. In Laertes’ desire to avenge his father’s death, he says, he sees the mirror image of his own desire, and he promises to seek Laertes’ good favor.Their conversation is interrupted by Osric, a foolish courtier who has come to tell them that Claudius wants Hamlet to fence with Laertes. Against Horatio’s advice, Hamlet agrees to fight. The court marches into the hall, and Hamlet asks Laertes for forgiveness, claiming that it was his madness, and not his own will, that murdered Polonius. Laertes says that he will not forgive Hamlet.They select their foils (blunted swords used in fencing), and the king says that if Hamlet wins the first or second hit, he will drink to Hamlet’s health, then throw into the cup a valuable gem and give the wine to Hamlet. Hamlet strikes Laertes but declines to drink from the cup, saying that he will play another hit first. He hits Laertes again, and Gertrude rises to drink from the cup. Laertes remarks that to wound Hamlet with the poisoned sword is almost against his conscience. But they fight again, and Laertes scores a hit against Hamlet. Hamlet wounds Laertes with Laertes’ own blade.The queen falls. Laertes, poisoned by his own sword and tells Hamlet the king is to blame both for the poison on the sword and for the poison in the cup. Hamlet forces Claudius to drink down the rest of the poisoned wine. Claudius dies crying out for help. Hamlet tells Horatio that he is dying and exchanges a last forgiveness with Laertes, who dies after absolving Hamlet.Fortinbras has come in conquest from Poland. Hamlet tells Horatio again that he is dying, and urges his friend not to commit suicide in light of all the tragedies, but instead to stay alive and tell his story. He says that he wishes Fortinbras to be made King of Denmark; then he dies.Fortinbras announces that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead: he orders for Hamlet to be carried away like a soldier. The violence, so long delayed, erupts with dizzying speed. Characters drop one after the other, poisoned, stabbed, and, in the case of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, executed, as the theme of revenge and justice reaches its conclusion in the moment when Hamlet finally kills Claudius. In the moments before the duel, Hamlet seems peaceful. He seems reconciled to the idea of death and no longer troubled by fear of the supernatural. Exactly what has caused the change in Hamlet is unclear, but his desire to attain Laertes’ forgiveness clearly represents an important shift in his mental state. Whereas Hamlet previously was obsessed almost wholly with himself and his family, he is now able to think sympathetically about others. His murder of Polonius does punish him in the end, since it is Laertes’ vengeful rage over that murder that leads to Hamlet’s death – perhaps mirroring that vengeance, in general, provokes death.That death is neither heroic nor shameful, according to the moral logic of the play. Hamlet achieves his father’s vengeance, but only after being spurred to it by the most extreme circumstances one might consider possible.The arrival of Fortinbras effectively poses the question of political legitimacy once again. In marked contrast to the corrupted and weakened royal family lying dead on the floor, Fortinbras clearly represents a strong-willed, capable leader.