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Hamlet Act IV, Scene v Summary

  • A few weeks later at the palace, we learn from some random gentlemen talking with the Queen and Horatio that Ophelia is totally nuts.
  • She's been wandering around the palace and singing old songs. Though there's nothing in her songs in particular, the listeners who want to think naughty things are able to weave the nonsense together into some gossipy messages.
  • Someone should definitely put an end to this.
  • Ophelia then enters and shares a little song with us about death and flowers. She sings some more nonsense about love and ends up generally cursing the faithlessness of men.
  • There's even a song in here about how to get a girl into bed by promising you'll marry her, and then not marrying her because she's no longer a virgin.
  • We're basically left wondering whether the cause of Ophelia's madness is her dead father, or Hamlet, who may or may not have taken her virginity.
  • Claudius laments how sad it is that (1) Polonius is dead, (2) Ophelia is crazy, and (3) Hamlet had been tragically sent off to England.
  • But then Laertes shows up. (Remember, he's Ophelia's brother and Polonius's son, and he's been away at school.) He's come back determined to avenge his father's murder.
  • He blows into the palace like a thunderstorm of fury with a big group of guys yelling that Laertes should be king.
  • Claudius calms the hyped-up college kid and convinces him that Polonius's death is not his (Claudius's) fault. He does, however, leave the door open about whose fault it might be.
  • History Snack: Laertes's revolt would have struck a sensitive cord with Shakespeare's audience, since England's monarchs were under constant threat of rebellion. For example, in 1601, the Earl of Essex (who was once one of the Queen's favorite courtiers) stormed the palace. Essex's revolt failed, but it was a dangerous reminder that monarchs were never safe.
  • He's not too happy about Ophelia, either.
  • Ophelia then hands out very symbolic flowers. Most importantly, she says she'd like to give violets, which represent faithfulness, but they all died when her father passed away.
  • Claudius is delighted to egg on the furious Laertes to revenge.

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