Study Guide

Hamlet Act IV, Scene v

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Act IV, Scene v

  • 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) Hamlet had to be sent off to England, (3) Ophelia is crazy, and (4) Laertes has secretly arrived from France and is being bombarded with gossip about his father's death, which Claudius is sure is going to get pinned on him. (Remember, they tried to sweep that one under the rug so Hamlet would be spared.)
  • Claudius and Gertrude hear noises within and learn that Laertes has broken into the castle with a group of followers who are demanding he be made king. Speak of the devil. 
  • Laertes blows into the palace like a thunderstorm demanding to see Claudius.
  • Claudius calms the hyped-up college kid and convinces him that he needs to take care to focus his vengeance on the proper target. 
  • 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.
  • Laertes is pretty worked up after seeing Ophelia, and Claudius is delighted to egg on the furious Laertes to revenge. He tells Laertes to gather his buddies and have them listen to his explanation of what happened to Polonius. If they think Claudius is guilty, he'll gladly give up his crown. And if not, then Claudius will help Laertes bring the right villain to justice.

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