Act II, Scene 2 (continued)
Now it’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s turn to figure out just how crazy Hamlet really is. They really should conclude that he is of sound mind because what follows is a quick-witted exchange about a number of topics. First, they joke about Fortune and that she gets around quite a bit. Then, Hamlet calls Denmark a prison and with every retort they fall further down the rabbit it hole of what ambition and dreams are.
Eventually, Hamlet turns the conversation to the important stuff: what, exactly, are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern doing there? They try to be coy, but it doesn’t work. Hamlet quickly gets them to admit that they were sent for. Hamlet explains to them that they are there because he’s deeply depressed and takes delight in nothing.
That’s too bad because Rosencrantz and Guildenstern asked a group of players to come and entertain him. Hamlet is disinterested until he discovers it’s this group of players that he saw at school. He’s surprised they are traveling. It turns out the hoity-toity children’s companies are forcing the proper players to travel.
Hamlet starts to disparage his uncle again, but is cut short by the arrival of the players. He quickly tries to tell Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that he’s not mad before Polonius enters. Polonius is there to tell him about the players – of which Hamlet is already aware. He takes the opportunity to mess with Polonius, who falls for it precisely as expected.
Hamlet asks the lead actor to perform a speech he heard while at school. It was about the death of Priam. He starts the speech and does a magnificent job. The player takes over to finish the speech. Polonius complains it is too long and then starts agreeing with whatever Hamlet says.
Hamlet stops the actor and tells Polonius to take care of them. Polonius tries to say he’ll treat them as he believes actors should be treated, but Hamlet is having none of that. He wants the actors treated with the utmost respect. He sends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern along to make sure it happens.
Before they all depart, Hamlet pulls the lead actor aside to ask them to perform the murder of Gonzaga. He also wants to add some lines. The actor agrees and then Hamlet is alone.
This is when Hamlet comes up with his grand plan. He remarks on how the actor could emote so much emotion over someone as inconsequential as Hecuba. He realizes that he can use the players to act out his father’s murder and trigger Claudius’ guilty conscience. Just to make sure the ghost wasn’t lying…
Act III, Scene 1
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern give the King and Queen a full report. They disclose that even Hamlet admits to being “distracted”, but wouldn’t tell them why. They describe his madness as having a sort of craftiness to it, which is why they couldn’t get any real answers from him. However, the arrival of the players seemed to fill him with some joy. Claudius and Gertrude are happy to watch a play if it makes Hamlet happy. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern depart, their report being finished.
Claudius asks Gertrude to leave so that they can secretly watch Hamlet interact with Ophelia. Gertrude hopes that it is his love for Ophelia that has made Hamlet mad and that her virtue will make him sane again. Ophelia wishes the same thing. Polonius gives his daughter a book, so it won’t look so weird that she’s alone. His plan is to cover up their trickery with false piousness. This causes Claudius to feel a twinge of guilt.
Claudius and Polonius hide themselves as Hamlet wanders in. This is the famous “to be or not to be” speech. Basically, Hamlet wonders if it’s worth living. If the struggle is worth it. Then, he asks Ophelia how she’s doing. She’s good. She wants to return some of his stuff, but he insists he didn’t give her anything. She insists he did. Hamlet tells her that beauty typically corrupts honesty and he never really loved her. This, obviously, causes Ophelia some distress. Hamlet tells her no one should get married anymore and so she should go spend the rest of her days at a nunnery. Then he leaves.
Ophelia mourns the loss of such a mind. Claudius realizes that it is not love that has made him crazy. Hamlet is obviously in some sort of deep depression, but won’t tell anyone why he’s so upset (no one could be this upset over a dead father). Claudius decides to send Hamlet to England, probably so he doesn’t have to deal with his craziness anymore.
Polonius still thinks that it was Hamlet’s unrequited love for Ophelia that started everything. He thinks Claudius should have Gertrude talk to Hamlet and see what she thinks before sending him to England.
Act III, Scene 2
Hamlet tells the actors how to act. They should speak realistically and not flail their arms about. They shouldn’t overdo it, nor should they be too tame. They should keep the tone according to their discretion. (They’re the professionals after all)
Hamlet explains his plan to Horatio, so that he may also watch Claudius to see if he reacts to the altered play in a guilty manner.
Claudius, Gertrude, Ophelia, Polonius, and all the rest enter to view the play. There’s the usual small talk until Hamlet asks to lay in Ophelia’s lap. She says no. He explains just his head, not sex…did she think he meant sex? Ophelia comments on his good mood. Hamlet comments on his mother’s ability to completely forget his father.
The play begins with the King and Queen discussing their love. The Queen goes on and on and on about how she will never love anyone else even long after her husband has died. The king doubts this and then goes to sleep.
Hamlet asks Gertrude how she likes the play. She thinks the Queen is silly. Claudius thinks there is some fault in the Queen’s argument.
The play continues with the King being murdered by having poison poured into his ear. Hamlet interrupts a lot to be snarky. At the moment of the murder, Claudius stands up and storms out. Everyone but Hamlet and Horatio follow. Hamlet and Horatio agree that it is pretty clear that Claudius is guilty.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern come back to tell Hamlet that Claudius is not happy and his mother wants to see them. Hamlet quips back to every request with a mostly nonsensical answer. Then, he asks Guildenstern to play a recorder. Guildenstern can’t and says as much. Hamlet insists that he must be willing to try since he also has no skill at playing Hamlet (burn!).
Polonius comes in to try and get Hamlet to come to Gertrude’s room. Hamlet starts talking about a cloud and how it looks like many different animals. Polonius agrees repeatedly and Hamlet finally tells him he will go to see Gertrude.
Once Hamlet is alone, Hamlet explains how he will be harsh toward his mother, but not unkind.
Act III, Scene 3
Claudius can’t stand Hamlet or have him stirring up trouble all over Denmark. Hamlet obviously has to go to England and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are to take him. Both men agree that it is too dangerous to have Hamlet in Elsinore.
Polonius stops by to tell him that Hamlet is on his way to see Gertrude. Polonius is going to hide himself and will report back later.
Claudius laments the fact that his whole life is now stained with his brother’s blood. He kneels down to pray for forgiveness.
Hamlet sees him at prayer and briefly thinks about killing him, but then realizes that if Claudius is killed in prayer, he’ll go to heaven. Hamlet can’t have that, so he’ll wait until Claudius is up to no good, like drinking or gambling.
Claudius finishes praying and reveals that he’s not really sorry and so cannot go to heaven. A missed opportunity for Hamlet.
Act III, Scene 4
Gertrude tells Hamlet that he has offended his father. Hamlet retorts that she has offended his father. She has no time for his sass. Has he forgotten who he is talking to? He knows it’s his mom, but he keeps up the sass. He will not let her leave until she realizes what she has done. She fears for her life and calls for help.
Polonius also calls out for help and Hamlet stabs him. Gertrude is understandably upset and Hamlet asks if it is the King. He compares his act of murder to his mother’s act of killing a King and marrying his brother. Gertrude is confused. Hamlet realizes he killed Polonius and is mildly disappointed.
Hamlet tries to make Gertrude see the error of her ways. She seems oblivious until he goes on at length about the relationship between the two brothers. She sees now that what she did is kind of gross. Hamlet keeps going, but Gertrude doesn’t want to hear any more.
Cue ghost dad. Hamlet assumes the ghost is there to scold him for being mean to his mother, which he kind of is. He tells Hamlet to comfort his mother. Hamlet asks her how she is doing. Turns out she’s distressed. Her son is clearly bonkers and now is talking to nothing. Hamlet is shocked that she can’t see ghost dad. The ghost takes this opportunity to leave.
Hamlet asks his mother not to sleep with Claudius anymore. She agrees. Hamlet admits he’s sorry for killing Polonius. He makes sure his mother won’t sleep with Claudius. She still agrees. He reminds her that he’s being sent to England and urges her not to interfere. It’s all part of his plan. He wishes his mother goodnight and drags Polonius’ body behind him.