Act IV, Scene 1
The King approaches Gertrude to figure out what happened when she spoke with Hamlet. Gertrude decides it would probably be best to tell the King about what happened without anyone else around, so she dismisses Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
Once they’re gone, she tells the King that Hamlet, in his madness, stabbed Polonius while he was hidden behind a curtain. The King, always focused on the important point, quickly realizes that it could have been him behind the curtain. It could have been he that was killed, which would have been the real tragedy. He asked where Hamlet is now and Gertrude tells him that Hamlet dragged the body off somewhere. Claudius promises to have Hamlet sent away by morning.
Claudius recalls Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who were apparently just outside. (I like to think that they were listening at the door). Claudius explains the situation and then tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to go find Hamlet and retrieve the body. They run off to do that super simple errand (*sarcasm*)
Once again Claudius displays his ability to focus on what is really important: making sure he is not in any way blamed for this situation. He decides they should go and explain the situation to all of their friends and make it clear that they intend to send Hamlet away. Hopefully then, he and Gertrude won’t suffer any negative consequences of their friend’s murder…
Act IV, Scene 2
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern find Hamlet just after he stowed the body. They ask him to bring them to the body, so they can take it to the chapel. Hamlet, being “crazy”, does not give them an answer. Instead, he calls them a sponge that soaks up everything the King wants and then, when the King needs it, he can wring them out.
They don’t understand what he is saying, which is okay because, according to Hamlet, fools don’t understand mockery.
They ask again for the body. Hamlet still won’t answer, but will let them take him to the King.
Act IV, Scene 3
Claudius is busy telling all his friends that Hamlet is not just insane, but dangerously insane. And, for the protection of everyone, Hamlet must be sent away.
Rosencrantz enters to tell Claudius that they found Hamlet, but he won’t tell them where the body is. The King allows Hamlet to enter, so that he can try to figure it out.
The first time Claudius asks, Hamlet says that Polonius is at dinner. A dinner where he is the one eaten by worms. The same worms that will eat every man, rich or poor, even a King. Then, that worm may be used as bait to catch a fish that feeds a beggar and so the body of a King travels through the guts as a beggar.
Claudius doesn’t find this amusing and asks again. Hamlet tells him to send someone to look for Polonius in heaven, or look for him in Hell himself. He basically tells his uncle/stepdad to go to hell. However, if they don’t find Polonius soon, they will certainly smell him as they go up the stairs into the lobby. Claudius sends some servants off to find him. Hamlet let’s them know that Polonius will wait until they get there.
Now Claudius is completely fed up with Hamlet’s shenanigans, so he tells Hamlet that he is being sent to England. Hamlet seems cool with it. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern escort Hamlet off to England.
Claudius reveals to us that he plans to have Hamlet killed by the King of England.
Act IV, Scene 4
Fortinbras pops in real quick to remind us that he is still a thing. He sends a messenger to Claudius to ensure that he will have safe passage to Poland.
He departs just as Hamlet and his crew come by. Hamlet asks a captain what army this is and what they are doing. The Captain explains that it is Fortinbras come to take some worthless land from Poland. Hamlet assumes that Poland won’t defend this useless bit of land, but the Captain informs him that they are already prepared to defend it. Hamlet comments on the fact that a lot of lives and money will be spent defending something completely useless.
Hamlet asks to be alone for a moment to spend a little time contemplating life and the point of it all. You know, sticking with what he’s good at. Hamlet reflects on how the universe seems to be conspiring against him and preventing him from taking action. For, it is action that separates man from beast. He has the will, a good reason, the strength and ability to kill Claudius and yet Claudius is still alive. He can’t really pinpoint why that is.
He compares himself to Fortinbras and his army. These men are marching to their deaths for nothing more significant than honor. Hamlet has been dishonored, but has been unable to act on it. He commits himself to thinking about nothing but revenge until the deed is done.
Act IV, Scene 5
Horatio and another Gentleman think the Queen should take some time to speak with Ophelia. Gertrude doesn’t want to bother, but they explain that grief over her father has caused her to lose her mind and that might spurn some ill will against Gertrude and Claudius. Gertrude reluctantly agrees even though she is already burdened with a hefty amount of guilt.
They were not kidding about Ophelia being driven mad by grief. She sings a song about a dead lover. Gertrude is unable to get through to her.
Claudius comes in. She briefly talks nonsense to him before breaking into a song about a woman who loses her virginity to a jerk who refuses to marry her. Before she leaves, she comments on how it hurts her to think about burying her father, but her brother will be there soon.
Claudius laments all their troubles. First, Polonius is killed. Then Hamlet, having killed Polonius, had to be sent away. Now, Laertes is returned and gathering support for his cause to avenge his father. It all looks pretty bad for Claudius.
Just at that moment Laertes arrives with the rabble to kill the King and claim the throne. Claudius and Gertrude try to talk him down. He wants to know who murdered his father, so he can seek revenge. Claudius confirms that nothing will stop him from seeking revenge on the man that killed his father. Then, he explains that he was innocent in Polonius’ death and quite upset about it.
The crowd outside lets Ophelia in, so Laertes can see just how bad it really is. He’s shocked to see his sister in such a state. She sings a nice song. He admits that if she was well and pleading him to seek revenge, she could not have made him more committed to do so. She keeps on singing and giving him flowers that symbolize different things. The song, of course, is about death. She wanders off again because apparently we just let the mad woman wander wherever she pleases.
Claudius proposes that Laertes call forth his closest and wisest friends. These friends will hear the King’s case for why he is innocent. If his explanation is not to their satisfaction, he will give up his kingdom and his life. That seems fair to Laertes because he wants his questions answered. Apparently, Polonius did not get the funeral he deserved. They go off to chat about it.
Act IV, Scene 6
Two sailors deliver a letter from Hamlet to Horatio. It explains that when they were at sea, they were attacked by pirates. In the fray, Hamlet boarded their ship and became a prisoner. They treated him well and he asks Horatio to come to him. Apparently he has some hot gossip about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
Horatio, of course, heads off immediately.
I have a do an aside here because there is something that bothers me. He told his mom not to interfere with the plans to send him to England. It was all apparently part of his plan, so here is my question: did Hamlet set up the pirates or just luck out? It may be a question we are unable to answer.
Act IV, Scene 7
Laertes is satisfied that Claudius had nothing to do with his father’s death. In fact, Hamlet was a threat to Claudius as well. What Laertes doesn’t understand is why Claudius didn’t just kill Hamlet. Claudius has two reasons. First of all, it would upset Gertrude to have her new husband execute her only son. She seems fond of Hamlet for some reason. Second, the people also seem to have a special place in their heart for Hamlet (like he’s the rightful king or something). Claudius can’t be upsetting the people right now. Don’t worry though, he has a plan for Hamlet…
Before he can tell Laertes his dastardly plans, a messenger arrives with the letters from Hamlet. Hamlet says he back in the kingdom, alone, and will explain everything to the King tomorrow. Claudius and Laertes are both perplexed, but Laertes is pumped to have his revenge.
Claudius still wants to make it look like Hamlet’s death was an accident, so he proposes a plan to Laertes. You see, a Frenchman named Lamond came to a tournament at Elsinore. He was a wonder to behold apparently and told everyone how amazing Laertes was at pretty much everything, but especially fencing. This apparently made Hamlet super jealous.
Before going on, Claudius makes sure the Laertes is ready to do whatever it takes to avenge his father. He is.
Claudius proposes that Laertes challenge Hamlet to a duel. Hamlet will be unable to resist and will be unlikely to check the rapiers. This will allow Laertes to pick one that is still sharp and he can stab Hamlet. Laertes likes this plan and decides to add poison to his sword to make sure Hamlet ends up dead. Claudius likes the idea of a back up so much that he decides to add a poison drink to the mix.
Gertrude unknowingly interrupts the plans to kill her son to deliver the sad news that Ophelia is dead. She drowned in the river while picking flowers. Laertes storms off in a rage. Gertrude and Claudius follow to try and calm him back down.
Act V, Scene 1
Two gravediggers discuss how Ophelia will have a Christian burial even though she may have committed suicide. Apparently, the church has found that she did not drown herself willingly. One gravedigger doesn’t believe this because it’s not like the water jumped up and drowned her. She had to go in. She’s probably getting a Christian burial because she’s rich.
They begin their digging and discuss the fine qualities of those that are gravediggers. They take a side bar to discuss Adam being a gentleman because he had arms (a play on the word for the body part and arms meaning weapons). Then, one gravedigger poses a riddle. He asks who builds stronger than a mason, a shipwright, or a carpenter. The second gravedigger guesses the gallows maker because the gallows outlives a thousand tenants. It’s a good guess, but wrong. The same could be said for churches.
The second gravedigger takes too long to guess, so the first gravedigger explains that it’s a gravedigger because what he builds lasts until doomsday. The second gravedigger gets sent off in his shame to get liquor.
Hamlet and Horatio walked in during the end of the riddle exchange. Now, they watch the gravedigger work and sing. Hamlet is taken aback at how casually this man digs graves. Horatio assumes it’s because he has been doing it for so long. Hamlet doesn’t think that’s an excuse.
The gravedigger starts tossing skulls out. Now Hamlet is even more appalled. Those skulls were people. Everything they did in life, all of the potentially important things have come to this, to their skulls being tossed around by this clown. Hamlet’s going to say something.
He asks whose grave it is. The gravedigger says it’s his. They go back and forth debating the meaning of who owns the grave. Hamlet clarifies by asking who the grave is for. The gravedigger informs him that it is for no man or woman because it is for someone who was a woman, but now is dead. Hamlet realizes that he must be very precise in his language.
They talk for awhile about how Hamlet is mad and sent to England. The gravedigger is clearly unaware that he is speaking to Hamlet. Then, the gravedigger explains how long it takes a body to rot away completely.
He pulls out Yorick’s skull. Yorick was the King’s jester. Hamlet takes the time to remember Yorick and all his jokes. His jokes, like everything else have turned to dust. Hamlet and Horatio muse about how Alexander the Great likewise died, was buried, and rotted away.
The King and mourners approach, so Hamlet and Horatio hide themselves. Laertes asks what else will be done to celebrate his sister. The priest informs him that nothing else will be done. Her death may have been a suicide, so she is only being buried in the church yard because the King intervened.
Gertrude mourns Ophelia and wishes she were Hamlet’s bride. Laertes leaps into the grave and dramatically asks to be buried with his sister. Hamlet pops out to argue that he loved Ophelia more than Laertes ever would. Laertes didn’t take this too well and they had a physical fight at a funeral. They make good choices. Claudius tries to calm Laertes down by explaining that Hamlet is crazy pants, so they can’t take anything he says too seriously. Hamlet insists he loved Ophelia more and runs off, Horatio close behind.
Claudius tells Gertrude to get control of her son and reminds Laertes of their plan.
Act V, Scene 2
Hamlet tells Horatio all about what happened on the boat. He snuck around the cabin while Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were sleeping. He found the letter and opened it. The King asked the King of England to kill Hamlet. Hamlet decided it would be HILARIOUS to change the letter so it said to kill Rosencrantz and Guildenstern instead. Then, he used his father’s signet ring to seal the letter with the royal seal.
Horatio somehow seems surprised that Claudius would order Hamlet’s death. Hamlet reminds him that Claudius already murdered his father and wed his mother. And, to be fair, he has a point.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are surely dead by now. The news should reach Claudius soon.
Hamlet feels bad about going off on Laertes.
Osric, a replacement for Polonius (likely played by the same actor), comes in with a message from the King. Hamlet, never missing the opportunity to mess with a nobleman, won’t give straight answers and asks for lots of unnecessary clarification. Osric, of course, falls for all the shenanigans and the conversation lasts three times longer than necessary.
The point is that Laertes is super great at fencing, also daggers, but mostly fencing. Claudius has placed a wager that Hamlet can beat Laertes. Hamlet agrees to the duel.
In a mere matter of moments, Osric has delivered the news that Hamlet agreed and the duel was set up. Before we know it, they are ready to fight.
Hamlet, as advised by his mother, first asks for Laertes forgiveness. He asserts that it was not he who offended Laertes, but his madness. Laertes, like a gentleman, forgives him.He’s still going to try and kill him, but you know, in the spirit of forgiveness. Hamlet believes the two are partaking in a friendly fight.
Claudius reminds Hamlet of the wager and then pours a drink for Hamlet should he get the first or second blow.
Laertes and Hamlet begin fencing. Hamlet gets the first hit, but wants to finish the duel before drinking. As they continue fighting, Gertrude drinks to Hamlet’s health…out of the poison cup. Laertes draws blood, they scuffle, Hamlet gets the sword and stabs Laertes.
The Queen falls dying. Horatio realizes they both are bleeding. The Queen reveals that she was poisoned before dying. Laertes admits to the whole plot before also dying. Hamlet kills Claudius before also dying.
As Hamlet dies, Horatio swears to follow after him. Hamlet won’t let him. Someone has to tell the story.
Fortinbras comes in, I imagine surprised at the bloody scene. He wants to hear what happened and then turn his attention to ruling Denmark because it’s apparently his now. Horatio prepares to tell of the story of how everyone’s plot ended up killing them all.