Act V – Scene.ii
The opening of the scene shows us a more relaxed
Hamlet, who is clear in his mind what he has to do in order to obey his father’s wishes.
He conveys to Horatio the actual events regarding his voyage to England.
Whilst Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were asleep, Hamlet searched through their belongings and discovered letters addressed to the English King. He carefully opened these and found that Claudius has requested the King of England to imprison and behead Hamlet as quickly as possible. Hamlet hands the letters to Horatio. Hamlet composed a second set of letters in the same style, but these ordered Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to be killed. These letters he sealed with father’s State seal, which he still carries. Horatio is horrified at the behavior of Claudius and Hamlet reminds him that Claudius usurped the throne, made his mother a whore, and robbed Hamlet of his birthright when he poisoned King Hamlet. Hamlet assures Horatio that he will now work quickly to eliminate the King before news is received from England.
Osric, a courtier, enters and asks Hamlet to attend the court and duel with
Laertes. The King has wagered that Hamlet will win. Hamlet tells Osric that he will accept the challenge.
Horatio is uneasy about the duel and asks Hamlet to take care, but Hamlet
intends to face his destiny.
The scene is set for the duel and the King calls the two parties together,
and they clasp hands. Hamlet requests that Laertes forgives his earlier acts of madness and says that he also regrets the death of Polonius. Laertes responds by saying that he bears Hamlet no grudge.
Osric brings in the swords and Laertes makes sure he chooses the poisoned
sword for himself. The King sets out wine for the duelists and holds up the cup intended for Hamlet.
The two commence their duel and Hamlet wins the first strike. Claudius
holds up Hamlet’s goblet and takes a drink and drops a pearl, his gift to Hamlet, into the wine.
Hamlet wins the second strike and Gertrude states ‘our son shall win’. She takes Hamlet’s wine, wipes his brow and offers him a drink. He refuses. Gertrude then toasts her son before Claudius can stop her.
The two commence their duel again and this time Hamlet is hit with the
poisoned tip of Laertes’ sword. Both drop their swords and in the scuffle Hamlet grabs Laertes’ sword and Laertes picks up Hamlet’s.
Hamlet then hits Laertes with the poisoned sword. The Queen then falls and she cries out that the drink has poisoned her.
Hamlet orders the doors locked so that the King cannot escape.
The dying Laertes reveals the plot to Hamlet and in his fury Hamlet runs his sword through Claudius shouting ‘Venom do thy work’. He then takes the remaining poisoned wine and forces it down the King’s throat.
Hamlet and Laertes forgive one another and then Laertes dies.
Hamlet says to Horatio, ‘I am dead. Tell my story’.
Just then Fortinbras arrives after his battle with the Poles, and Hamlet
tells Horatio to make sure that the Danish crown passes to Fortinbras.
With the words ‘The rest is silence’, Hamlet dies.
The English ambassador arrives to disclose that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
have been executed.
Hamlet is buried with full military honors and Fortinbras takes control of
It is appropriate to look back over the play in order
to comprehend Hamlet’s final fate. He was doomed from the moment the ghost of his father instructed him to avenge his murder.
Hamlet was reluctant to act on these orders until he was absolutely sure of
the ghost’s honesty. During this time, he either pretended to be, or actually went, mad. He rejected Ophelia, the woman he supposedly loved.
He killed her father and two of his school chums. His actions caused the suicide of Ophelia, and he also inadvertently killed Laertes, and then finally he killed Claudius. As a by-product of this, his mother was also poisoned.
The audience never gets to know the real Hamlet, but one can assume that he
was very much like Horatio, and some scholars believe that Shakespeare meant us to see Hamlet in Horatio.
At the end of the play, we see that Hamlet too can be cold-hearted and
ruthless, and rather than kill Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in their sleep, he hatches an ironic and cunning plan for their torment and death.
It is interesting to note that Hamlet wishes to be reconciled with Laertes
before they fight, as he feels significant guilt regarding the death of Polonius and Ophelia. When they are both dying, they forgive one another so that they can enter heaven.
What is still unclear is whether Hamlet knows about the plot hatched by
Claudius and Laertes, but he does refuse the wine that Claudius offers him. Does he suspect that it is poisoned?
After Gertrude takes the fatal drink, he says ‘I dare not drink yet, madam,
by and by’. Does Hamlet consider that the wine will dull his fencing skills, or is it poisoned? However, he does not attempt to stop his mother drinking the wine.
We then come to Gertrude’s part in this.
Does she die through an accident, or is it suicide? Does she know that Claudius has poisoned the wine, and drinks it to save her son? In either event, she dies and her death encourages Hamlet to finally kill Claudius. This, together with Laertes’ revelation about the murder plot, results in Hamlet killing Claudius, not in a premeditated way, but in full fury.
Shakespeare is great at bringing action to the audience.
A simple stabbing is not sufficient he has Hamlet force the poisoned wine down the King’s throat. Claudius killed his brother with poison, and now he himself is poisoned.
Shakespeare also ensures that this action is the focal point of the stage.
There is no reaction from the court, which just watch as Prince Hamlet kills their King.
Hamlet’s final act is to ask his loyal friend, Horatio, to tell his story
and ensure that the crown passes to Fortinbras. It is clear that Hamlet recognizes in Fortinbras, a kindred spirit, and someone who will restore honor to Denmark.
‘To be or not to be, that is the question? Whether it is nobler in
the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, or by opposing, end them. To die, to sleep no more and by a sleep to say we end the heartache and the
thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.
‘Tis a consummation devoutly wished. To die, to sleep. To sleep, perchance to dream. Aye there’s the rub. Or in that sleep of death, what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil ''''''''' this conscience makes cowards of us all’.
This play is all about what makes Hamlet tick, and the ‘To be or not to be’
soliloquy gives us the best insight as to what is going on inside Hamlet’s head. He explores the questions of why we are born, why we live and what happens when we die. As no one has come back from the
dead, this is the great unknown.
This haunts Hamlet and has a marked effect on the actions that he takes or doesn’t take. These are questions that many of us ask ourselves today. Should we try to affect our fate? When we are faced with great sorrow, do we suffer it or try and do something to ease our sorrow, and is revenge an answer to this? The last question he asks is do we sleep in death, or do we cease to sleep, therefore finding no rest at all.
In Shakespearean times, humans were preoccupied by being punished after
death in respect of all the sins committed.
Hamlet hates being trapped by the instructions he has received from the ghost, his father, and curses his
bad luck for having been born at all.