RQ: Hamlet, Act 4.1-4.4.4

Featured Image: Andrea Mantegna, The di sotto in sù ceiling panel of the Camera picta.


Keep the following questions in mind as you read Hamlet, Act 4, Scenes 1-4. The questions are designed to guide your reading practices and our class discussions. You are not required to provide formal answers in class or online.


What does Claudius want Gertrude to “translate” for him (4.1.2)?

Does Gertrude fulfill her promise to Hamlet?

Who’s responsible for Polonius’s murder? How does Claudius respond to Polonius’s murder?

What does Claudius mean when he says that he must “Both countenance and excuse” (4.1.32) Polonius’s murder?

How/why does Claudius begin to figure Hamlet, his actions and his “madness,” as a disease, which has infected the state (4.1.19-22; 4.310-11; and 4.3.64-5)


Why does Hamlet call Rozencrantz a “sponge” (4.2.11 & 19)?

What does Hamlet mean when he says, “The King is a thing” (4.2.26)?

In Q1, these lines come earlier in the play at 3.2.342-63 during Hamlet and R& G’s exchange about recorders (3.2.342-63). Do you think that placement is better or worse?


What stops Claudius from putting “the strong law,” (4.3.3) on Hamlet? In other words, what holds Claudius back from punishing Hamlet to the greatest extent of the of which he is the final judge/jury?

How does Hamlet respond when asked where he has deposited Polonius’s body?

What do you make of Hamlet’s ecology: “Your worm is your only emperor for diet. We fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots. Your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service, two dishes but to one table. That’s the end” (4.3.21-24)?

According to Hamlet, how does “nature” threaten political systems from the inside?

What’s going to happen to Hamlet after R & G deliver Claudius’s letter? Why does Claudius trust the King of England will do as he commands?


Where are Fortinbras and his army, who Hamlet sees cross through Denmark, going to attack?

What do you make of the Captain’s explanation of the war they are all about to fight:

Truly to speak, and with no addition,

We go to gain a little patch of ground

That hath in it no profit but the name.

To pay five ducats—five—I would not farm it,

Nor will it yield to Norway or the Pole

A ranker state should it be sold in fee. (4.4.16-21)

How does Hamlet respond to the sight of Fortinbras marching across Denmark to attack Poland?

Is his response in proportion to the event?

How does Hamlet interpret the political event he witnesses personally? Does his response mark a change in his revenge plans?

The speech beginning, “How all occasions do inform against me” (4.4.31-65) is not included in Shakespeare’s First Folio (1623), or any Folio editions. How does the inclusion (in Q2)/exclusion of the speech change the way we read and/or interpret Hamlet?

Hamlet, Kenneth Branagh (1996)

“How all occasions” in Q2

“How all occasions” omission in F1

Arden Edition (2016)


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