Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Analysis of Act III, Scene 2

In the first two scenes of Act III, Hamlet and Claudius create traps to catch one another: Claudius spies on Hamlet during Hamlet’s confrontation with Ophelia, and Hamlet spies on Claudius after having set up the play to match the ghost’s description of the murder Claudius committed. Since Hamlet still doesn’t know whether or not to trust the ghost, he decides that he will rely on Claudius’s reaction to the play to tell him the truth.

However, analyzing Claudius’s reaction isn’t as easy as it seems. First, Claudius fails to respond to the dumbshow, which exactly reenacts the facts of the murder as the ghost related them to Hamlet. Claudius’s reaction, rather, is to the play itself, which makes clear that the king is killed by his nephew. Is Claudius frightened because he was confronted with evidence of his own crime, or is he afraid that his own nephew – Hamlet – will try to kill him?

Hamlet seems to be more in control of his own behavior in this scene. He even praises Horatio for his self-control, which is Hamlet’s own weakest point. This scene seems to confirm that Hamlet is not insane after all, but that he has complete control over whether or not he acts rationally. The only questionable behavior in this scene is his string of lewd comments to Ophelia, most of which are downright cruel; he is openly and obviously mocking her, and his misogynistic comments in this scene hint at the rage he demonstrates toward his mother in the next scene.