Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Analysis of Act IV, Scene 1

Gertrude, having promised Hamlet at the end of the last scene not to betray his secrets to Claudius, begins this scene by doing precisely that. She doesn’t reveal that Hamlet was only faking insanity, but she does immediately reveal what he has said and that he has killed Polonius, indicating that she believes her loyalties lie with the king, not with her son. Her information convinces Claudius that his plan to ship Hamlet to England to be killed is a good one.

Although this scene is extremely short, it does a great deal of heavy lifting in developing Claudius’s character. While most of the other men in the play are obsessed with questions of honor, moral balance, and vengeance, Claudius is here revealed as a scheming politician who cares more about maintaining his own power than in achieving justice. Perhaps the most revealing moment is when Gertrude tells him of Polonius’s death; rather than considering how to exact justice, Claudius’s mind goes immediately to the fact that he could just as easily have been killed. Hamlet must be sent to England not as a punishment for committing murder, but because he represents a threat to Claudius personally.

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