Hamlet Summary of Act III, Scene 2
by William Shakespeare

That evening, Hamlet is instructing the players on how to act the parts he has added to their play. Horatio enters, and Hamlet greets him warmly, complimenting Horatio on his self-control and emotional reserve. He tells Horatio that the ghost has told him Claudius murdered his father, and he asks Horatio to keep a close eye on Claudius during the play so they can compare their impressions of his reaction afterward. Horatio agrees.

As the court enters, Hamlet warns Horatio that he will start to act strangely. Sure enough, his first response to Claudius’s question about his well-being is irrational. Hamlet then mocks Polonius with a string of questions about Polonius’s past as an actor and mocks Ophelia with several sexually-charged puns.

The players enter and act out a summary version of the play in silence, known as a “dumbshow.” During it, a king and queen display their love. The king lies down to sleep, and the queen leaves. As the king sleeps, a man murders him by pouring poison in his ear. The murderer then tries to seduce the queen, who protests at first, then accepts.

The players then begin the play in full, complete with dialogue; during the play, we learn that the man who killed the king is his nephew. As the play unfolds, Hamlet keeps up a running commentary on the characters and their actions and continues to make sexual jokes at Ophelia’s expense. When the murderer in the play poisons the player-king, Claudius leaps up from his seat and cries for light. He leaves the room amidst the chaos of courtiers calling for light and chattering about what happened; the play itself comes to a screeching halt.

Hamlet is left alone in the room with Horatio, and the pair agree that the king’s behavior belied some guilt. Now frantic, Hamlet continues to talk to himself and invent little poems. When Rosencrantz and Guildenstern come in to escort Hamlet to his mother’s room, he spins a long series of metaphors about being played as if he is a musical instrument. Before entering his mother’s chamber, Hamlet steels himself and resolves to be honest with her without losing control of his temper.

Share on Pinterest