Hamlet Summary of Act III, Scene 3
by William Shakespeare

Badly shaken by the play, Claudius gives new instructions to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern: they are to take Hamlet to England immediately. Polonius enters, reminding the king of Polonius’s plan to hide in Gertrude’s room and observe Hamlet’s behavior and promising to tell the king what he learns.

When the other characters leave, Claudius begins to lament his guilt and grief. He wants to ask God’s forgiveness for committing the oldest sin in the book, but he says he cannot bring himself to give up what he gained from killing his brother – the crown and Gertrude’s hand. He falls to his knees and begins to pray.

Hamlet sneaks into the room as Claudius is praying and prepares to kill his uncle. Suddenly, he realizes that if he kills Claudius while Claudius is praying, Claudius’s soul will go to heaven. Since Claudius killed Hamlet’s father before he could make his last confession, Hamlet reasons that it isn’t revenge to send Claudius to heaven when his own father was barred from heaven by Claudius’s murder. Instead, he decides to kill Claudius when the latter is clearly sinning. He leaves, and Claudius rises, confessing that he was unable to pray sincerely: “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below.”

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