Hamlet Summary of Act III, Scene 4
by William Shakespeare

In Gertrude’s chamber, she and Polonius plan for Hamlet’s arrival. Polonius recommends that the queen be strict with Hamlet and she agrees. Polonius hides himself behind a tapestry.

Hamlet enters and asks the queen why she has sent for him. She says that Hamlet has offended his “father,” meaning Claudius. Hamlet says that Gertrude has offended his father, meaning the late king, by marrying Claudius. He rages at her, causing Gertrude to fear for her life and cry for help. From his hiding place, Polonius also calls for help. Hamlet hears him and, suspecting he may be Claudius, stabs through the tapestry with his sword, killing Polonius. Gertrude calls the act a “rash and bloody” deed; Hamlet replies that it was almost as rash and bloody as murdering a king and marrying his brother.

Hamlet looks behind the tapestry and discovers he has not killed Claudius at all, but Polonius, who was (mostly) innocent. He calls Polonius an “intruding fool” and turns to his mother, furiously comparing his father and Claudius and demanding to know what drove her to marry his uncle. She begs him to stop; Hamlet continues to rant until he sees the ghost of his father, which has suddenly appeared.

Hamlet speaks to the ghost, but Gertrude, who cannot see it, assumes he has gone mad. The ghost tells Hamlet it has come to remind him that his job is to kill Claudius. Realizing that Gertrude can’t see him, the ghost asks Hamlet to explain to her what is going on. Hamlet describes the ghost to Gertrude, but she still cannot see it, and after a moment the ghost disappears. Hamlet tries to explain to his mother that he has not been mad all along but merely faking it, and he begs her to leave Claudius. He also begs her to keep his secret, to which she agrees.

Before leaving Gertrude’s room, Hamlet reminds her that he must sail to England with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, but that he does not trust them because he believes Claudius has put them up to it. He leaves, dragging Polonius’s body with him.

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