Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Summary of Act IV, Scene 7

Claudius tells Laertes that he had Polonius buried secretly and did not openly punish Hamlet for the murder because both the queen and the people have a soft spot in their hearts for Hamlet and Claudius did not wish to upset either of them. A messenger appears with a letter from Hamlet to Claudius, saying that Hamlet will return the next day. Laertes is pleased that Hamlet is back, since it means he can get revenge more easily.

Claudius encourages Laertes to get his revenge by killing Hamlet and begins to think of ways Laertes can carry out this plan without creating an appearance of impropriety. He considers tempting Hamlet into a duel with Laertes, giving Laertes the chance to kill him. Laertes agrees and plans to use a sharpened sword, rather than the dull blade typically used in a fencing match. He also plans to poison the blade so that even a non-fatal wound will prove deadly. Claudius creates a backup plan: if Hamlet wins the duel, Claudius will give him a poisoned cup of wine.

Gertrude enters and tells both men that Ophelia has drowned herself in the river. Laertes runs out of the room, overcome with grief.