Summary and Analysis Act IV: Scene 7


The two hatch a grand scheme to ensure that Hamlet will not escape again. As in the murder of King Hamlet, undetectable poison serves as the weapon of choice for Claudius. Like his malicious intentions, which he masks with sweet sentiments, Claudius' penchant for poison proves his insidiousness. Hamlet's statement in his letter that he has returned "naked" to Denmark leads to the conclusion that he will face Claudius alone. The conspirators have every reason to expect success in their plot, especially as Laertes is as renowned for his swordsmanship as is Hamlet.

Once again Laertes serves as the perfect foil for Prince Hamlet. He minces no words and loses no time on regret. His deep anguish over the loss of his father and sister commits itself to murder. Laertes is immediately ready, able, and willing to act. A sympathetic and formidable adversary for the sympathetic and formidable prince, Laertes will garner as much support from the audience as Hamlet will, and the confrontation will be doubly moving as the audience will be torn in its allegiance.

A note on Ophelia's characterization: Although Gertrude reports that Ophelia fell in the stream and drowned, there is evidence that her death is a suicide. The first proof can be found in her present state. Faced with the reality of premarital sex and a manless future — Hamlet did not want her, her father was dead, and her judgmental brother was in France — Ophelia would have recognized no other solution but suicide. Another proof is evident in the circumstances of her death. Some critics believe her drowning proves that she was pregnant and, consequently, committed suicide. While no concrete evidence of a pregnancy exists, critics point to the fact that in the 16th and 17th centuries, the conventional suicide method for an unmarried pregnant woman was drowning.

Claudius' evil ambition has infected Laertes, despite the fact that Laertes has been in Paris, away from Claudius' influence. Hamlet has returned to put right what he perceives as Claudius' wrongs, but by causing the deaths of Polonius and Ophelia, Hamlet has become an instrument of the evil he opposes. That something is "rotten in the State of Denmark," as Marcellus observed in Act II, is now clear throughout the kingdom.


unsinew'd weak.

conjunctive closely united.

timber'd made of wood that is too light.

checking at swerving aside from; a term in hawking.

livery the characteristic clothing worn by members of a particular group or trade.

his sables and his weeds dignified robes.

incorps'd and demi-natur'd an integral part of the body.

scrimers fencers.

passages of proof proven by events.

snuff accumulation of smoldering wick that caused the candle to smoke and burn less brightly.

plurisy excess.

quick o' the ulcer the heart of the matter.

sanctuarize give sanctuary to a murderer.

foils long, thin swords with a button on the point to prevent injury, used in fencing.

unbated not blunted.

pass of practice a treacherous thrust or a warming-up exercise.

mountebank quack doctor.

cataplasm a poultice, often medicated.

simples medicinal herbs.

Under the moon To be most effective, herbs are gathered by moonlight.

gall scratch, draw blood.

nonce occasion.

hoar gray.

coronet weeds garlands of flowers.

envious silver malicious branch.

lauds hymns of praise.

indu'd endowed, belonging to.

lay song.

douts extinguishes; literally, do out.

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