Summary and Analysis
Laertes tells Claudius that the time has come to hit Hamlet with the poisoned tip. Claudius disagrees. In an aside, Laertes expresses a reluctance to hit Hamlet, but Hamlet accuses him of dallying and presses for a third bout. The two fight again and Laertes wounds Hamlet with the poisoned tip. Both drop their swords and, in the scuffle, Hamlet grabs Laertes' sword and Laertes picks up Hamlet's. Hamlet hits Laertes with the poisoned sword. Gertrude swoons. Hamlet sees the Queen fall and anxiously asks, "How does the Queen?" The King assures him that she is faint because of the blood, but Gertrude cries out that the drink has poisoned her. Outraged, Hamlet orders the doors locked so that the King cannot escape. Laertes reveals the murder plot to Hamlet and explains that the poisoned sword now rests in Hamlet's hands.
In a fury, Hamlet runs the sword through Claudius, yelling, "Venom to they work." Before Claudius dies, Hamlet pours the poisoned wine down the King's throat. Hamlet then goes to Laertes, who is nearly dead. The two forgive one another so that neither will prevent the other from entering heaven. Laertes dies, and Horatio rushes to Hamlet's side.
Hamlet tells Horatio that he is dead, and asks that Horatio "tell my story." Osric announces the sound of an approaching army, which means that Fortinbras has arrived in Denmark after attacking the Poles. Hamlet tells Horatio to ensure that the Danish crown passes to Fortinbras.
With the words "The rest is silence," Hamlet dies. Horatio wishes him a gentle rest and turns his attention to Fortinbras and the English ambassadors, who have also arrived to announce that the English government has executed Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Fortinbras, appalled by the sight of the mayhem that greets him, "with sorrow" recognizes his right to wear the crown of Denmark, which Horatio will corroborate with Hamlet's words.
Fortinbras orders that Hamlet be given military honors, "with music and rite of war." He orders his soldiers to carry the bodies out, and the play ends.
Maynard Mack says that in the last act of the play "Hamlet accepts his world and we discover a different man." He has existed outside of the corrupt system, and yet, he has been unable to resist being drawn in. The Ghost sealed Hamlet's fate when he challenged him to "remember me." In this final scene, the maelstrom finally catches Hamlet stripped of his words, and at the mercy of his "bare bodkin." He maneuvered around the world of "seems" and "acts" and "plays" as long as he could, and tried to beat this world by using its own tactics. He feigned madness and betrayed the woman he ostensibly loves, her father, and his school chums. He committed three cold-blooded murders and sent Ophelia to her death. He had thought he towered above such dirty fighting, but found himself swept into it. He must now face the inevitable. As Mack says, Hamlet has finally "learned, and accepted, the boundaries in which human action, human judgment, are enclosed."
We recognize Hamlet's change in the first part of the scene when he explains to Horatio with complete dismissal how he sent Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to their deaths. The calculating premeditation of his actions is a complete reversal of the Hamlet we have come to know. Horatio's next comment indicates that he is horrified. He says, "So Guildenstern and Rosencrantz go to't," meaning that they go to their deaths, to which Hamlet counters
Why man, they did make love to this employment.
They are not near my conscience. Their defeat
Does by their own insinuation grow.
Hamlet has transformed himself from a man who wallows in self-recrimination into one who can blithely justify cold-blooded betrayal and murder. More significantly, Hamlet has become a man who assumes he can take responsibility for righting all the wrongs created by his corrupt uncle's usurpation of the old order by killing Claudius and reclaiming the throne.
Continued on next page...