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Hamlet Act 3, Scene 3 Summary & Quotes

Instructor: Katherine Garner

Katie teaches middle school English/Language Arts and has a master's degree in Secondary English Education

This lesson contains a summary of Act 3 Scene 3 of William Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet, as well as several of the most significant quotes from the scene.

Claudius Wants Hamlet Gone

After the play within a play, Claudius is even more convinced that Hamlet must be sent away to England. He tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that he is sending them to England and that they must take Hamlet with them. He emphasizes that this is necessary because Hamlet's insanity is dangerous to everyone, saying, ''The terms of our estate may not endure hazard so dangerous as doth hourly grow out of his lunacies.''

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern dutifully agree, emphasizing how important it is to protect a leader, on whom so many other people depend. The two leave to make preparations for the trip. Polonius then enters to tell Claudius that Hamlet will soon go to Gertrude's room and that he still plans to hide and listen. He believes it is wise for another person to be present because mothers often are too biased in their son's favor. Claudius thanks him, and Polonius exits to get ready for his mission.

Claudius's Guilt

Alone, Claudius delivers a monologue that reveals his guilt for killing Hamlet's father. He notes that his crime ''smells to heaven,'' meaning that it is so foul that he cannot escape God knowing. He makes an allusion, or a reference to another text when he says, ''It hath the primal eldest curse upon't, a brother's murder. Pray can I not,''. He means that his crime is like that of the Biblical story in which Cain murdered his brother Abel. Claudius feels that no prayer will earn him forgiveness and that he is trapped.

Claudius adds that his terrible crime has won him the things that he wanted: the crown and the queen. He knows it is not possible to repent for his crime and still retain the benefits of it. He recognizes that his soul is doomed but decides that it wouldn't hurt to make the effort to pray. He commands his knees to bend and his heart to become soft again so that he might have a small chance at salvation.

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