Hamlet Act 4, Scene 5 Summary & Quotes

Instructor: Katherine Garner

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

This lesson provides a summary of Act 4 Scene 5 of William Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet, as well as an analysis of some of the scene's most significant quotes.

Horatio Warns Gertrude about Ophelia

In a room in Elsinore, Gertrude tells Horatio that she does not want to see or talk to Ophelia, but Horatio insists that she should; Ophelia is not in good shape because her father, Polonius, was killed. She needs someone to take pity and listen to her.

A gentleman from the court reports that Ophelia is acting very strangely, saying, ''She speaks things in doubt, that carry but half sense. Her speech is nothing, yet the unshaped use of it doth move the hearers to…botch the words up to fit their own thoughts,'' which means that Ophelia is saying senseless things, which makes it easy for anyone listening to interpret her words however they want and make their own assumptions about what happened to Polonius.

Horatio insists that this could be dangerous, warning Gertrude, ''twere good she were spoken with; for she may strew dangerous conjectures in ill-breeding minds.'' The most obvious conclusion for the people to jump to is that Claudius killed Polonius, and Horatio advises Gertrude to speak to Ophelia, to minimize the chance of her encouraging that rumor. Gertrude agrees, and Horatio brings Ophelia in the room.

Ophelia's Mad Scene

Ophelia enters and begins singing; she seems distracted and does not give Gertrude and Horatio straight answers when they ask her questions. When King Claudius enters and asks Ophelia how she is, she merely continues singing strange songs with nonsensical lines, including ''They say the owl was a baker's daughter.'' The king asks how long she has been behaving like this, seeing that she is in maddening grief over her father. He tells Horatio to keep an eye on her, and Ophelia and Horatio depart.

Ophelia mad with grief in Act 4 Scene 5 of Hamlet
Ophelia mad scene

Claudius and Gertrude

Claudius confides in Gertrude that the situation is growing worse: ''This is the poison of deep grief; it springs all from her father's death…First, her father slain, next, your son gone…the people muddied, thick, and unwholesome in their thoughts and whispers…and we have done but greenly in hugger-mugger to inter him. '' Claudius knows that the people of Denmark are talking and spreading rumors about what happened to Polonius. Claudius admits that, though they did not kill Polonius, they did bury him in a rushed and secretive way that could arouse suspicion.

Worst of all, Claudius says that Laertes is coming secretly from France to avenge his father's death and will probably assume that Claudius killed Polonius because of all the rumors swirling around. Claudius makes more references to ears, which have been a strong motif throughout the play: ''Her brother is in secret come from France; feeds on his wonder, keeps himself in clouds, and wants not buzzers to infect his ear with pestilent speeches of his father's death…will nothing stick our person to arraign in ear and ear.'' As he hears of each new development in this situation, Claudius feels as if he is being killed over and over again.

A gentleman enters and tells Claudius that the people of Denmark are suspicious and talking amongst themselves about Polonius's sudden and mysterious death. They are calling Laertes 'lord' and saying that he will be king, assuming that Laertes will kill Claudius and ascend the throne.

Claudius and Laertes

At that moment, Laertes enters and demands to see Claudius. He is furious and ready to kill Claudius immediately. Claudius quickly tries to calm Laertes and begs him to listen to his side of the story. He insists that Polonius did not die at his hand and that he is grieving over his death as well. He says that his instinct to seek revenge is correct, but that it should not be on him. Laertes agrees to listen.

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