Hamlet Act 5, Scene 2 Summary & Quotes

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  • 0:04 Hamlet Outsmarts Claudius
  • 0:54 Hamlet Apologizes to Laertes
  • 3:47 Six Deaths and a New King
  • 5:05 Lesson Summary
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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 5, Scene 2, the final scene of William Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet, as well as an analysis of the scene's most significant quotes.

Hamlet Outsmarts Claudius

Act 5, Scene 2 of Hamlet opens on the day after the previous scene of Ophelia's funeral. Hamlet and Horatio are at Elsinore and Hamlet is telling Horatio about how he was able to get out of going to England and being killed in accordance with Claudius's command. He reveals that he switched the letter that Claudius sent demanding that Hamlet be killed with one that Hamlet wrote, asking that the bearers of the letter, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, be killed instead.

Hamlet says, ''They are not near my conscience. Their defeat does by their own insinuation grow.'' He does not feel bad about orchestrating the death of his old school friends because recently they have been untrustworthy and more on Claudius's side than his. He does admit, however, that he feels bad about Laertes because Laertes wants to avenge his father's death, just like Hamlet does.

Hamlet Apologizes to Laertes

Just then, a courtier named Osric enters. He irritatingly agrees with everything Hamlet says, hoping to flatter him, even when Hamlet says two contradictory statements side by side. When Hamlet says that it is cold, Osric says, ''It is indifferent cold, my lord, indeed,'' and then Hamlet says it is hot and agrees, ''Exceedingly, my lord. . . it is very sultry.'' Osric announces that Claudius sent him to tell Hamlet that Claudius wants him to fence with Laertes, saying that Claudius has bet Laertes that Hamlet would win. A servant comes in to call Hamlet to the fight, saying that everyone is waiting for him.

Hamlet says he thinks he can win the bet because he has been practicing lately, but says, ''Thou wouldst not think how ill all's here about my heart. But no matter.'' He means that he has a strange feeling that something bad will happen, but then dismisses it. Horatio advises Hamlet against participating in the duel, especially if his gut is telling him not to, but Hamlet agrees to anyway. He tells Laertes, ''Since no man of aught he leaves knows, what is 't to leave betimes?'' Hamlet has realized in the last few scenes that death is unavoidable, so he might as well be ready for it.

When Hamlet enters the hall that is crowded with spectators, he begs for Laertes to forgive him. He says of his father's death, ''Hamlet denies it. Who does it, then? His madness.'' He speaks as though madness and he himself are two different people and that it was madness that caused him to kill Laertes' father. Laertes says he will not forgive him until he consults with someone about it, but he does appreciate the love that Hamlet is expressing.

The king tells Hamlet that if he wins the first or second hit, he will drink to his wealth then give him a goblet of wine with an expensive pearl dropped in it, placing poison in the cup without anyone knowing. The men pick their fencing weapons, which are supposed to be blunted swords, but Claudius and Laertes have plotted to make Laertes's sword lethally sharp and laced with poison. Hamlet gets the first hit but says he does not want a drink of the wine yet. Gertrude decides that she wants to drink some of the wine, and takes a sip of it before Claudius can stop her.

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