In the first scene when Gertrude tells Claudius about her meeting
with Hamlet, she keeps her promise to Hamlet by not disclosing what he has
told her and that he is faking his madness. Surprisingly though, she shows
no signs of revulsion towards Claudius even though she has just learned that
he is a murderer. It is as though she has not actually understood what Hamlet
had tried to tell her.
She doesn't ignore Hamlet's fears about being sent to England
in the company of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and asks the King to find an
alternative to sending her son to England with them. She does however agree
with Claudius that it is important to get Hamlet away.
In scene 2, Hamlet shows his true feelings for Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern and criticizes them for not being aware of how they are being
used by Claudius. He tells them that the king keeps them around "as an
ape doth nuts, and in the corner of his jaw; first mout'd to be last swallowed."
In Scene 3, Hamlet continues his state of "madness" and refuses
to tell the whereabouts of Polonius' body. His behavior is cruel and heartless
and not suitable for a prince. He talks in a confused manner of death and
explains that all men end up being food for worms. "We fat all creatures
else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots. Your fat king and your lean
beggar is but variable service, two dishes, but to one table - that's the
Claudius responds by banishing Hamlet to England and Hamlet tells Claudius
that he knows the King's purpose in sending him away. Claudius now sees that
he must instruct the king of England to kill Hamlet. This act reveals Claudius'
Scene 4 brings Hamlet closer to action than he was before. It shows Hamlet
inspired by a show of honor at great human expense. Even though Hamlet does
not rush back to the castle to kill Claudius as we might expect but gets on
a ship for a long voyage to England, his soliloquy does represent a turning
point in his thinking:
"What is a man,
If his chief good and market of his time
Be but to sleep and feed?"
This thing's to do,
Sith I have cause, and will, and strength, and means
O, from this time forth,
My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!"
Hamlet finally realizes that he must act and seek revenge.
Scene 5 reveals how Ophelia and Laertes are reacting to their father's murder.
Ophelia has become distracted and melancholy whereas Laertes wastes no time
and is ready to kill the king. Ophelia is driven to a passive suicide, Laertes
to an active murder. Laertes' vengeful rage and Ophelia's psychotic melancholy
are perfect expressions of the two emotions Hamlet has somehow been feeling
simultaneously since the beginning of the play.
Claudius is able to appease Laertes by promising that he help him and Hamlet
will be eliminated "Let the great axe fall."
Scene 6 is very brief but it shows the heroic side of Hamlet. If Hamlet were
opposed to action or to violence or if he were a coward he would hardly have
done something as bold as boarding the pirate ship.
In Scene 7, when Claudius finds out that his plan to have Hamlet killed by
the English king has failed, he plots a different way of eliminating Hamlet.
He arranges a fencing match between Hamlet and Laertes. In such a setting
he believes that the audience will not condemn either contestant and consider
it as a fair method of resolving the problem. Unbeknown to Hamlet, the scheme
includes using an undetectable poison on the unblunted point of Laertes' foil.
To assure success, Claudius supplements his plan for the murder of Hamlet
with a cup of poison.
This scene also brings closure to Ophelia's agony when Gertrude reports that
Ophelia fell in the stream and drowned.
A number of critics believe that her death is a suicide and that Ophelia
would have felt that there was no other solution for her.