Act IV, Scene iii

Synopsis of Hamlet Act IV scene iii

Claudius asks Hamlet where he has hidden Polonius's body. After commenting on the corruption of the human body, Hamlet tells him. Claudius tells Hamlet that he is being sent to England.

After Hamlet has left, Claudius reveals in soliloquy that he has arranged for Hamlet to be executed when he arrives in England.

Commentary on Hamlet Act IV scene iii

Not where he eats but where he is eaten … a King may go a progress through the guts of a beggar — Hamlet stresses human mortality. Even kings will inevitably die and their bodies decay.

Seek him i' th'other place yourself — ‘the other place' is hell. Hamlet says that Claudius will be able to enter hell, but not heaven.

Statue of a Cherub photo by Luis García available through Creative CommonsI see a cherub that sees them — cherubs are a particular kind of angel; who were thought of as God's messengers, having knowledge of divine and human activity. Hamlet is saying that an all-seeing God is aware of Claudius' plans. This comment indicates Hamlet's growing sense of being in the hand of God's providence.

Man and wife is one flesh — Shakespeare gives Hamlet words from the marriage service in the Book of Common Prayer: ‘they two shall be one flesh', which are derived from the Bible (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:6; Ephesians 5:31). He is reminding Claudius of the sacred marriage vows which, Hamlet feels, Claudius and Gertrude have broken.

Investigating Hamlet Act IV scene iii

  • Look back at the first three scenes of Act IV.
    • What impression do we have here of Claudius?
    • Does he still seem to feel any of the guilt that led him to pray in Act III scene iii?
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