Act IV, Scene iv

Synopsis of Hamlet Act IV scene iv

For the first time in the play, Hamlet leaves the palace, escorted by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern on his way to England.

They come across Fortinbras' army, travelling across Denmark to attack the Poles, to fight over possession of a small piece of land. Hamlet sees the commitment of so many men and resources to such a trivial cause as a rebuke to his failure to act over the death of a beloved father.

Commentary on Hamlet Act IV scene iv

The imposthume of much wealth and peace — This is another image of corruption. Hamlet sees such wars over nothing as a symptom of a diseased society.

What is a man … A beast … he that made us with such large discourse … godlike reason — Hamlet is aware that, having a soul, and reason, mankind is higher in the chain of being than animals, and has a duty to use reason and judgement.

More on biblical echo to ‘Hamlet': His language would recall to Shakespeare's audience Psalms 8:4-5:

'What is man that thou art mindful of him ... ? Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels and hast crowned him with glory and honour.'

Excitements of my reason and my blood — Hamlet feels that both his reason and his emotion should have given him sufficient grounds to act against Claudius.

Investigating Hamlet Act IV scene iv

  • What do you think are Shakespeare's possible purposes in:
    • removing the setting of the play from the palace?
    • reminding us of Fortinbras and his army at this point in the play?
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