Act V, Scene ii
Synopsis of Hamlet Act V scene ii
Hamlet explains to Horatio how he escaped from the ship taking him to England. He discovered that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were carrying a letter asking the King of England to execute him. Hamlet has replaced it with one asking for the execution of the bearers — that is, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Hamlet now feels that he should kill Claudius, not simply for revenge, but to rid the country of corruption.The courtier Osric arrives to invite Hamlet to take part in a (supposedly friendly) duel with Laertes. Hamlet mimics and mocks Osric's pretentious style of speech, but agrees to take part in the fencing-match.
Hamlet has a premonition of danger, and Horatio begs him not to fight, but Hamlet feels that he is in God's hands.
Before the fight begins, Hamlet asks for forgiveness from Laertes, who makes an ambiguous reply.
The fencing-match starts, and in the course of it:
- Gertrude inadvertently drinks from the poisoned chalice which Claudius has prepared for Hamlet
- Laertes stabs Hamlet will the poisoned foil
- In a scuffle the swords change hands and Hamlet wounds Laertes
- The queen dies from the poisoned drink
- Laertes, realising that he has been caught by his own treachery, reveals that Claudius is to blame for the poisoning of Gertrude. He tells Hamlet that they are both on the point of death
- Hamlet uses the poisoned sword to stab Claudius, who dies
- As Hamlet dies, he asks Horatio to tell his story truthfully to the world
- Hamlet gives his support to the idea that Fortinbras will be chosen as the next king of Denmark.
Fortinbras, who has been marching across Denmark with his army, arrives at the court, together with ambassadors from the King of England. They report that the execution of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern has been carried out. Fortinbras praises the nobility of Hamlet and his body is carried out.
Commentary on Hamlet Act V scene ii
There's a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will — Hamlet is now certain that he is in the hand of God, whose providence guides his life.
Not shriving time allowed — Hamlet has asked for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to be executed before they have time for ‘shriving' — the confession of sins which would put them in a state of grace and allow their souls to go to heaven. Without confession of sins, they would go to purgatory or hell, as had happened to Old Hamlet.
Even in that was heaven ordinant — the fact that Hamlet happened to have his father's signet ring with him is seen by Hamlet as further proof that his life is being directed by God.
Their defeat / Does by their own insinuation grow — another image of someone caught in a trap which they have laid for others.
Is't not perfect conscience /to quit him … Is't not to be damned / To let this canker of our nature come/ In further evil? — Hamlet seems to have resolved his former scruples. It is right, he says, to kill Claudius because of:
- his murder of the rightful King (Old Hamlet)
- his usurpation of the throne from Hamlet himself
- his corruption of Gertrude
- because the country must be purged of such a ‘canker' (a corrupting ulcer)
- not to kill Claudius would be immoral.
Sir, his definement suffers no perdition — Hamlet mocks Osric by mimicking his affected style of speech.
More on corrupt speech: Osric's pretentiousness is another example of the ‘false appearances' which indicate the corruption of the court under Claudius' rule.
There's a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, 'tis not to come ...' — placing himself in the hands of God, Hamlet accepts that his death will come when God wills it. He must inevitably die at some point, whether it is today or in the future.
More on a biblical echo: The Shakespearean audience would recognise in his words an echo of Jesus' assurance, recorded in Matthew 10:29-31 that not even a sparrow dies without God caring, and that humans are more precious still.
Give me your pardon — Hamlet asks for forgiveness from Laertes, which is not immediately forthcoming. However, later in the scene when he realises he is dying, Laertes sees that forgiveness and mercy are more important than revenge, and in his dying words he asks to ‘exchange forgiveness'.
More on the significance of forgiveness: This might well remind the Shakespearean audience of one of the most important Christian prayers, given by Jesus, the Lord's Prayer in which Christians ask that their sins are forgiven ‘as we forgive those that sin against us'.
Shakespeare explicitly quotes from this prayer in both The Merchant of Venice and Measure for Measure.
As a woodcock to mine own springe — Laertes uses precisely the same image of entrapment that Polonius had used when warning Ophelia against Hamlet.
Here thou incestuous, murderous, damned Dane … Is thy union here? — a ‘union' could mean a pearl, or a marriage. Claudius had said that there was a priceless pearl in the cup, but by choosing this word, as well as by beginning his description with the word ‘incestuous', Hamlet seems to be focusing on Claudius' marriage to his mother rather than the death of his father.
- Is this what has pre-occupied Hamlet all the time?
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest — Horatio is clearly convinced that Hamlet is a virtuous man who will go straight to heaven; not all critics agree.
The rest is silence — the power of words to deceive and corrupt has been stressed throughout the play. This is therefore a most fitting last line for Hamlet.
Investigating Hamlet Act V scene ii
- Critics and commentators have differing views about Hamlet's request that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern should not have time to confess.
- Is it justice, in return for their betrayal of him?
- Do we have any evidence that they knew what was in the letter they were carrying (i.e., a request for Hamlet's execution?)
- Even if they did, is he right to pursue vengeance beyond the grave?
- Look back to Hamlet's first soliloquy in Act I scene ii. Is Hamlet more grieved by the re-marriage of his mother than by the death of his father? (See also Characterisation: Hamlet).
- At the end of the play, Fortinbras is to rule in Denmark. Of the three young men seeking revenge, only he gave it up.
- Is this significant, or is he only successful because he is a man of action (‘strong in arm')?
- What are your views about the morality of revenge by the end of the play?
- English Standard Version
- King James Version
1And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. 2The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; 3Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. 5These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7And proclaim as you go, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. 8Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. 9Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, 10no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. 11And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. 12As you enter the house, greet it. 13And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. 15Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. 16Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. 24A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. 26So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. 34Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. 37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 40Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. 41The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person's reward. 42And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.
1And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease. 2Now the names of the twelve apostles are these; The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; 3Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; 4Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him. 5These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: 6But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. 8Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give. 9Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, 10Nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat. 11And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, enquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence. 12And when ye come into an house, salute it. 13And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. 15Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city. 16Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. 17But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; 18And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. 19But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. 20For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you. 21And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death. 22And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved. 23But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come. 24The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. 25It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household? 26Fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known. 27What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops. 28And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. 30But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows. 32Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. 33But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. 34Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. 35For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. 36And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. 37He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. 39He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it. 40He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me. 41He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward. 42And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.
The care and concern for future well-being; in particular, the care of God the Father for all creation.
1. The part of a service of Christian worship where people say sorry to God for not living according to his will.
2. The practice of privately telling a priest of wrongdoing.
Disobedience to the known will of God. According to Christian theology human beings have displayed a pre-disposition to sin since the Fall of Humankind.
A human being is in a state of grace when cleansed of sin by penitence and forgiveness, and conscious of having received the undeserved mercy of God.
The spirit which gives life to a human being; the part which lives on after death; a person's inner being (personality, intellect, emotions and will) which distinguishes them from animals.
In many religions, the place where God dwells, and to which believers aspire after their death. Sometimes known as Paradise.
In traditional Roman Catholic doctrine, an 'antechamber' to heaven, a place between Heaven and Hell, where the souls of those dead who are not damned, but not yet fit for heaven, go to be purged (purified) of their sins.
Jesus describes hell as the place where Satan and his demons reside and the realm where unrepentant souls will go after the Last Judgement.
The showing of pity and compassion; in particular, the grace and forgiveness offered by God to sinful humans if they repent of their wrong-doings.
Name originally given to disciples of Jesus by outsiders and gradually adopted by the Early Church.
Communication, either aloud or in the heart, with God.
The name given to the man believed by Christians to be the Son of God. Also given the title Christ, meaning 'anointed one' or Messiah. His life is recorded most fully in the Four Gospels.
A prayer taught by Jesus to his disciples.
In many religions, the place where God dwells, and to which believers aspire after their death. Sometimes known as Paradise.