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Shakespeare’s Act Four: Where problems spiral out of control and grow
wildly more complex and difficult to overcome
Act Four
 As a reminder, Act Three is the turning point
of the play, whereas Act Four is where the
characters’ fates are bound to their
unavoidable outcomes.
 As we look at the scenes in this act, ask
yourself: In what way do each of the
characters solidify their place in destiny?
Today’s Objectives
 Analyze the role of the pirates (AHOY,
MATEY), revenge, accidental death (OR
WAS IT A SUICIDE?) and symbolism
 We’ll also look at an example of Deus Ex
Act 4.6: The Pirates Appear
[Reads] 'Horatio, when thou shalt have overlooked
this, give these fellows some means to the king:
they have letters for him. Ere we were two days old
at sea, a pirate of very warlike appointment gave us
chase. Finding ourselves too slow of sail, we put on
a compelled valour, and in the grapple I boarded
them: on the instant they got clear of our ship; so
I alone became their prisoner. They have dealt with
me like thieves of mercy: but they knew what they
did; I am to do a good turn for them. Let the king
have the letters I have sent; and repair thou to me
with as much speed as thou wouldst fly death. I
have words to speak in thine ear will make thee
dumb; yet are they much too light for the bore of
the matter. These good fellows will bring thee
where I am. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern hold their
course for England: of them I have much to tell
thee. Farewell.
'He that thou knowest thine, HAMLET.'
Act 4.6: The Pirates Appear
 Summarize the information Hamlet relays in his message to
 Does it seem to coincidental for there to be a random pirate attack
in a play with no previous foreshadowing to explain its presence?
 Or, do you think Shakespeare was being lazy and just could not
think of a way to get Hamlet back to Denmark?
 Or, is it possible that there is another possibility?
Act 4.6: The Pirates Appear
 Is it possible that Hamlet hired the pirates to kidnap him?
If Hamlet suspected Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of deception, then he may
have arranged for pirates to prevent their mission. The outcome is, of course,
critical to the play’s action, for in order to reach the climax, Hamlet must return
to the scene.
Act 4.6: The Pirates Appear
 Or is this a case of Deus Ex Machina, which means God from a
machine? (dey-uh s eks mah-kuh-nuh)
 Deus Ex Machina is any artificial or improbable device that is
introduced to resolve the difficulties of a plot. In other words,
if an author writes himself into a jam, he might use a Deus Ex
Machina device to get himself out of it. Sound like the pirates?
4.7: The Revenge Plot
within a Revenge Plot
Laertes, was your father dear to you?
Or are you like the painting of a sorrow,
A face without a heart?
Why ask you this?
Not that I think you did not love your father;
But that I know love is begun by time;
And that I see, in passages of proof,
Time qualifies the spark and fire of it.
There lives within the very flame of love
A kind of wick or snuff that will abate it;
And nothing is at a like goodness still;
For goodness, growing to a plurisy,
Dies in his own too much: that we would do
We should do when we would; for this 'would'
And hath abatements and delays as many
As there are tongues, are hands, are accidents;
And then this 'should' is like a spendthrift sigh,
That hurts by easing. But, to the quick o' the ulcer:-Hamlet comes back: what would you undertake,
To show yourself your father's son in deed
More than in words?
To cut his throat i' the church.
No place, indeed, should murder sanctuarize;
Revenge should have no bounds. But, good Laertes,
Will you do this, keep close within your chamber.
Hamlet return'd shall know you are come home:
We'll put on those shall praise your excellence
And set a double varnish on the fame
The Frenchman gave you, bring you in fine together
And wager on your heads: he, being remiss,
Most generous and free from all contriving,
Will not peruse the foils; so that, with ease,
Or with a little shuffling, you may choose
A sword unbated, and in a pass of practise
Requite him for your father.
I will do't:
And, for that purpose, I'll anoint my sword.
I bought an unction of a mountebank,
So mortal that, but dip a knife in it,
Where it draws blood no cataplasm so rare,
Collected from all simples that have virtue
Under the moon, can save the thing from death
That is but scratch'd withal: I'll touch my point
With this contagion, that, if I gall him slightly,
It may be death.
What lines from the above columns have similarities to
Hamlet’s own revenge plot? Record them in your notes.
4.7: Revenge: Why doesn’t Claudius
just kill Hamlet himself?
 Historically, the Scandinavian countries elected their kings; monarchs were not
necessarily given power through succession.
 Shakespeare indicates that Gertrude’s father was the King before King Hamlet,
and King Hamlet was selected to marry Gertrude.
 This marriage ensured King Hamlet’s election to the throne by the Knights of the
 Claudius cannot afford to lose the support of his Knights, and cannot afford to
lose Gertrude. This is why he cannot act against Gertrude’s son, Hamlet. Claudius,
therefore, needs Laertes’ assistance in dispatching Hamlet.
 Laertes is renowned for his swordsmanship and is the perfect foil for Hamlet. He
wastes no time in fancy words and morose behavior. He wishes to get on
immediately with the task at hand and now has the additional loss of his sister to
motivate him (See his quote Act IV, scene vii, line 124 as evidence)
4.7 Analysis: Accident or Suicide?
There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
There with fantastic garlands did she come
Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do dead men's fingers call them:
There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide;
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes;
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element: but long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull'd the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.
Based on your own reading of these lines, what
conclusion do you come to? Why?
4.7 Analysis: Accident or Suicide?
This monologue is really two separate ideas merged together to have one larger
Through these lines, the delicate imagery of _____________ reminds us of
Ophelia’s own _____________, as well as her __________________.
4.7 Analysis: Accident or Suicide?
 From the beginning of the play, Ophelia has been represented
by flowers. In her first scene, Polonius presents her with a violet;
after she goes mad, she sings songs about flowers; and now she
drowns amid long streams of them. Just like the flowers Ophelia
gives as gifts symbolize deeper meanings, so to does Ophelia’s
death amidst the flowers.
 Through these lines, the delicate imagery of flowers reminds us of
Ophelia’s own fragile beauty, as well as her innocence, budding sexuality,
and the inevitability of her early demise.
4.7 Analysis: Accident or Suicide?
The audience suspects that Ophelia has committed suicide, and again Shakespeare
suggests that she was pregnant as it was the convention at that time that unmarried,
pregnant women would drown themselves. The pressures on Ophelia were great. She
had committed a cardinal sin and faced the prospect of a future alone, shunned by the
court, her father was dead, and she was about to face her condemning brother.
It is ironic that now Hamlet, returning to the scene, has become an instrument of
evil. He has caused the deaths of Polonius and Ophelia and it is clear that something
is ‘rotten in the State of Denmark’. His honorable quest for revenge has now turned
sour, for he has committed wrong in order to obtain vengeance in respect of Claudius’