In this lesson, you will find a summary of Act IV, Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s tragedy ”Hamlet,” as well as analyses of some of the most significant quotes in the scene.
Hamlet Hides the Body of Polonius
As Act IV, Scene 2 of Hamlet opens, Hamlet is somewhere in Elsinore, disposing of Polonius’s body, saying, ”Safely stowed” to himself.Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter the scene, having been sent by Claudius in the previous scene to find Hamlet and bring the body of Polonius to the chapel in the castle. They ask Hamlet to tell them where he has hidden the body but he refuses, giving them rude and cryptic, or mysterious and puzzling answers. He tells them that ”The body is with the king, but the king is not with the body.
The king is a thing…” He may mean that he has put the body of Polonius with his father’s body, his father being the king to which he is referring and, being dead, is now just a thing.Hamlet continues to show no remorse for killing Polonius by mistake; he seems to think it was worth it for taking the risk of rashly slaying whoever was behind the curtain for the chance that it might be Claudius. At this point, Hamlet does not seem to realize that his deed of murdering Polonius, the father of Ophelia and Laertes, in cold blood does not make him much better than Claudius, but he seems to think his actions are justified.
Hamlet Confronts Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
Hamlet tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that he does not trust them and would not tell them anything. He also accuses Rosencrantz of being a sponge, a person who ”soaks up the king’s countenance, rewards, authorities…but when he needs what you have gleaned, it is but squeezing you, and, sponge, you shall be dry again.” What Hamlet means by this is that Rosencrantz does everything the king says, hoping for a reward, but the king will only continue to use him for everything he has until he is squeezed dry.
Rosencrantz says he does not understand Hamlet’s speech and Hamlet replies, ”I am glad of it: a knavish speech sleeps in a foolish ear.” Hamlet means that Rosencrantz is the fool and will continue to be blind to how the king takes advantage of him.This is also the third time in four scenes that a character has made a reference to an ear: in Act III, Scene 3, the king’s brother pours poison into the ear of the king in the play that Hamlet commissions, and, later, Hamlet calls Claudius a ”mildew’d ear.” Clearly ears are a symbol or motif that run throughout the play. Each time ears have been mentioned, it is in a negative context.
Shakespeare seems to be suggesting throughout the play that of the five senses, hearing is the least reliable and people often fool each other with their words. Claudius does this constantly as a politician who will tell people what they want to hear in favor of the truth. It is also difficult to take Hamlet at his word about whether he is actually going mad. This idea is a theme and ears are a symbol that we should continue to look out for during the remainder of the play.Eventually, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern give up on finding Polonius but Hamlet does allow them to escort him back to see Claudius and the three men exit the scene.
Act IV, Scene 2 of Hamlet is another extremely short but revealing scene. In this scene, we see Hamlet continuing to act in a rash, sarcastic, and unfeeling manner, which calls into question whether his claim that he was only ‘acting’ mad is true. He will not let Rosencrantz and Guildenstern take Polonius’s body to the chapel and will not give them a clear answer when asked where it is. He insults them for being pathetic puppets of the king, but eventually allows them to take him to see Claudius.