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Hamlet. Act Four. Act Four Scene One. Gertrude informs Claudius of Polonius’ death. Claudius maintains that ‘this mad young man’ is a danger to everyone and must be shipped off to England next morning. He sends R and G to locate Hamlet and to recover Polonius’ body.

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Act Four

act four scene one
Act Four Scene One
  • Gertrude informs Claudius of Polonius’ death.
  • Claudius maintains that ‘this mad young man’ is a danger to everyone and must be shipped off to England next morning.
  • He sends R and G to locate Hamlet and to recover Polonius’ body.

There's matter in these sighs, these profound heaves:     You must translate: 'tis fit we understand them.

  • Claudius is asking Gertrude to explain her distress. She claims it is Hamlet’s madness. It is noticeable the extent to which King and Queen deceive each other in this scene.

Mad as the sea and wind, when both contend     Which is the mightier:

  • Compares Hamlet’s ‘madness’ to disturbances within nature. The irony is that the real disruption of what is natural has come from Claudius and Gertrude.
  • Recalls ‘Take arms against a sea of troubles’.

It will be laid to us, whose providence     Should have kept short, restrain'd and out of haunt,     This mad young man: but so much was our love,     We would not understand what was most fit;     But, like the owner of a foul disease,     To keep it from divulging, let it feed     Even on the pith of Life.

characterisation of claudius
Characterisation of Claudius
  • a selfish, ambitious king who is more concerned with maintaining his own power and averting political danger than achieving justice through his rule.
  • Wishes to send Hamlet away to avert any danger to himself, not as punishment.
  • Concerned not with justice for killing of Polonius, but limiting political damage to his court.
act four scenes two and three
Act Four Scenes Two and Three
  • Hamlet has hidden Polonius’ body and leads R and G on a chase.
  • Claudius reveals that he is unable to put Hamlet on trial because of his popularity.
  • Hamlet taunts Claudius.
  • Claudius reveals to the audience that he is sending Hamlet to his death.
act four scene four
Act Four, Scene Four
  • Fortinbras orders his captain to go and ask the King of Denmark for permission to travel through his lands.
  • On his way, the captain encounters Hamlet, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern on their way to the ship bound for England.
  • Hamlet asks about the basis of the conflict, and the man tells him that the armies will fight over “a little patch of land / That hath in it no profit but the name” (IV.iv.98–99).
  • Astonished by the thought that a bloody war could be fought over something so insignificant, Hamlet marvels that human beings are able to act so violently and purposefully for so little gain. By comparison, Hamlet has a great deal to gain from seeking his own bloody revenge on Claudius, and yet he still delays and fails to act toward his purpose. Disgusted with himself for having failed to gain his revenge on Claudius, Hamlet declares that from this moment on, his thoughts will be bloody.
hamlet and his foils
Hamlet and His Foils
  • Foil- character who highlights aspects of another character’s personality through both their differences and similarities.
  • Ophelia's apparently genuine madness is a foil for Hamlet's supposedly feigned 'antic disposition'.
  • Fortinbras and Laertes are the most obvious foils for Hamlet in the play.
  • These foils are used by Shakespeare to explore the nature and legitimacy of revenge.
  • Fortinbras: a young prince whose father was killed. His uncle has become king instead of him. Intends to avenge his father’s death.
  • Laertes: the son of the most highly-regarded royal counsellor at the Danish court. His father is killed by Hamlet. He intends to avenge his father’s death.
  • Hamlet: a royal prince of the Danish court. His father was killed ~ murdered ~ only a matter of weeks before the action of the play begins. The killer is Old Hamlet's own brother, Claudius. It is Hamlet's uncle ~ this same Claudius ~ who has been elected king. Hamlet is said to be a soldier, but he has no real power and does not wish to be involved in battles.
fortinbras and revenge
Fortinbras and Revenge
  • The audience is likely to gather that Young Fortinbras was just a child when his father died, but that he now intends to gain back the land then lost to Denmark. He prepares for invasion, without his king uncle's knowledge, but his plan is thwarted, when Danish emissaries inform the old man.
  • Desirous of land and battle, he instead agrees to fight a meaningless battle with Poland. Certainly the invasion plan must have been many years in the making, but it was not well thought out and Fortinbras seems to have been willing to accept the alternative. He shows no animosity towards Young Hamlet.
soliloquy task
Soliloquy Task
  • Each group will be assigned certain lines of Hamlet’s final soliloquy.
  • Your task is to submit a paragraph explaining these lines as fully as you can.
  • You should also refer to any techniques you can identify, or any similarities with other speeches (images) in the play.

How all occasions do inform against me,

And spur my dull revenge!


‘How all occasions do inform against me,’

Personification is used here to create an image of Hamlet being on trial and one event after another coming in to testify against him.

‘And spur my dull revenge!’

Here, Hamlet goes on to compare his revenge to a dull, spiritless horse. No matter how much it is spurred, it will not get started. This recalls the Ghost’s: ‘And duller should’st thou be. . .’ Therefore, it appears clear that Hamlet imagines the Ghost as his judge.

soliloquy paragraph
Soliloquy Paragraph
  • Email to rdempsey@calderside.s-lanark.sch.uk
  • By Friday
  • Paragraphs will be collated and added to the blog
act four scene five
Act Four Scene Five
  • The death of Polonius has driven Ophelia mad.
  • Laertes returns from France to avenge his father.
  • Initially, he threatens Claudius.
  • Laertes is manipulated by Claudius, who promises to give him a full account of the death.
  • A second plot which helps us to reflect on the ideas presented by the main plot.
  • Similarities: A father is dead; we watch the way his children respond. Shakespeare develops O and L as extreme versions of two contrasting aspects of Hamlet’s personality – the active and the passive. Laertes rashly vows to take revenge, whatever the consequences. Ophelia collapses into madness.

‘Let him go, Gertrude; do not fear our person:There's such divinity doth hedge a king,That treason can but peep to what it would,Acts little of his will.’

  • Kings are so protected by God that traitors do not openly reveal their intentions, and cannot do what they want. Considering Claudius’ murder of Old Hamlet, this is clearly hypocritical. However, it demonstrates his skill as a manipulator.

To hell, allegiance! vows, to the blackest devil!     Conscience and grace, to the profoundest pit!     I dare damnation. To this point I stand,     That both the worlds I give to negligence,     Let come what comes; only I'll be revenged     Most thoroughly for my father. Laertes, in complete contrast to Hamlet, disregards any possible consequences to his actions, in thios world or the next. He places avenging his father above either allegiance to the king or the possibility of damnation.

four six
Four, Six
  • A short scene
  • Horatio reads a letter from Hamlet detailing how his ship was attacked.
  • Hamlet boarded the pirate vessel that was attacking his ship and was thus able to escape R and G.
  • Hamlet is returning to Elsinore.
act four scene seven
Act Four, Scene Seven
  • Hamlet is set to return to Elsinore.
  • Claudius and Laertes plot Hamlet’s death.
  • Ophelia has drowned herself.

O, for two special reasons;     Which may to you, perhaps, seem much unsinew'd,     But yet to me they are strong. The queen his mother     Lives almost by his looks; and for myself--     My virtue or my plague, be it either which--     She's so conjunctive to my life and soul,     That, as the star moves not but in his sphere,     I could not but by her. The other motive,     Why to a public count I might not go,     Is the great love the general gender bear him;


To cut his throat i' the church.

  • To desecrate a holy place, such as a church, by killing there would be seen as an extreme sin
the plot
The Plot
  • Laertes will challenge hamlet to a fencing duel.
  • Laertes’ rapier will be secretly sharpened and dipped in posion.
  • There will also be a cup with poison in it.
death of ophelia
Death of Ophelia
  • Falls into a lake but then does not attempt to pull herself out-extremely passive.
  • It acts as a contrast to Hamlet’s development: he feigned madness and considered suicide; Ophelia descends into genuine madness and commits suicide.