Hamlet Act 3 Analysis

Main events of the act 3:

  • Claudius no longer believes that Hamlet is insane, he wants to send him to England;
  • Actors perform the play about the death of the king, Claudius leaves in a middle of it;
  • Hamlet decided not kill Claudius when the king was praying;
  • Hamlet accidentally kills Polonius;
  • Hamlet tells Gertrude that Claudius killed her husband.


Scene 1

Scene 2

Scene 3

Scene 4


Act 3 Scene 1

People present in the scene:

  • Gertrude – the Queen of Denmark and mother of Hamlet;
  • Claudius – the brother of the deceased Danish King and new husband of Gertrude;
  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern – school friends of Hamlet;
  • Polonius – trusted lord of the king Claudius, father of Ophelia;
  • Ophelia – daughter of Polonius and beloved woman of Hamlet;
  • Hamlet – the Prince of Denmark.

Place and time of the scene: Royal castle.

Main events of the scene:

  • Polonius and Claudius spy on Ophelia and Hamlet, find out that it’s not because of love that the prince is behaving so weirdly;
  • Hamlet voices his most famous lines “To be or not to be”;
  • Claudius decides to send Hamlet to England;
  • Polonius offers to spy on the conversation between Hamlet and his mother.

Short Summary:

The king is inquiring whether Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have found out the reason for Hamlet’s weird behavior. They say that he admits to feeling lost, but doesn’t state the reason and doesn’t want to talk about it. They say, however, that prince was happy to see the actors and invited them to perform that night. The prince asked Polonius to invite the queen and the king. Claudius agrees and is relieved to hear that Hamlet is still interested in theater.

When Rosencrantz and Guildenstern leave, Claudius asks Gertrude to leave as well. He and Polonius are about to spy on Hamlet and Ophelia to find out whether the prince is suffering from love feelings.

Ophelia is aware of the plan. She is reading a book to create an impression of loneliness. When Hamlet enters, he performs his most famous monologue: “To be, or not to be: that is the question” before he notices the lady he loves.

Hamlet suspects something and is cold towards Ophelia. He says he doesn’t love her anymore. He insults Ophelia and her father. Then Hamlet leaves. In her monologue, Ophelia says that Hamlet used to be a noble, brave and educated man, but now he is a lost man.

The king is certain that it’s not the love that is making prince go crazy. He is also suspecting that Hamlet isn’t insane, but is faking. His language is convoluted, but not mad. He decides to send the prince to England to collect the tribute owed to Denmark.

Polonius is still sure that Hamlet is fading with love. He offers to set up one more meeting – a private rendezvous between the queen and Hamlet. Polonius will be listening to that conversation.


Act 3 Scene 2

People present in the scene:

  • Hamlet – the Prince of Denmark and connoisseur of theater;
  • Actors of the traveling theater;
  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern – school friends of Hamlet;
  • Polonius – trusted lord of the king Claudius, father of Ophelia;
  • Horatio – scholar and loyal friend of Hamlet;
  • Gertrude – the Queen of Denmark and mother of Hamlet;
  • Claudius – the brother of deceased Danish king and new husband of Gertrude;
  • Ophelia – daughter of Polonius and beloved woman of Hamlet;
  • Lucianus – king’s nephew (in a play performed by actors).

Place and time of the scene: Royal castle.

Main events of the scene:

  • Hamlet tells Horatio about his plan with the play;
  • The actors perform the death of the King of Denmark;
  • The king leaves in a middle of the play and is feeling unwell, which proves Hamlet’s suspicions;
  • The queen requests to see Hamlet in her room;

Short Summary:

Hamlet talks to the visiting actors. He is telling what lines and how exactly the actors should perform tonight. He asks the actors not to overact, not to use too many gestures – because too much exaggeration hurts theater. But the actors should also align their actions with words. He says that theater should be balanced and natural.

Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter on stage. They inform that the king and the queen are coming to see the play. Hamlet sends them to hurry up the actors. Then he calls Horatio to come to him. Hamlet says that he can only trust and talk openly with Horatio.

Hamlet tells Horatio about the modified play and his plan. He asks Horatio to watch for the reaction of the king when the changed scene will come up. Hamlet will watch as well. Then the two will share their interpretations of the king’s reaction.

The king and the queen enter with their entourage and all the due honors. Hamlet is again pretending to be crazy in his conversation with the king. He suddenly remembers that Polonius used to play Julius Caesar in theater.

The actors are ready to perform. Hamlet refuses to take the seat next to the queen and asks Ophelia whether he can put his head on her knees. He keeps talking nonsense, like saying that his father died 2 hours ago.

The play begins. In the play, there are king and queen who love each other. The king falls asleep and the queen leaves him in the garden. An unknown person takes the crown off the king, kisses the crown and pours poison into his ear. When the queen finds her husband dead, the murderer pretends to be sorry and starts to court the queen. She resists for a while but then accepts the murderer’s attention.

The king stands up towards the end of the play. Everybody leaves the room after him. Hamlet and Horatio share their impressions: they are certain that the ghost told the truth.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern come back saying that the king locked himself up in his room. The queen wants to talk to Hamlet in her room. Hamlet says that he’s tired of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern following him around. He wants Guildenstern to play the pipe, making reference that they both play with Hamlet.


Act 3 Scene 3

People present in the scene:

  • Claudius – the brother of deceased Danish King and new husband of Gertrude;
  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern – school friends of Hamlet;
  • Polonius – trusted lord of the king Claudius, father of Ophelia;
  • Hamlet – the prince who is believed by everybody to have lost his mind.

Place and time of the scene: Royal castle (Shakespeare doesn’t specify which room exactly).

Main events of the scene:

  • The king tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to take Hamlet to England, they agree;
  • Claudius admits to having murdered his brother;
  • Hamlet sees Claudius as he is trying to pray but doesn’t have the guts to kill him;

Short Summary:

In the conversation to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the king admits that he doesn’t love Hamlet and thinks it is dangerous for the state if Hamlet stays in Denmark. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern agree to take Hamlet with them to England, as they say, it is their duty to preserve the peace of Danes.

Then Polonius enters. He informs the king that Hamlet is on his way to talk with his mother privately. Polonius plans to hide behind the carpet and overhear their conversation. Polonius is to report to his king in the evening.

When Polonius leaves to perform his guileful plan, Claudius is left alone. He suddenly reveals all his secrets and admits that the burden of having killed his brother is bothering him. He believes that praying is useless – he won’t be forgiven unless he gives up everything that he killed for - the crown and the might. He then says that money can buy freedom even for the criminal.

Just as Claudius fall on his knees trying to pray, Hamlet enters the room. He thinks it is the perfect time to avenge his father’s death. But the young prince dives into philosophical discussions whether it’s fair to send the murderer to heaven. (In some Christian religions, a person will go to heaven if he or she prayed to be convicted of his sins before the death.) He decided to wait for the moment when the king isn’t praying.


Act 3 Scene 4

People present in the scene:

  • Gertrude – the Queen of Denmark and mother of Hamlet;
  • Hamlet – young prince ready to avenge his father’s death;
  • Polonius – trusted lord of the king Claudius, father of Ophelia;
  • Ghost of the murdered king;

Place and time of the scene: Royal castle, private suite of the queen.

Main events of the scene:

  • Hamlet kills Polonius;
  • Hamlet tells Gertrude that Claudius murdered his father;
  • The ghost appears in front of Gertrude, but she doesn’t see him;

Short Summary:

The queen knows that Polonius will spy on her conversation with Hamlet. Polonius hides behind the carpet. The queen tells Hamlet that she is dissatisfied with his behavior lately. Hamlet throws it at her that her decision to marry Claudius was not appropriate.

Hamlet is rude in his words, the queen gets scared that he is going to kill her and calls for help. Polonius also screams for help from behind the carpet trying to save the queen. Hamlet stabs the carpet with his sword and Polonius dies.

At first, Hamlet thinks that it was the king behind the carpet. The queen blames Hamlet for such a bad deed and he tells her that her marrying the murderer of the king is also a bad deed. Gertrude is shocked. Hamlet tells her what he knows about his father’s death.

The ghost enters the room to awaken Hamlet’s forgotten promise about revenge. The queen doesn’t see the ghost and thinks that it is all in Hamlet’s mind. Hamlet confesses to his mother that he is not crazy, that it is all an act. The queen promises not to tell Claudius this secret.

They say goodnight and Hamlet leaves, dragging Polonius body with him.


Act 3: Analysis and Interpretation

Act three is very intense and event-heavy comparing to the whole play. The passions are high and the events escalate quickly. In this act Hamlet finally gains certainty that the ghost told him the truth. Yet the king also finds out that Hamlet is planning something and decides to get rid of him.

In this act, the audience gets to see the real personality of Claudius. He is smart and has good intuition. Even though Hamlet’s conversation with Ophelia doesn’t make sense – Claudius recognizes that his language is still structured and has a certain degree of logic to it.

Act three is the place where Claudius shows himself in his true colors. The audience sees that Claudius feels uneasy. He suspects that Hamlet knows and he starts talking about his feelings with the audience. Claudius openly hints that he’s guilty: “How smart a lash that speech doth give my conscience!... O heavy burthen!”

Very soon, in scene 3 he openly says that “I love him not” when talking about Hamlet, and then confesses to his crimes: “O, my offence is rank it smells to heaven… A brother's murder.”

The same development happens to Hamlet character. Despite receiving factual confirmation, Hamlet reveals uncertainty of his soul. He spares the king when an opportunity to kill him comes about. Instead, he moves too quickly and kills Polonius – an accidental death, which the young prince doesn’t seem to regret. It seems that Hamlet is relieved to know that he is, in fact, capable of murdering somebody. Which means he is capable to fulfill his promise and avenge his father’s death. If only he had the guts…

The net around Hamlet is narrowing – Polonius keeps setting up “accidental” meetings, two of his school friends openly proclaim their loyalty for Claudius, he no longer doubts ghost’s words, the country is turning into a prison. There are no more excuses, he should murder his uncle. And yet, he lingers. The more he thinks about it, the more he dwells into analyzing his soul and feelings, the more questions he asks himself – the less decisive he becomes.

In the act three Shakespeare starts to oppose his characters – for example, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are absolutely different from Horatio. Up to this point, Horatio proved himself to be a true friend of Hamlet. He is loyal, understanding and helpful. He sincerely wants to help Hamlet and get to the bottom of this drama.

On the contrary, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern sell their loyalty depending on where the wind blows. They easily pick up the perception of the king that Hamlet is a threat to the state of Denmark. As Guildenstern says, he will take Hamlet to England “To keep those many, many bodies safe… That live and feed upon your majesty”.

Act three is also the part where Hamlet voices out his most famous monologue that starts with “To be or not to be”. A major difference in Hamlet’s character comparing to other literary characters of similar tragedies is his ability to step back, analyze and look at the situation from the outside. His main actions are his thoughts, his deep and complex self-analysis.

In his play, Shakespeare draws not just a prince who is the face of the country and a figure at the top of the society. The great writer created an extraordinary personality, immense in all its characteristics. Hamlet is a hero of the Renaissance period – he is a great man in all meaning of this word. His tragedy is also a sign of the crisis Renaissance ideology was going through at the time of writing. The prince takes up the task to review and reassess not only medieval values, but also humanism values. In the play, the humanist ideas that the world is a kingdom of unlimited freedom and extraordinary actions are shown as an illusion.

Act three finishes with Hamlet knowing that he has no choice but to punish the evil. But there’s confusion in his head about what is evil – because it is no longer just about Claudius crimes. Evil is in the world that gave Claudius a chance to do what he did. Evil is in the people who accepted Claudius when he married the wife of his brother so quickly. Evil is in two people who gave up their friendship to demonstrate their loyalty to the royal status.

And Hamlet feels that he can not fight this evil alone. One person isn’t enough to make a world a better place. This thought gives birth to another conflict in Hamlet’s mind and it makes him think about how meaningless life is. He starts thinking about suicide.

So many characters open their personalities in the act three. At the same time, the audience is left unsure whether Hamlet managed to turn the queen into his ally. She is sincerely shocked to find out that she is married to a murderer, yet she is loyal and might choose to keep the status quo for the sake of the country and the reputation of her family.