Explication of Hamlet Act 3 Scene III
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The scene opens with King Claudius asking Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to accompany Hamlet to England, and deliver a letter with orders to have Hamlet killed. Later on, King Claudius is lest alone, and, perhaps as a consequence of his guilt, starts to pray for forgiveness for killing his brother, the late King Hamlet, and marrying the queen. Hamlet finds him praying, and changes his mind about killing him while in prayer because he believes Claudius will go to heaven instead of hell. He wants to avenge the death of his father, but he reckons that killing Claudius in his state of repentance is like “hire and salary, not revenge” (Act III. scene iii.95). Consequently, he postpones his plans with the intention of catching him when he is drunk or in rage, so that he will die in a state of sin and, accordingly, get condemned to hell.
This scene portrays human nature in relation to revenge and self-promoting interests. In terms of self-promoting interests, King Claudius is worried about his own condition after killing his brother. Yet, he is planning to have Hamlet killed so that he will rule Denmark without any opposition.
On his part, Hamlet wishes for the full damnation of King Claudius. For a long time, he had intended to avenge the death of his father by killing Claudius, his murderer. However, it took so long to execute this decision, because he wanted to expose his guilt beyond any doubt. Consequently, upon finding Claudius in player, he was held in check, not as a matter of cautiousness (he had earlier stabbed Ophelia’s father without any caution) but after contemplating the ineffectiveness of killing a person whose soul might be saved after all.
A moral issue that arises is the nature of retributive justice in society (punishing the offender through punishment without benefiting the victim). The fact that Claudius was praying suggested that his sins might be forgiven and he goes to heaven. On his part, Hamlet wanted even his soul to be tortured in hell. He figures that if he kills Claudius and his soul goes to heaven, then his revenge would be useless, because instead of condemning him to eternity in hell, he would have helped in sending it to heaven. It questions the moral relevance of retributive justice, such as revenge the offender, which does little to improve the condition of the wronged.
Therefore, Hamlet’s delay could be seen as a calculation aimed at delivering a blow that would give his adversary no chance of salivation. It reflects the destructive nature of human hatred, because Hamlet wishes for the worst that could happen to Claudius. In his reasoning, a villain who killed his father should not go to heaven. Regardless, at this very moment, he doubts the position of Claudius as regards to salivation. For that doubt alone- the uncertainty that his prayer and repentance may afford him remission of past deeds, he decides to postpone meting the punishment, so as to catch him when he is in a situation befitting condemnation to hell.
And indeed, he eventually did when he (Claudius) commissioned the poisoning that led to the death of Gertrude and Laertes. Only then was Hamlet certain that the soul of his father’s murderer will descend to the bottomless bit of hell.