If you’ve landed on this page chances are you got here following a question that you googled, and the answer is no longer available. That is because in early 2017 I folded the shakespeareanswers.com domain into my main shakespearegeek.com property, and have not yet managed to recreate all the questions. For that, I apologize. Please don’t hesitate to try the search bar over there, you might still find your answer! I am recreating the original questions over time, but can’t promise that the specific one you came looking for will appear anytime soon.
He doesn’t. He’s what you sometimes hear referred to as the “exception that proves the rule.” Like how at the end of Hamlet, everybody dies. Except Horatio.
The official body count in the final scene (Act 5 Scene 2) of Hamlet is four: Gertrude, Laertes, Claudius, Hamlet. Enter Fortinbras, who says “What happened here?” and Horatio is left to tell the tale.
Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 film version may have also killed off Osric (the referee, for lack of a more description term), it’s difficult to tell. In Branagh’s version, Fortinbras is actively invading the castle while the final duel takes place between Hamlet and Laertes. Osric is seen being taken by surprise and stabbed. However, he then returns to the scene to deliver his line about Fortinbras’ “warlike volley.”
In some interpretations, such as Ingmar Bergman’s 1986 production, Horatio is killed at the end of the play. When Fortinbras orders, “Bid the soldiers shoot,” some directors have taken that as license to execute Horatio, presumably as the last remaining witness to all that had taken place. It’s important to note that there is nothing in the text to indicate this (just like Osric’s death above). However, there’s two ways to die in a play. Either the script says you die, or else you eventually just run out of lines. Once you’re no longer part of the action (such as Osric), you might fall victim to artistic license and find yourself dead at the end of Act 5 whether Shakespeare wanted it that way or not.
There’s a short and easy answer to the question of why Hamlet killed Polonius. It was an accident. A case of mistaken identify, if you will. What he did next, however, certainly was no accident.
The story so far: Hamlet has sprung his mouse trap, playing out Claudius’ crime in front of him with the help of the actors. Claudius reaction has, as Hamlet anticipated, “caught the conscience of the king.” Gertrude, upset with her son for angering her husband, has requested Hamlet come to her bedchamber so she might speak with him. Polonius offers to spy on Hamlet by reaching the queen first and hiding in the arras (curtains).
Hamlet, in exultation at having proven Claudius’ guilt, comes to his mother’s bedchamber and intends to tell her off:
Hamlet. Now, mother, what’s the matter?
Gertrude. Hamlet, thou hast thy father much offended.
Hamlet. Mother, you have my father much offended.
Gertrude. Come, come, you answer with an idle tongue.
Hamlet. Go, go, you question with a wicked tongue.
Gertrude. Why, how now, Hamlet?
Hamlet. What’s the matter now?
Gertrude. Have you forgot me?
Hamlet. No, by the rood, not so!
You are the Queen, your husband’s brother’s wife,
And (would it were not so!) you are my mother.
Hamlet’s mood at this point is pretty obvious. He’s been unhappy with his mother and is letting it all out. You have my father much offended. You question with a wicked tongue. You are your husband’s brother’s wife.
If Hamlet had stormed off at this moment, having made his point, the play would have gone differently. Instead, Gertrude stands up and says, “I don’t have to take this!” and Hamlet shoves his mother back down, because he’s not done with her yet:
Gertrude. Nay, then I’ll set those to you that can speak.
Hamlet. Come, come, and sit you down. You shall not budge;
You go not till I set you up a glass
Where you may see the inmost part of you.
Gertrude is not prepared for Hamlet to put his hands on her. Remember that the whole castle believes Hamlet to have lost his mind. So it’s hardly unexpected when she yells to Polonius for help:
Gertrude. What wilt thou do? Thou wilt not murther me?
Help, help, ho!
Polonius. [behind] What, ho! help, help, help!
Hamlet didn’t know someone else was in the room. He stabs blindly through the arras:
Hamlet. [draws] How now? a rat? Dead for a ducat, dead!
[Makes a pass through the arras and] kills Polonius.
Polonius. [behind] O, I am slain!
Gertrude. O me, what hast thou done?
Right now the audience is thinking the same thing that Gertrude is. What just happened? Hamlet’s a thinker and a talker, not a doer. Up to this point in the play he hasn’t really done anything. Until now. Heard a noise? Kill it!
Hamlet. Nay, I know not. Is it the King?
Gertrude. O, what a rash and bloody deed is this!
Hamlet. A bloody deed- almost as bad, good mother,
As kill a king, and marry with his brother.
Gertrude. As kill a king?
Hamlet thought Claudius was hiding behind the arras! During this exchange, in fact, he still believes he has killed Claudius, which perhaps explains why he so blatantly accuses his mother of the crime, thinking that he has now avenged his father.
The timing here is subject to some debate. In the previous scene, on his way to his mother’s bedchamber, Hamlet had already passed Claudius at prayer. He has an opportunity there to kill him, but chooses not to take it. So, then, does Hamlet think that Claudius somehow beat him to the same destination? It’s possible that Hamlet took his time getting to his mother’s room eventually. Or that castles do tend to have secret passages and if there was a shortcut to Gertrude’s room, Claudius knew it. It’s also likely that in the heat of the moment Hamlet simply never thought of this.
So, Polonius’ death was an accident. What happens next is not. Hamlet hides Polonius body, refusing to let him have a proper burial. Act 4 scenes 2 and 3 are actually devoted entirely to the search for Polonius’ body:
Rosencrantz. What have you done, my lord, with the dead body?
Hamlet. Compounded it with dust, whereto ’tis kin.
Rosencrantz. Tell us where ’tis, that we may take it thence
And bear it to the chapel.
And then, when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern can get no answers out on him, Hamlet is taken before Claudius:
Claudius. Where is Polonius?
Hamlet. In heaven. Send thither to see. If your messenger find him not
there, seek him i’ th’ other place yourself. But indeed, if you
find him not within this month, you shall nose him as you go up
the stair, into the lobby.
So Hamlet uses the dead body of his girlfriend’s father as a prop so he can tell Claudius to go to hell. Is this part of his crazy act? Or at this point does he truly care so little about such things that he doesn’t think twice about defiling a corpse?
Juliet’s thoughts on marriage change during the play, so the answer to the question depends on whether we look in Act 1 Scene 3 or Act 2 Scene 2.
Juliet is first mentioned when Paris comes asking her father for Juliet’s hand in marriage. Her father tells Paris that her opinion counts, and that he will not force her to marry someone she does not love:
Capulet. But woo her, gentle Paris, get her heart,
My will to her consent is but a part;
An she agree, within her scope of choice
Lies my consent and fair according voice.
We next see Juliet with her mother, who is working her from a different angle:
Lady Capulet. Marry, that ‘marry’ is the very theme
I came to talk of. Tell me, daughter Juliet,
How stands your disposition to be married?
Juliet. It is an honour that I dream not of.
There is the short answer for anybody just looking to get the homework answer. What does Juliet think about marriage? It is an honour she dreams not of.
But wait! She hasn’t met Romeo yet. Act 2, Scene 2, otherwise known as the famous balcony scene:
Juliet. Three words, dear Romeo, and good night indeed.
If that thy bent of love be honourable,
Thy purpose marriage, send me word to-morrow,
By one that I’ll procure to come to thee,
Where and what time thou wilt perform the rite;
And all my fortunes at thy foot I’ll lay
And follow thee my lord throughout the world.
This is Shakespearean for, “If you like it then you’d better put a ring on it.” Juliet has gone from “I’m not really interested in getting married” to “Just tell me the time and the place and I’ll be there.”
Twelfth Night opens with a shipwreck, but if you blink you’ll miss it. There’s no actual stage direction that says “And now a shipwreck happens,” unlike The Tempest which starts in exactly this way.
Instead, the first cue about what’s happened comes as Viola, the Captain and sailors enter (Act 1 Scene 2) and Viola asks, “What country is this?” and fears that her brother has drowned:
[Enter VIOLA, a Captain, and Sailors]
Viola. What country, friends, is this?
Captain. This is Illyria, lady.
Viola. And what should I do in Illyria?
My brother he is in Elysium.
Perchance he is not drown’d: what think you, sailors?
The Captain goes on to describe what he saw during the wreck, and gives Viola hope that her brother might indeed have survived (spoiler alert – he did!) But, still, that leaves Viola alone in a country unknown to her. The Captain tells her the story of the Lady Olivia and Duke Orsino. Viola wonders if she might become a servant for Olivia, but she is not seeing any visitors. So instead Viola decides that go into the service of Orsino, with the help of the Captain:
Conceal me what I am, and be my aid
For such disguise as haply shall become
The form of my intent. I’ll serve this duke:
Thou shall present me as an eunuch to him:
It may be worth thy pains; for I can sing
And speak to him in many sorts of music
That will allow me very worth his service.
She never says “help me dress like a boy”, of course, but it can be inferred from the clues (“conceal me what I am”, “present me as an eunuch to him”).
But why is this her plan? Surely there must be easier ways to survive in Illyria. There are a few theories:
It’s a matter of safety. She’s an unaccompanied woman in an unknown country (even though she is with the Captain, he’s still just a hired hand, not exactly a family member). She’ll meet with less trouble if people think she’s a man. This is the logic that one of Shakespeare’s other cross-dressing heroines, Rosalind, uses in As You Like It:
Rosalind. Alas, what danger will it be to us,
Maids as we are, to travel forth so far!
Beauty provoketh thieves sooner than gold.
Celia. I’ll put myself in poor and mean attire,
And with a kind of umber smirch my face;
The like do you; so shall we pass along,
And never stir assailants.
Rosalind. Were it not better,
Because that I am more than common tall,
That I did suit me all points like a man?
A gallant curtle-axe upon my thigh,
A boar spear in my hand; and- in my heart
Lie there what hidden woman’s fear there will-
We’ll have a swashing and a martial outside,
As many other mannish cowards have
That do outface it with their semblances.
She needs money. Viola’s first thought is to go into the service of Olivia until she can get her own situation together:
Viola. O that I served that lady
And might not be delivered to the world,
Till I had made mine own occasion mellow,
What my estate is!
The Captain’s description of the story between Orsino and Olivia has captivated Viola’s attention, and she wants to insert herself into the story. She believes that she will be of value to the Duke because she “can sing, and speak to him in many different sorts of music” and also “what else may hap to time,” so it’s quite possible that she’s already thinking about trying to play matchmaker.
It’s easy to miss when and how Lady Macbeth dies, because like so many other major character she dies off stage and her death is reported by a lesser character. In this case the news comes in Act 5 Scene 5, when Macbeth hears a scream and sends Seyton to investigate. Seyton returns and says, “The queen, my lord, is dead.”
Macbeth does not ask how she died. Before play ends, however, Malcolm gives more information about the circumstances in Act 5 Scene 8:
…Producing forth the cruel ministers
Of this dead butcher and his fiend-like queen,
Who, as ’tis thought, by self and violent hands
Took off her life;
Malcolm here appears to be confirming a rumor that Lady Macbeth killed herself. It is well established in other scenes that she has been slowly losing her mind. Shakespeare’s audience would have accepted as fact that she was possessed by demons at this point, and no additional detail would have been necessary.