act 3 scene 2
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Hamlet instructs the players on the art of acting, telling them to act naturally and to avoid bombast. He sets the players to their preparations and then conferences with Horatio. After complimenting Horatio in the most sterling terms, Hamlet asks his friend to assist him in watching the king’s response to the play they are about to see (apparently Hamlet has by this time told Horatio what the ghost revealed). Horatio seats himself so as to view the king properly. The royal entourage enters. Hamlet manically chatters with Claudius, Polonius, Gertrude and Ophelia, reserving special attention for the latter, whom he sits next to and teases.
The play begins with a “Dumb Show,” which is a pantomime of the drama to come. On stage, the basic form of the alleged murder is repeated: a king and queen are shown happily married; the king takes a nap; a poisoner enters and pours something in the king’s ear, killing him; the poisoner than takes possession of the queen. Ophelia seems confused by this plot but Hamlet tells her to wait for the speaker of the prologue to explain.
The prologue is a short little jingling rhyme. The player king and queen then immediately enter the stage. The king mentions that they have been married thirty years. The player queen expresses a hope that their love last as long over again. The king encourages the queen to remarry if he dies. The queen protests against this notion vehemently, swearing never to love another if were to she turn widow. With this, the king falls asleep and the queen exits. Hamlet asks his mother, Gertrude, how she likes the play, and Gertrude replies with the famous line, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Claudius is also outspokenly apprehensive about the nature of the play. It continues, however, with the entrance of Lucianus, the sleeping king’s nephew. This evil character creeps up to the sleeping player king and pours poison in his ear. Hamlet, unable to contain himself, erupts, telling everyone that Lucianus will soon win the love of the king’s over-protesting wife.
At this, Claudius rises and orders the play to end. He retreats with his retinue. Hamlet and Horatio laugh together, certain now that the ghost was telling the truth. After a short celebration, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter and tell Hamlet that he has made Claudius very angry. They also say that Gertrude has ordered Hamlet to meet her in her chamber. They then entreat Hamlet to tell the cause of his distemper. Hamlet replies mockingly by saying that they are trying to play him like a pipe and that he won’t let them. Polonius enters and entreats Hamlet again to see his mother. All exit but Hamlet. In a short soliloquy, Hamlet reflects that he will be cruel to his mother, showing her the extent of her crime in marrying Claudius, but will not actually hurt her.