Act V-Scene 2: The Climax
In Act V-Scene 2, as the play begins with Hamlet fill in the detail of what happened to him since he left Denmark, Hamlet concedes that there was a kind of fighting in his heart. But clearly his inner struggle has been manifested from the time of his first appearance in this play. Now it is to hear no more expression of self-approach or doubts that he will act positively against Claudius. What is impressive is his decisiveness. He is able to formulate a plan and to execute it without delay. He has found man¹s wisdom, or reason, to have its limitation: fortune, accident, chance - call it that what it will and can determine the course of events, as his own experience aboard the ship proves. He was able to find in the dark the commission for his own death; by chance, he had in his possession his father¹s signet for sealing the forged document. No less by chance, the pirates proved kind and, for sufficient compensation, they returned him to Denmark.
Throughout the play, after we have itemized Claudius¹ major crimes, the Prince does not receive an answer to his question, one which is basic to his status as a moral symbol in the play:
- is¹t not perfect conscience,
To quit him with this arm? And is¹t not to be damn¹d,
To let this canker of out nature come
In further evil?
It has been seen here a Hamlet who is still in doubt, still troubled by his conscience; and his view should not be ignored, if only because it illustrates once more the difficulties of interpretation. One may argue that there is no need for Horatio to answer Hamlet¹s question since he has already expressed deep shock at the latest evidence of Claudius¹ villainy. So the Hamlet in this scene has resolved all doubts; there is no longer a kinda of fighting in his heart.
As the scene progress, Horatio reminds Hamlet that Claudius is sure to learn soon what has happened to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet¹s reply shows him to be controlled and confident. Now he expressed regret that he had so forgot himself as to offend Laertes, stating that he sees the image of his own cause in that of Ophelia¹s brother. Probably no more is intended that Hamlet makes reference to the fact that both have endured great losses, for Hamlet¹s cause transcends the personal or domestic, involving as it does the welfare of the State. The Prince¹s determination to win back the goodwill of Laertes make understandable his prompt agreement to participate in the fencing match.
When Horatio urges him to consider withdrawing from the match (because Hamlet is heartsick), Hamlet makes reply:
...we defy augury. There¹s a
special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be
now, Œtis not to come; if it be not to come, it will
be now; if it be not now, yet it will come; the
readiness is all.
What he says here is consistent with what he said earlier in this scene when he declared that ³There¹s a divinity that shapes our ends². And if he is still heartsick, this passage provides additional evidence that no longer is there a kinda of fighting in his heart - kind that, early in the play, made him lament the fact that he was called upon to act violently because the time is out of joint, and later expend his energy in denunciation of his mighty opposite and accuse himself of inexcusable delay. Hamlet now seems to have resolved all doubts as to whether he functions as a minister or as scourge.
Now, it is the time for the climax of the play, the fencing match. During the match, Queen Gertrude is heard from only after the match has begun and Hamlet has scored the first hit with his blunted foil. The action that follows is as exciting as any to be found in drama. Laertes is allowed to express twinges of conscience just before he wounds Hamlet; and, when he himself is fatally wounded, he has the good grace to acknowledge that his own treachery is responsible for his death. Moreover, just after the Queen cries out that she has been poisoned, he survives to place the blame upon Claudius. Demands of the plot at this point of its resolution, in part, explain Laertes¹ free confession and accusation. But it is not inappropriate that Laertes, who shortly before had declared that he stood aloof from Hamlet in terms of honor and then faced the Prince armed with an unblunted and poisoned rapier, should be allowed to retrieve himself through full confession. Claudius must, and does, remain the rascal of the piece.
³The point envenom¹d too!² exclaim Hamlet at the moment of complete discovery, aware that he will soon join his mother and Laertes in death. We recalls that venom - poison - used by Claudius was the source of the rottenness in Denmark. It has spread throughout Elsinore and beyond. Polonius, Ophelia, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are among its victims.
At long last, Hamlet kill Claudius. The Prince survives not only to philosophize on ³this fell sergeant, Death,² who is so ³strict in his arrest² but also, more important, to implore Horatio to report him and his cause aright - to clear his wounded name. Certainly he does not subjects of the Crown to believe that his slaying of Claudius was the latest and most shocking action of a Hamlet who, in the words of the First Gravedigger, was mad. Even less does he want to be remembered as king killer. Hamlet¹s concept of honor, implicit from the beginning, is something far above that held by Laertes and Polonius. He wishes to be remembered as the worthy son of the superior King Hamlet, as minister called upon to execute public justice, not as scourge. The moving words of Horatio, who knew him best, provide the best epitaph:
Now cracks a noble heart. Good - night, sweet prince,
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
In conclusion, we noticed that Hamlet has paid the price for his inability to master passion before it was too late for him to avoid catastrophe and he failed in that he did not survive to prove himself his father¹s son as ruler of Denmark, insist that the very condition which made inevitable his failure, especially his unwillingness to act without much thought, is the measure of his greatness. For most of us, the Prince emerges finally as sacrificial victim, one whose death is inevitable but which makes possible the purging of great evil and the restoration of a moral universe.