Hamlet Act IV Gertrude tells Claudius about the death of Polonius, and the King directs Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to recover the counselor’s corpse. The two students confront Hamlet, who mocks them, refuses to tell them where the body is hidden, but then agrees to see the King. At court, Claudius tells his noblemen that Hamlet has become a threat to the kingdom, yet he fears to act directly against him because of the Prince’s popularity. Instead, Claudius tells his liegemen that he will exile Hamlet to England. Now in custody, Hamlet is informed of his “mission” to England.
When all save Claudius have left the stage, Claudius confides that he is sending sealed letters to the King of England, asking that monarch to kill Hamlet. On a field in Denmark, Hamlet and his friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, come across a captain from an army led by the Norwegian prince Fortinbras. They learn that this armed force is on its way to war with Poland over a small plot of land. Hamlet derides himself for being unable to kill Claudius while the men of Fortinbras’s army die for a far less justifiable cause. Gertrude is informed that Ophelia has gone insane.
Ophelia enters and her behavior attests to this news, as she sings a morbid, distracted song about a dead lover. A messenger arrives and tells the King and Queen that Laertes, angered at news of his father’s death, has returned from France and is now at the castle gates with a large army, demanding an explanation of Polonius’s death. Claudius enlists the irate Laertes in a plot to kill Hamlet. Horatio receives a letter from Hamlet which tells of the Prince’s being captured by pirates who have agreed to release him while Rosencrantz and Guildenstern continue on to England. Claudius and Laertes conspire to kill Hamlet during a “sporting” duel using a sharpened and poisoned fencing sword. The King puts forth a back-up plan to offer Hamlet a poisoned glass of wine during this context.
Word comes that the troubled Ophelia has committed suicide.