There is so much that has been said of this scene: The inherent sexism. The Oedipal undertones. Books and doctoral dissertations’ worth of words, words, words.
And here are some more. It is said that conversation and swordfighting have much in common: A person’s argument is an attack that attempts to make a point. The adversary may block, parry, deflect. The adversary might make a counterpoint, a retort, reply, riposte. So it goes here: Gertrude attacks and is deflected and struck with Hamlet’s retort. She becomes a frightened by his hot-blood-drinking passion and cries for help, to which the hidden Polonius cries out, and Hamlet kills him thinking—hoping—it is Claudius caught spying. Alas, the wrong ass behind the arras.
“Thou find’st to be too busy is some danger”: you should’ve kept your nose out of my business.
We will briefly touch upon the sexism and hypocrisy in Hamlet’s condemnation of his mother.
The ghost shows up—to Hamlet’s eyes only—with a time’s-a’wastin’-best-get-on-it message.
The scene begins with Claudius tasking Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to take him to England. Then Claudius begins to pray over his “heavy burden.” As he is praying, Hamlet happens by and decides quickly to stab him to death, but then realizes that he is shriving and will go to heaven, unlike his father who was killed “unhousled…unaneled” (1.5.84) and has to burn off sins in hell. Hamlet will wait until he kills Claudius while “…drunk asleep, or in his rage…about some act that has no relish in it” so “his heels may kick at heaven”(3.4.94-99) as he plunges headfirst to hell.
Yes: Hamlet would drink hot blood right then, but decides to wait to assure not only revenge, but the justice of Claudius in hell.
HAMLET Nay, do not think I flatter;
For what advancement may I hope from thee,
That no revenue hast but thy good spirits
To feed and clothe thee? Why should the poor be flatter’d?
No, let the candied tongue lick absurd pomp,
And crook the pregnant hinges of the knee
Where thrift may follow fawning. Dost thou hear?
Since my dear soul was mistress of her choice
And could of men distinguish, her election
Hath seal’d thee for herself. For thou hast been
As one, in suff’ring all, that suffers nothing;
A man that Fortune’s buffets and rewards
Hast ta’en with equal thanks; and blest are those
Whose blood and judgment are so well commingled
That they are not a pipe for Fortune’s finger
To sound what stop she please. Give me that man
That is not passion’s slave, and I will wear him
In my heart’s core, ay, in my heart of heart, As I do thee. (3.2.59-79)
The person that Hamlet describes does not sell out, nor does he or she get carried away by their own uncontrolled emotions. The metaphor is that this person is in control of himself and is not “played” by circumstance, nor does she play others. (Compare to Polonius: “Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried…” (1.3.68-71).) Bear this in mind when Hamlet gives Guildenstern a recorder and asks him to play it.
HAMLET Ay, sir, but ‘while the grass grows’- the proverb is something musty.
[Enter the Players with recorders. ]
O, the recorders! Let me see one. To withdraw with you- why do
you go about to recover the wind of me, as if you would drive me into a toil?
GUILDENSTERN O my lord, if my duty be too bold, my love is too unmannerly.
HAMLET I do not well understand that. Will you play upon this pipe?
GUILDENSTERN My lord, I cannot.
HAMLET I pray you.
GUILDENSTERN Believe me, I cannot.
HAMLET I do beseech you.
GUILDENSTERN. I know, no touch of it, my lord.
HAMLET It is as easy as lying. Govern these ventages with your fingers and thumbs, give it breath with your mouth, and it will discourse most eloquent music. Look you, these are the stops.
GUILDENSTERN But these cannot. I command to any utt’rance of harmony. I have not the skill.
HAMLET Why, look you now, how unworthy a thing you make of me! You would play upon me; you would seem to know my stops; you would pluck out the heart of my mystery; you would sound me from my lowest note to the top of my compass; and there is much music, excellent voice, in this little organ, yet cannot you make it speak. ‘Sblood, do you think I am easier to be play’d on than a pipe? Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, you cannot play upon me. (3.2.374-402)
You are reading the whole scene, right? We hear in Hamlet’s voice a sort of scolding of Ophelia for spurning his love, then we have OPHELIA ‘Tis brief, my Lord. HAMLET As woman’s love (3.2.174-175) and we see Hamlet hits two birds with one stone.
The dialogue of the player king and queen is an extension of Hamlet being honest right out in the open. “That’s wormwood!” Hamlet is slamming everyone in this mousetrap.
ROSENCRANTZ My lord, you once did love me.
HAMLET And still do, by these pickers and stealers (363-364).
Hold up, Son: you want to sell me out and then blame me for it?
Hamlet ends the scene with “‘Tis now the very witching time of night…Now could I drink hot blood.” (419-431) He is ready to use a sharper edge on everyone.
Before Laertes leaves again for college in France, he warns his sister that Prince Hamlet might actually believe that he loves her, but as heir to the throne, he will not be a totally free man to make his choice:
Then weigh what loss your honor may sustain/If with too credent ear you list his songs/Or lose your heart or your chaste treasure open/To his unmastered importunity (I.iii.33-36).
Best safety lies in fear.
Ophelia says she will listen, but, says she, make sure, brother, that you do not act the hypocrite (49-55).
No, this does not belong to Baz Luhrmann, despite the egregious misattribution. That he put it to song and included it in his frenetic Romeo and Juliet is probably true–I’ve not seen it–but the essay belongs to Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune.