Summary and Analysis Act IV: Scene 6


Horatio receives letters from a sailor sent by Hamlet. The first letter tells Horatio that pirates beset the ship on which Hamlet was being carried to England. In the ensuing battle, the pirates took Hamlet captive; they treated him well and brought him back to Denmark. He has, in return, promised to do them a favor. The other letters, says Hamlet's first letter, are for Horatio to deliver to the King. After he has made the delivery, Horatio is to come immediately to meet Hamlet; Hamlet tells his friend that he has much news to share.


Hamlet's return is a dramatic device providing a deus ex machina (a contrived solution to a problem) for the play's plot. Shakespeare uses a problem that seriously threatened Elizabethan/ Jacobean security: the prevalence of pirates. Some critics speculate that Shakespeare means for us to infer that Hamlet, knowing that pirates lurk in every bay, has arranged for the pirates to subvert Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's mission. It is equally likely that the ship bound for England carrying Hamlet and his treacherous "friends" was beset by pirates, and Hamlet, always the smooth talker, was able to connive his own release. In either case, the outcome is critical to the play's action. Only by returning to the center of the conflict can Hamlet create the forces that drive the climax, denouement, and resolution.


an't if it.

compelled valour bravery that stems from necessity.

thieves of mercy merciful thieves.

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