Detailed Summary of Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 1:

Page Index:
  • Enter King, Queen, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern.
  • Re-enter Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern.

Enter King, Queen, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern:
The Queen has gone straight from Hamlet to the King, and finds him with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who have been looking for Hamlet. She is obviously in a state of emotional turmoil, and the King says, "There's matter in these sighs, these profound heaves: / You must translate" (4.1.1-2). Apparently the Queen feels a need to be cautious about her news, because the first thing she does is ask Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to leave her alone with the King.

As soon as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are gone, the Queen begins to shade the truth. She says that Hamlet is as "Mad as the sea and wind, when both contend / Which is the mightier" (4.1.7-8), which she may truly believe, but which also is what Hamlet wants her to say. She does not mention that Hamlet said he was only "mad in craft." She goes on to tell how Hamlet killed Polonius, and the King immediately sees that if he had been behind that arras, he would have been dead. He's also worried that he will be held responsible for what Hamlet has done, because he should have kept Hamlet under control.

Then, when the King asks where Hamlet is, the Queen apparently tells a very big lie. She answers:
To draw apart the body he hath kill'd:
O'er whom his very madness, like some ore
Among a mineral of metals base,
Shows itself pure; he weeps for what is done. (4.1.24-27)
An "ore" is a vein of pure gold and a "mineral" is a mine, so the Queen means that Hamlet's tears show that even in his madness he really has a heart of gold. But when did Hamlet weep? After Polonius was dead, Hamlet called him "fool" (3.4.31), "this" (3.4.174), and "guts" (3.4.212). Apparently Gertrude is lying to protect her son. Or perhaps she really did think Hamlet wept, because that's what she wanted to think of her son.

Re-enter Rosencrantz and Guildenstern:
The King vows to get Hamlet out of the country before sunset, but he's feeling quite sorry for himself. He tells his wife that he will have to excuse Hamlet's actions as best he can, and calls for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The King tells the "friends both" to find Hamlet and bring Polonius' body into the chapel. They hurry out, and the King says he will have a conference with his advisors to explain what has happened and what he's doing about it. He hopes that his reputation won't suffer, but his "soul is full of discord and dismay" (4.1.45).