The Use of The Mousetrap in Hamlet

1064 words | 4 page(s)

Hamlet designs his play-within-the-play called The Mousetrap with the purpose of confirming the words of the Ghost about the King Hamlet’s murder. The Mousetrap, which is also known in the play as The Murder of Gonzago, is performed by visiting actors. Its plot resembles King Hamlet’s murder through the murder of Gonzago, the play’s fictional character, and explicitly points at Claudius’s guilt. Hamlet, by using this play, wants to catch Claudius’s conscience apart from several other motives. He also wants to catch his mother’s conscience. Yet, this plot is ineffective, since it only exposes Hamlet to a greater danger and backfires in an unpredicted way. MAIN CLAIM: Hamlet uses The Mousetrap to catch Claudius and Gertruda’s consciences, obtain a moral right to kill the King, and confirm the Ghost’s words, yet his plot is ineffective because it provides a warning to Claudius and creates a barrier to Hamlet’s avenging Claudius.

Hamlet’s first aim is to catch Claudius’s conscience and compromise him by putting the King’s integrity to test. Hamlet, in particular, has a belief that no human who has committed a crime, such as a murder, would be able to sit through the process of that crime visible reproduction. Hamlet believes that this person is bound to display unusual emotion. Hamlet also thinks that if the King is caught when displaying this unusual emotion, this will give him a moral right to kill Claudius in revenge. Hamlet’s plan is to sit till the play ends and then compare his notes on Claudius’s behavior Horatio’s notes.

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Secondly, Hamlet’s plan reflects his wish to confirm the words of the Ghost and avoid making a biased and wrong judgment. Indeed, Hamlet us unsure about the identity of the Ghost and if afraid that the Ghost is actually a disguised devil that will tempt him into a crime. The crime, apparently, seems very severe and deserving eternal punishment for Hamlet, because he never stops thinking about the danger to his soul after killing an innocent person. It is only at the end of The Mousetrap that Hamlet loses hold of this frightening idea. In this way, eliciting Claudius’s guilt through catching his conscience is not the only reason here. Another one is Hamlet’s desire to reveal truth and either confirm the words of his father’s Ghost or disprove them. Hamlet’s fear of devil taking the form of his late father leads him to double-check Claudius’s guilt, and this, as Hamlet imagines, could be effectively done through making the King face the actual events of the murder, recreated on stage.

Thirdly, Hamlet’s aim is to trace his mother’s level of guilt and catch her consciousness, too. Specifically, Hamlet intends to obtain Gertrude’s reaction by offering her to face a scene in which the Player Queen promises to be loyal to the King and says she won’t ever remarry. Hamlet probably wants to make Gertrude confess, because the pantomime prologue portrays a queen who loves the aging king whereas in the course of the play this queen accepts the murderer’s advances. The fact that a large piece of the play is dedicated to the Player Queen’s vows of eternal loyalty and her subsequent breach of these vows demonstrates Hamlet’s desire to catch his mother’s conscience and realize the magnitude of her choice. In the first section of The Murder of Gonzago, one first reads the Player Queen’s words: “Both here and hence pursue me lasting strife, / If, once a widow, ever I be wife!” (232-233). Then one reads Hamlet’s words which he utters aside: “If she should break it now!” as well as reads his more direct question addressing his mother about how she likes this play. The fact that Hamlet is so stunned by Gertrude’s reaction points out at his obsession of making her realize the consequences of her lust from the perspective of morality. Also, the fact that Hamlet gets confused after seeing Gertrude’s reaction (which is not what Hamlet actually thought would be) indicates that he may be far more preoccupied with teaching morality to his mother than actually wreaking a revenge on Claudius. Another piece of evidence from the play that confirms Hamlet’s preoccupation with making Gertrude confess is selecting the title for the play The Mousetrap. As one can learn from the play, “mouse” is a pet name used by the new King to address his wife. In particular, one can find in line 181the following words: “Pinch wanton on your cheek, call you his mouse” (181). In this way, the trap has been designed not only to catch Claudius but to catch Gertrude’s conscience even though her partaking in King Hamlet’s betrayal was unwitting.

Contrary to Hamlet’s expectations his plot turns out ineffective because it provides a warning to Claudius and creates a barrier to Hamlet’s avenging Claudius. In particular, Hamlet warns Claudius through his explicit joy over being on the road to finding the desired proof. He remarks, “’t is a knavish piece of work: but what o’that? Your majesty and we that have free souls, it touches us not (…).” He himself points at the trap he designed: “The Mousetrap. Marry, how tropically!” (231). Moreover, by introducing the character of Lucianus, Gonzago’s nephew, Hamlet convinces Claudius that he should beware the upcoming vengeance (“the croaking raven doth bellow for revenge”) and makes him feel that he is now a victim. This makes Claudius pray and prevents Hamlet from killing him at the moment which was appropriate for that. This backfires as Claudius regains self-control and designates the murder of Hamlet.

In summary, Hamlet’s focus when directing The Mousetrap is on his desire to catch Claudius’s guilt, make his mother aware of her sin, confirm the words of the Ghost, and eliminate all his doubts about inflicting a revenge on the King. It is ineffective because Hamlet fails to act as he initially intended and exposes himself and other people related to him to an immense danger.

  • Shakespeare, William. Hamlet: Entire Play, n.d., Accessed October 31, 2018.
  • Stephenson, Henry. “Hamlet’s Mouse-Trap.” The Sewanee Review, vol. 13, no.1 (1905), pp. 30-34.
  • Willson, Robert. “Hamlet: The Muddled Mouse-Trap.” CLA Journal, vol. 22, no. 2 (1978), 160-166.

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