No one can seem to make up my mind about it. People debate, scholars pontificate, directors interpret but there is no consensus…
Does Hamlet know Polonius and Claudius are listening in?
Specifically, when he’s delivering the “To be or not to be” speech. Or does he figure it out later in the scene. If so, when?
I’ve heard it argued that Hamlet knows that Polonius is a crafty spy (he employs Reynaldo to keep track of Laertes’ actions in France) so Hamlet might suspect that Polonius is watching, or maybe overhears the previous conversation about the plan to plant Ophelia there. But this would mean that the soliloquy is not a soliloquy at all. He’s “acting crazy” for the unseen old men.
The alternative is that Hamlet doesn’t know they’re there and he delivers to the audience some of his thoughts on death. I feel that the speech loses something if it’s Hamlet acting for the hidden auditors. It seems to me that if Hamlet realized it later on in the scene — sometime before “where is your father” — it would be more dramatic.
So what do you think? Does Hamlet know he’s being watched from the start, or does he realize it later? And what evidence do you have in the text? In performance it could probably work either way and still be interesting.