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The Number Three in ,209:

According to Colin Wilson, author oI The Occult, some people believe that numbers
have an inIluence on human aIIairs. It is well known that the Elizabethans were more
superstitious than most, and the inIluence oI numbers can readily be seen in
Shakespeare's Hamlet. There are two women (Gertrude and Ophelia), two uncles
(Claudius and Norway, and six countries (Denmark, England, France, Germany,
Norway, and Poland), the result oI two times three. The number three itselI is a major,
though oIten neglected, motiI oI the play. Wilson comments on its signiIicance:
Three: the number oI versatility and plenty; traditionally lucky ('three times
lucky'); people with the number three are gay, charming, adaptable, talented,
lucky, but inclined to be 'other directed', living too much Ior the approval and
liking oI other people.

A close analysis oI Hamlet reveals how very appropriate this description is Ior
Shakespeare's play.
When the play Iirst opens, we meet two oI the three soldiers that will appear
on stage, Marcellus and Bernardo. These two men Iorm an important bridge in
the play between the common people outside Elsinore who are aIIected by the
happenings within the castle, and the people within Elsinore's walls. They are
the observers oI 'unnatural' events and the episodes caused by the politicians,
and it is Marcellus who observes 'Something is rotten in the state oI Denmark'.
As members oI the guard, they must adapt to the changing Irom the reign oI
King Hamlet who had taken them into a war against Norway and the new
king, Claudius, who is preparing to deIend Denmark Irom invasion by
Norway. By the play's end, it is they who have escaped the carnage, but not
the invasion. They must adapt once more at the end oI the play to the new
Norwegian king, Fortinbras.
The third soldier is the Captain oI Fortinbras army, who voices the mission oI
the Norwegian army as Hamlet is being escorted to England by Rosencrantz
and Guildenstern. He tells the Prince that the army goes to Iight Ior a piece oI
land in Poland that is not worth very much except in terms oI honour.
Metaphorically, this is an encapsulation oI Hamlet's problem: his assassination
oI Claudius is not worth very much except to him as revenge Ior his Iather's
murder. It is a domestic problem, not a political one. In the Captain's case and
Hamlet's such a tiny action can still have Iar-reaching eIIects. The Norwegian
victory in Poland allows Fortinbras to turn his attention to Denmark, while
Hamlet, returned Irom England, so distracts the villainous Claudius that
Denmark is unprepared Ior invasion. For these three soldiers, adaptability and
versatility necessitated by their military training proves to be the provider oI
lucky circumstances Ior survival.