Elsewhere in the halls of Elsinore, Horatio receives two sailors who come with a letter from abroad—the missive is from Hamlet, and Horatio reads it out loud. The letter states that after only two days at sea, the ship bringing Hamlet to England was set upon by pirates. During the battle with the privateers, Hamlet boarded their ship, and the pirates have kept Hamlet prisoner in exchange for a favor. Hamlet urges Horatio to let the sailors give another letter from the pirates to the king, and then come for him at once. Hamlet says he has a lot to tell Horatio—especially about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who are still on their way to England. Horatio hurriedly leads the sailors to meet with the king.
This development is something of a deus ex machina—a last-minute turn of events that saves a play’s protagonist from certain death. Hamlet’s return is certainly going to make things interesting—but the ludicrous tale again begs the question of how much of what Hamlet reports is real, and how much of it is not what it seems.