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Scene 2.1

Scene 2.1 - Within the Castle

There is an unspecified lapse of time between Act I and Act II, but several indications point to a significant interval, perhaps days or even weeks. We soon learn, for instance, that Laertes is acclimatized again to life in Paris, Ophelia has been dutifully avoiding Hamlet, and the King and Queen have taken notice of Hamlet's strange behavior. Act II opens with Polonius instructing his servant, Reynaldo, to deliver money and notes to his son at school in Paris. But before Reynaldo pays a visit to Laertes, Polonius directs him to snoop around in Paris and see if he can't discover what "wanton, wild, and usual slips" are to be found in the young Laertes' behavior. Ever obsessed with honor and reputation, Polonius is sure to be explicit in his instructions: Reynaldo is first to locate the other Danes in Paris and, assuming they will know Laertes, he is then to claim a distant knowledge of Laertes. The hope is that if Reynaldo invents and subsequently talks up some of Laertes' faults - suggesting perhaps that Laertes gambles or drinks or even visits the occasional brothel - then Laertes' friends might be more forthcoming with details about his unbecoming behavior. Polonius warns Reynaldo, however, that he must not suggest something too dishonorable - say, that Laertes is given to sexual excess and a regular at the brothel - lest he ruin Laertes' reputation. It is thus that the scheming Polonius will "by indirections find directions out."

As Reynaldo takes his leave, a distressed Ophelia enters. Ophelia, while sewing in her room, has just been frightened by an extremely disheveled Hamlet. She reports that, pale-faced and knees knocking, Hamlet was hatless and his jacket unbuttoned, not to mention that his stockings were dirtied and bunched around his ankles like fetters. Polonius, already formulating a theory in his head, wants to know exactly what Hamlet said. Ophelia continues - unaware, it seems, that she isn't reporting what Hamlet said (for he didn't speak at all) but rather what he did - recalling how he gripped her hard by the wrist and perused her face at length before departing. This can have only one meaning, Polonius declares: Hamlet is mad, madly in love with Ophelia. And he has become so, Polonius would have us believe, precisely because Ophelia has staunchly refused his advances per her father's orders. Polonius openly regrets his misreading of Hamlet, having told Ophelia that Hamlet couldn't be serious in his love for her. Just as there is only one interpretation of Hamlet's behavior, there is only one course of action to be taken: the King himself must be alerted to Hamlet's dire condition.

Browse all book notes

Historical Context
Main Characters
Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Plot Summary
Scene 1.1
Scene 1.2
Scenes 1.3 and 1.4
Scene 1.5
Scene 2.1
Scene 2.2
Scene 3.1
Scene 3.2
Scene 3.3
Scene 3.4
Scenes 4.1, 4.2, and 4.3
Scenes 4.4 and 4.5
Scenes 4.6 and 4.7
Scene 5.1
Scene 5.2


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