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Scenes 1.3 and 1.4

Scene 1.3 - Within the Castle

Before departing for France, Laertes discourages his sister, Ophelia, from further pursuing a relationship with Hamlet. Laertes successfully convinces his sister that Hamlet is not the right man for her because 1) as royalty, his will is not his own (a bride, for instance, might be chosen for him) and 2) as a political figure, his actions and words cannot be trusted. Hamlet might love her now - or say he does anyway - but it is, Laertes warns, an immature and fleeting love. Laertes is quick to remind his sister that her honor and reputation are at stake, and that she would lose face if after cavorting with Hamlet he suddenly abandoned her. Ophelia takes the words to heart, but not without also advising Laertes to beware hypocrisy.

Polonius then enters to bid a final farewell to his son in a famous and often-quoted (but now cliched) speech: "Neither a borrower, nor a lender be; / For loan oft loses both itself and friend: / And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry. / This above all; to thine ownself be true: / And it must follow, as the night the day, / Thou canst not then be false to any man." With Laertes' exit, Ophelia and Polonius discuss Laertes' recent advice to his sister regarding Hamlet. Polonius seconds his son's words, saying that Ophelia has been too free with her presence before Hamlet - in essence, that she has been paying Hamlet undue attention and playing too easy to get. Her honor (read: Polonius' honor) is on the line, he tells her. Hamlet's affections and promises, Polonius warns, are said in the heat of the moment and subject to radical change. The "honourable fashion" of Hamlet's courting and his "vows of Heaven," which Ophelia recollects with tenderness and admiration, are nothing of the sort according to Polonius. At her father's behest, Ophelia agrees not to speak with Hamlet anymore.

Scene 1.4 - On the Night Watch, Outside the Royal Castle at Elsinore

Hamlet, Horatio and Marcellus meet at the watchtower as planned shortly after midnight. It is a bitter cold night. A flourish of trumpets is heard and Horatio looks to Hamlet for an explanation. The trumpets testify, Hamlet explains, that the King is presently getting drunk according to Danish custom; Hamlet nonetheless thinks it is a custom "more honored in the breach than the observance" of it. Moments later the ghost appears and interrupts their conversation. Wasting no time, Hamlet boldly addresses it, although admitting his uncertainty of the ghost's heavenly or hellish nature. Calling it "Hamlet, / King, father, royal Dane," Hamlet asks the ghost what it wants of them. The ghost beckons to Hamlet, motioning that Hamlet should follow it.

Both Horatio and Marcellus, fearing for Hamlet's life, prohibit him from following the ghost alone; when Hamlet resists their counsel, Horatio and Marcellus attempt to hold him back. Undaunted, Hamlet threatens his friends. If he must follow to hear the ghost speak, Hamlet reasons, then follow he will - at any price. Letting his imagination run wild, Horatio dreams up a number of schemes the ghost might have in mind, all leading to Hamlet's demise, but Hamlet persists. Finally, against their better judgment, Horatio and Marcellus release Hamlet and watch in fear as he departs with the ghost. Quite aware now that (in Marcellus' words) "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark," Horatio and Marcellus trail helplessly behind their friend.

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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