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Hamlet
William Shakespeare

THE STORY

ACT II, SCENE I

We know time has passed because Laertes has arrived in Paris and needs money. Polonius is sending a messenger, Reynaldo, with it, and instructs the young man before seeing Laertes not only to make inquiries about his son's behavior from other members of the Danish colony in France, but to disarm them into telling the truth by fabricating rumors of his own about Laertes' wild behavior. If they confirm the rumors, says Polonius, "Your bait of falsehood takes this carp of truth." Wordy and hedging in his instructions, the old man forgets the point he is making halfway through, so that Reynaldo has to prompt him.

As the messenger leaves, Ophelia comes in, deeply upset. Hamlet, whom she has been refusing to see, has invaded her room with a terrifying look on his face, grabbed her by the wrist, stared at her intensely, sighed, and then stalked out, still staring at her. Polonius, jumping to conclusions as usual, decides that Hamlet is truly in love with Ophelia after all, and that her refusal to see him has driven him mad. He takes her instantly to inform the king.


NOTE:

Is Hamlet play-acting, or showing signs of madness? Is he experiencing true melancholy or relishing his role as romantic hero? All these interpretations can be supported by the text. Some readers argue that Hamlet, deeply disturbed over the news of his mother's hasty remarriage, has now found that the other woman in his life is behaving strangely toward him. Given her father's close friendship with Claudius, he naturally worries that her unexpected coldness may be part of a plot against him. He would like to unburden himself to her, but he is stopped by both his promise and the fear that she might tell her father. Taken together, all these conflicting impulses produce in him an action that is, in effect, no action. You will see an expanded version of this later- this is only a warning sign- when Polonius plots a confrontation between Hamlet and his daughter.

Subplots in Shakespeare often echo the main plot in a comic way. Notice in this respect how Polonius' scene with Reynaldo continues the subject of pouring poison- in this case the poison of false gossip- into the ear.  

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