Act I - Scene III

[A room in the house of Polonius.]

Enter Laertes, and Ophelia, his sister.

LAERTES:
My necessaries are embark'd. Farewell.
And, sister, as the winds give benefit
And convoy is assistant, do not sleep,
But let me hear from you.
OPHELIA:
Do you doubt that?(5)
LAERTES:
For Hamlet, and the trifling of his favours,
Hold it a fashion, and a toy in blood;
A violet in the youth of primy nature,
Forward, not permanent, sweet, not lasting;
The perfume and suppliance of a minute;(10)
No more.
OPHELIA:
No more but so?
LAERTES:
Think it no more.
For nature, crescent, does not grow alone
In thews and bulk; but as this temple waxes,(15)
The inward service of the mind and soul
Grows wide withal. Perhaps he loves you now,
And now no soil nor cautel doth besmirch
The virtue of his will; but you must fear,
His greatness weigh'd, his will is not his own;(20)
For he himself is subject to his birth.
He may not, as unvalued persons do,
Carve for himself; for on his choice depends
The safety and health of this whole state,
And therefore must his choice be circumscribed(25)
Unto the voice and yielding of that body
Whereof he is the head. Then if he says he loves you,
It fits your wisdom so far to believe it
As he in his particular act and place
May give his saying deed; which is no further(30)
Than the main voice of Denmark goes withal.
Then weigh what loss your honour may sustain
If with too credent ear you list his songs,
Or lose your heart, or your chaste treasure open
To his unmast'red importunity.(35)
Fear it, Ophelia, fear it, my dear sister,
And keep you in the rear of your affection,
Out of the shot and danger of desire.
The chariest maid is prodigal enough
If she unmask her beauty to the moon.(40)
Virtue itself 'scapes not calumnious strokes.
The canker galls the infants of the spring
Too oft before their buttons be disclosed,
And in the morn and liquid dew of youth
Contagious blastments are most imminent.(45)
Be wary then; best safety lies in fear.
Youth to itself rebels, though none else near.
OPHELIA:
I shall the effect of this good lesson keep
As watchman to my heart. But, good my brother,
Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,(50)
Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven,
Whilst, like a puff'd and reckless libertine,
Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads
And recks not his own rede.
LAERTES:
O, fear me not!(55)

Enter Polonius.

I stay too long. But here my father comes.
A double blessing is a double grace;
Occasion smiles upon a second leave.
POLONIUS:
Yet here, Laertes? Aboard, aboard, for shame!
The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,(60)
And you are stay'd for. There, my blessing with thee.
And these few precepts in thy memory
See thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportion'd thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.(65)
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch'd, unfledged comrade. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel; but being in,(70)
Bear't that the opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgment.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express'd in fancy; rich, not gaudy;(75)
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most select and generous, chief in that.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,(80)
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell. My blessing season this in thee!(85)
LAERTES:
Most humbly do I take my leave, my lord.
POLONIUS:
The time invites you. Go, your servants tend.
LAERTES:
Farewell, Ophelia, and remember well
What I have said to you.
OPHELIA:
'tis in my memory lock'd,(90)
And you yourself shall keep the key of it.
LAERTES:
Farewell.

Exit Laertes.

POLONIUS:
What is't, Ophelia, he hath said to you?
OPHELIA:
So please you, something touching the Lord
Hamlet.(95)
POLONIUS:
Marry, well bethought!
'tis told me, he hath very oft of late
Given private time to you, and you yourself
Have of your audience been most free and bounteous.
If it be so— as so 'tis put on me,(100)
And that in way of caution—I must tell you,
You do not understand yourself so clearly
As it behooves my daughter and your honour.
What is between you? Give me up the truth.
OPHELIA:
He hath, my lord, of late made many tenders(105)
Of his affection to me.
POLONIUS:
Affection? Pooh! You speak like a green girl,
Unsifted in such perilous circumstance.
Do you believe his tenders, as you call them?
OPHELIA:
I do not know, my lord, what I should think.(110)
POLONIUS:
Marry, I'll teach you. Think yourself a baby,
That you have ta'en these tenders for true pay,
Which are not sterling. Tender yourself more dearly,
Or—not to crack the wind of the poor phrase,
Running it thus—you'll tender me a fool.(115)
OPHELIA:
My lord, he hath importuned me with love
In honourable fashion.
POLONIUS:
Ay, fashion you may call it. Go to, go to!
OPHELIA:
And hath given countenance to his speech, my
lord,(120)
With almost all the holy vows of heaven.
POLONIUS:
Ay, springes to catch woodcocks. I do know,
When the blood burns, how prodigal the soul
Lends the tongue vows. These blazes, daughter,
Giving more light than heat, extinct in both(125)
Even in their promise, as it is a-making,
You must not take for fire. From this time
Be something scanter of your maiden presence.
Set your entreatments at a higher rate
Than a command to parley. For Lord Hamlet,(130)
Believe so much in him, that he is young,
And with a larger tether may he walk
Than may be given you. In few, Ophelia,
Do not believe his vows; for they are brokers,
Not of that dye which their investments show,(135)
But mere implorators of unholy suits,
Breathing like sanctified and pious bonds,
The better to beguile. This is for all:
I would not, in plain terms, from this time forth
Have you so slander any moment leisure(140)
As to give words or talk with the Lord Hamlet.
Look to't, I charge you. Come your ways.
OPHELIA:
I shall obey, my lord.

Exeunt.

Footnotes

  1. This line has two significant meanings. One, that Ophelia might expect Hamlet to be faithful ("tethered" to her), but that doesn't necessarily mean that he will or that he won't stray (with a larger tether). Two, it speaks to the different levels of freedom afforded to men, who can walk freer (on a larger tether) than a woman in the Middle Ages can. As a nobleman, Polonius would've seen this behavior in the court and would take measures to prevent his daughter from falling victim to it.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  2. Essentially, Polonius has called Hamlet (and, by extension, any suitor) a wolf in sheep's clothing, not revealing his true intent (likely of a sexual nature) until he has thoroughly convinced Ophelia (and, by extension, any potential love interest or girlfriend) of his innocence. The word "implorators" is a portmanteau of "implore" and "orator," suggesting that Hamlet's great gift is his capacity for making great speeches, which he can use to his advantage against Ophelia.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  3. From the French term "parler," meaning "to speak," parley in a general sense means to talk or to engage in conversation. Formally, it's used among members of a certain social class or between opposing sides of a conflict, military or otherwise, to suggest that a meeting be held to "parley" or discuss the possibility of coming to agreement on a topic (in this case, the nature of Ophelia and Hamlet's relationship).

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  4. "To entreat" means to beg or beseech or to enter into a negotiation, often of a financial nature. Here, Polonius uses it to mean both that Ophelia shouldn't beg for attention and that she should set her standards higher in her dealings with Hamlet. Thus far, she has allowed him a lot of leeway, as the Prince, to visit her and make proclamations which he may or may not mean or hold to in the near future. In that sense, Polonius is trying to protect Ophelia from the very real possibility of being jilted.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  5. To Polonius, Hamlet's love for Ophelia will unquestionable fade, rendering it in effect dead ("extinct") on arrival, having no real aim or intent other than to distract the Prince from his ruminations. His metaphor about light and heat builds on the notion of passion as a fire or flame and takes inspiration from the physics of fire, in which the thing aflame will inevitably be consumed.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  6. A "springe" is a snare to catch small-game, such as the woodcock, a small wading bird. Shakespeare makes one of his characteristic bawdy puns with the word "woodcock," suggesting that "to catch" one would mean ensnaring a man in a situation of a sexual nature. It's unlikely that Ophelia will be interested in this, given her sensitive nature, but given Hamlet's flair for the dramatic, he might well get carried away in his passion.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  7. Shakespeare shows us he's well aware of the mileage he's getting out of this phrase and in doing so legitimizes his repeated use of it by making it seem like a part of Polonius' witty, intelligent personality and not just a word game he's playing. It's also a convenient way of explaining that he's engaging in word play to an audience that might not get the wit or the humor of these lines and thereby miss this aspect of Polonius' personality.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  8. In Shakespeare's time, "tenders" could refer to a type of coin that wasn't legal tender because it wasn't "sterling" or up to the quality of legal money. It's slightly anachronistic for Shakespeare to speak of money as sterling here, because it's a particularly British term that wouldn't have been used in Denmark in Hamlet's time, as they used the Danish krone, or "crown."

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  9. Polonius leaves us to speculate about who, exactly, has reported to him about Ophelia's relationship with Hamlet. It's unlikely that he would've spoken to the King or Queen about it, and he hasn't spoken with Hamlet, which suggests that either he heard from another nobleman in the court or from a spy he's planted to keep tabs on his son and daughter. We won't learn the truth about this until later in the play.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  10. An expression drawn from the phrase "by the Virgin Mary," a mild oath used in the Middle Ages. We assume, from this exclamation, that Polonius knows about Hamlet and Ophelia's relationship to an extent and that he doesn't approve of it (unsurprising considering that he's her father). He's also very clearly pleased with Laertes for looking out for his sister in this way. They're a close family.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  11. Another famous line from the play, this one diverges from the previous topic of money and money-lending to provide a broader piece of commentary or advice to Laertes: that he should never let what other people say or do affect him or make him stray from his principle. He should instead remain "true" to him self (and, by extension, the precepts that his father has lain out for him in this speech).

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  12. "Husbandry" refers to the management of a household and its financial affairs, a source of great pride amongst men of a certain station. It was customary for a man of means to oversee his finances, and any loan or debt would've "dulled the edge" of this task, making it less of an achievement or more of a source of embarrassment. To be indebted in this way was a sign of irresponsibility and a cause for contempt.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  13. One of the most famous lines in the play, it stems from Shakespeare's belief that usurers (people who lend money) are in some way morally bankrupt and that one should never become indebted to someone of poor moral character. In this, there's also an element of anti-Semitism, because at the time most money lenders were Jewish, resulting in sharp backlash against their community whenever a borrower was unable to pay their debt. Notice that Polonius relies on these stock aphorisms rather than offering genuine advice.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  14. If we believe Polonius' claim, then Hamlet's insistence on wearing all black becomes all the more telling, proclaiming or advertising his character to anyone who sees how he's dressed. In that sense, Polonius is warning Laertes to take special care of his wardrobe in France, where both men and women are highly fashionable and judge each other based on their appearance.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  15. Today, the word "censure" generally means the expression of disapproval, particularly in a formal or legal setting. In Shakespeare's time, however, it still meant "advice" or "opinion," making this line and those about it mean, "listen to what other people have to say, remain courteous, and always stay true to your own opinions." This same precept applies to Polonius' advice, and Laertes' non-response to it may suggest that he's taken his father's advice (without necessarily agreeing with it).

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  16. Polonius warns Laertes to be wary of friends he makes at Witternberg, many of whom will be noblemen themselves, with questionable motives for starting a friendship. Polonius instead urges him to remember who his real friends are in the castle and to not be distracted from his studies ("dull [his] palm") with these new friends and entertainments. These precepts tie into the theme of deceit in the play and further characterize Polonius as a careful, watchful person.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  17. This line closely parallels Hamlet's request that Horatio and the officers give their sightings of his father's ghost "an understanding, but no tongue." The two lines in concert lend themselves to an atmosphere of willful silence and of distrust, which solidifies the audience's suspicion that Elsinore isn't a safe place for Hamlet or for anyone who has reason to suspect the King and his guards.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  18. Laertes has already received his father's permission to go to France. Under perfect circumstances he would've already begun his journey by now, but instead he's still in the castle, where he'll be forced to once again take his leave of his father (though this time it will merely be a formality). His statement, "a double blessing is a double grace," hints at this series of events while drawing on a superstition of the time (that receiving permission twice will make the journey that much more auspicious).

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  19. Ophelia has just suggested that Laertes might've spoken out of turn, as a pastor who's somewhat less than pious has no right to preach to the masses about the proper way to behave. This demonstrates Ophelia's intelligence (as a woman who understands when someone's being hypocritical) while further developing their relationship as brother and sister, which seems close enough for Opehlia to know about Laertes' indiscretions.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  20. Shakespeare makes an oblique Biblical reference to Matthew 7: 13-14: "Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way..." Shakespeare alters the description somewhat to make the way or path to heaven look more dangerous than it does in the Bible while maintaining the essence of the danger implied by the subsequent line in the Bible: "broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction."

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  21. "Calumnious strokes" are slanderous or defamatory remarks, in this case aimed against Ophelia with the ultimate goal of destroying her reputation. Thus far, there hasn't been any gossip about Hamlet and Ophelia (that we know of), but, as Laertes suggests, that could easily change. Ophelia need not lose her virtue to be ruined, and any calumnious strokes against her character would have damaged her ability to marry in the future.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  22. To be "chary" means to be reluctant or suspicious of doing something, in this case giving up one's virginity before wedlock. To be "prodigal" means to be extravagant and reckless, the exact opposite of "chary." Laertes uses this contrast to suggest how quickly and easily a woman can give in to lust and how damaging this can be for her reputation if someone finds out or if the man abandons her. Note that Hamlet has no formal obligation to marry Ophelia, and that he can dump her even after she loses her virginity. That's reason enough for her to be cautious.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  23. Laertes refers to Ophelia's virginity. In Hamlet's time, chastity was very highly prized, and a woman's virtue and social status depended largely on her ability to maintain (or appear to maintain) her chastity. By extension, a man's honor was tied to his wife and daughter's chastity, with his blood line and heirs only being assured if there could be no question of his wife's faithfulness. Any indiscretion or gossip would cause serious problems when it came time to inherit the estate.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  24. Hamlet's interest in Ophelia is part in parcel with Denmark's interests, so even it if seems, at the moment, that Hamlet really loves her, she has to take into account the fact that he's acting as a future head of state and treating her like an asset, not as a woman. As a nobleman himself, Laertes would've been all too familiar with this kind of behavior and will likely engage in it himself, if he hasn't already done so.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  25. If we take "soil" to mean something dirty or impure, "cautel" to mean a trick or act of deceit, and "besmirch" to sully or dirty, then this line reads that, for the moment, no impure thoughts or crafty schemes have soiled Hamlet's "pure" love of Ophelia, suggesting that Hamlet hasn't made any sexual advances as of yet and that their romance remains a purely emotional one. That may change, as Laertes suggests, which is why Ophelia must be careful.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  26. That is, the size and power of a man, as measured in his physical strength. Here Shakespeare employs an extended metaphor of the moon (in the words "crescent" and "waxing") to imply that nature itself has a cyclical pattern, and that though it often asserts in physical prowess, it can just as easily be found in the power of someone's mind. This is all to say that Ophelia shouldn't think of Hamlet too much, because this will naturally make her more interested, not less.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  27. In this Laertes suggests that Hamlet has embarked upon this relationship in part because he's a young prince and feels the need to court a noblewoman, as is befitting his station. He also suggests that the forward motion or momentum of this relationship has made it seem more serious than it is, and that it will, in time, run its course, coming to its fateful end. In that sense, this speech foreshadows events to come.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  28. Laertes not only knows about Hamlet's interest in Ophelia, but he disapproves of it, knowing, as he does, that Hamlet's strange, brooding behavior make him in many ways emotionally unavailable, an ultimately selfish admirer who can't see beyond himself. This is, of course, only Laertes' opinion, but Shakespeare uses it to establish both the relationship and something of Hamlet's character, which seems immature to outsiders.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  29. For Laertes, a wealthy nobleman's son, the necessities (or "necessaries") would likely have consisted of clothes, shoes, personal items, weapons, books, and a servant or two to prepare his meals and wash his linens. These items have been provided for him at his father's expense and leisure, as Laertes himself wouldn't have come into his own money until his father's death. Until then, he's beholden to the family, which it seems he doesn't mind.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  30. For modern readers and stage actors, the stage directions here function as a way of establishing they key relationships in this scene: brother, sister, and father. For the audience, however, the stage directions aren't available, and these relationships have to be established in the text through Laertes' and Ophelia's conversation. This is a difficult skill to master, and Shakespeare pulls if off effortlessly, thanks in part to his having established Laertes and Polonius as characters in the previous scene.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  31. This line, Ophelia's first, characterizes her as a naturally loving sister, part of a tight-knit family that includes Polonius, her father, and Laertes, her brother. It's important to note that Ophelia and her brother are expecting to keep in touch, and that, like Hamlet's family, any break in their communication will likely be seen as a sign that something's wrong. Ophelia's question, however sweet and loving, contains a hint of worry: will she be okay without her brother? Does he love her as much as she loves him? Pay attention to Ophelia's mental health in this scene.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  32. Given what happened in the last scene, the audience might reasonably expect the action to jump right to Hamlet meeting the Ghost, but Shakespeare instead provides a chronological account of the day, which emphasizes the point that Hamlet isn't the only important character in the play. This scene, like the one before it, establishes some of the key relationships in the royal court and holds our attention precisely because we're expecting the Ghost to appear. Shakespeare used this to his great advantage.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  33. Polonius knows what kind of trouble his young inexperienced son can get into at college. Because of this, Polonius will be checking up on his son later in the play, though Laertes doesn't know this (and would likely be embarrassed about it if he did).

    — William Delaney
  34. Trivia: 

    What what must one do to be "fluent" in Shakespeare? Just a few things, according to Oscar Wilde, who enumerated those requirements in his 1891 essay, "The Critic as Artist": 

    "He who desires to understand Shakespeare truly must understand the relations in which Shakespeare stood to the Renaissance and the Reformation, to the age of Elizabeth and the age of James; he must be familiar with the history of the struggle for supremacy between the old classical forms and the new spirit of romance, between the school of Marlowe and Marlowe's greater son; he must know the materials that were at Shakespeare's disposal, and the method in which he used them, and the conditions of theatric presentation in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, their limitations and their opportunities for freedom, and the literary criticism of Shakespeare's day, its aims and its modes and canons; he must study the English language in its progress, and blank or rhymed verse in its various developments; he must study the Greek drama, and the connection between the art of the creator of Macbeth; in a word, he must be able to bind Elizabethan London to the Athens of Pericles, and to learn Shakespeare's true position in the history of European drama and the drama of the world." 

    — Jamie Wheeler
  35. In the last scene, Laertes asked Claudius for permission to leave Denmark and return to France. The fact that he hasn't done so already suggests that this character, so briefly introduced earlier, will become a major character in the play. Shakespeare's audience wasn't always able to keep track of his characters, and he solved this problem by reinforcing their importance with multiple appearances, as he does here. This makes it easier for the audience to remember Laertes and tells us that he'll return from France later in the play.

    — William Delaney
  36. Ophelia, one of few female characters in this play, is a classic example of the ingenue, a stage term deriving from the Latin meaning "guileless" that's used to describe a young, innocent woman. It's common for Shakespeare's ingenues to meet fateful ends, as Desdemona does in Othello and Juliet famously does in Romeo & Juliet. Ophelia, it can be assumed, will fare no better. Character, Literary Devices RL.11-12.3

    — William Delaney
  37. Traditionally, the word "tender" appears either as an adjective describing a kind and gentle person or a verb meaning to offer or make a payment. In this case, it appears as a noun, meaning an offering of affection or tenderness, either in his words or actions (or perhaps even with jewelry or other gifts). This suggests something of the nature of their romance, which is young, affection, and not as of yet sexual. These things are subject to change.

    — Tyler Yamaguchi
  38. Since the 15th Cnetury, "primrose" has been used metaphorically to refer to the first or best of something (primrose is popularly but erroneously thought to derive from prima rosa, "first rose"); so a "primrose path" is not necessarily one lined with primroses, but can be understood as a description of perfect loveliness or, in this case, a pleasant path to destruction characterized by romantic "dalliances" and acts far from righteous.

    — Tyler Yamaguchi
  39. Protocol dictated that royals would marry partners pre-selected for them according to their parents' needs and wishes. Many marriages were in fact allegiances forged in order to consolidate property, assets, and political relations between friendly nations. These kinds of arrangements were common in Europe and led to many members of the aristocracy being related to each (as Queen Elizabeth II was cousin to Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm, a familial tie that nevertheless couldn't stop WWI). For Ophelia and Hamlet, marrying for love was not an option.

    — Tyler Yamaguchi