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. The first is meant to remind Ophelia that even though she might expect Hamlet to be "tethered" to her if they are intimate, he has no formal obligation to marry her. The second meaning speaks to the different levels of freedom afforded to men, who could walk freer (on a larger tether) than women could. Hamlet's chastity is not a concern, but Ophelia's is, meaning that they face different consequences for the same actions.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  2. Essentially, Polonius has accused Hamlet of being a liar who makes grand gestures and holy vows in order to trick Ophelia into sleeping with him. The word "implorators" is a portmanteau of "implore" and "orator," suggesting that Hamlet's great gift is his capacity for making persuasive speeches, which he can use to his advantage against Ophelia. Though not as highly valued as sons, daughters were valuable assets since their eventual marriages could advance their families. If Ophelia continues to be courted by Hamlet, her chastity will be called into question, scaring off other suitors closer to her station. So, while Polonius is looking out for his daughter, he is also looking out for himself and his reputation.

    — 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 to suggest that a meeting be held to "parley," or discuss the possibility of coming to agreement on a topic. Polonius is telling Ophelia to be more reserved about meeting Hamlet. Rather than going to see Hamlet whenever asked, he suggests that she reserve her affections and ask a higher price for her time.

    — 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. In Polonius' eyes, Hamlet's love for Ophelia will undoubtedly fade, rendering it 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 suggests that if Ophelia gets too close to it, she will discover that it is more flashy than substantial.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  6. A "springe" is a snare to catch small-game, such as the woodcock, a small wading bird. Polonius characterizes Hamlet as false and, through the use of the hunting metaphor, predatory. He compares Ophelia to a game-bird and suggests that Hamlet is attempting to lure her in with his vows and tenders, only to snare her. Both Laertes and Polonius characterize Ophelia as unsuspecting and passive, emphasizing the lack of agency, especially sexual agency, that women had.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  7. Polonius shows us he's well aware of the mileage he's getting out of this phrase and, in doing so, highlights his wit. He chastises Ophelia even more harshly than Laertes did, echoing the idea that Hamlet's affections are not genuine and that Ophelia would be a fool to be taken in by his romantic gestures. Much like Laertes, Polonius does not take Ophelia's feelings into account in his criticisms of Hamlet. Both men believe that they are protecting Ophelia but end up hurting her instead, inadvertently setting up a conflict where Ophelia must choose between her love for Hamlet and her duty to her family.

    — 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. Polonius implies that Hamlet's gestures of affection are not "sterling," meaning that they are not indicative of true love. It is anachronistic for Shakespeare to speak of money as sterling here, because it is 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 does not reveal who 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. Polonius is preoccupied with appearances, so keeping track of what his children are doing is consistent with his characterization.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  10. An expression drawn from the phrase "by the Virgin Mary," a mild oath used in the Middle Ages. This exclamation indicates that Polonius knows about Hamlet and Ophelia's relationship and, much like Laertes, doesn't approve of it. The male members of a family were viewed as the guardians of the female members' chastity, so both Laertes and Polonius view Hamlet as a potential threat to Ophelia's future since her marriage prospects are dependent on the perception of her virtue.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  11. This line can be read in different ways. Using a straightforward interpretation, Polonius encourages Laertes to be true to his own thoughts and desires. However, since this precept is included at the end of a long list of other suggestions, the advice seems to conflict with itself. Is Polonius giving his son leave to disregard all of this advice and be genuinely true to himself, or is he expecting Laertes to "be true" to his advice since a son's will was considered to be the extension of his father's will?

    — 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 and 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, this sentiment 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. There's also an element of anti-Semitism in this sentiment, since most money lenders were Jewish in Shakespeare's time. 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 people are highly fashionable and judge each other based on 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." This line is encouraging Laertes to listen to what other people have to say, remain courteous, and always stay true to his 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 school, many of whom will be noblemen with questionable motives for starting a friendship. Polonius instead urges him to remember who his real friends are 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 path to heaven look more dangerous than it does in the Bible while maintaining the essence of the danger implied by the subsequent line: "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. Even rumors could ruin 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 engaging in physical intimacy before wedlock. To be "prodigal" means to be extravagant and reckless, the exact opposite of "chary." Laertes encourages Ophelia to be "chary" and reminds her that Hamlet has no formal obligation to marry her. She has significantly more to lose than Hamlet does.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  23. Laertes is referring to Ophelia's virginity. In Hamlet's time, a woman's marriage prospects depended largely on her ability to maintain (or appear to maintain) her chastity. By extension, a man's honor was tied to the chastity of his wife and daughters, 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 in conflict with Denmark's interests, so even if Hamlet really loves her, she has to take into account the fact that he is a future King. While Ophelia's family is important to the royal court, she is not a princess and has very little to offer Hamlet in terms of a political match.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  25. "Soil" refers to something dirty or impure and "cautel" refers to a trick or act of deceit. "Besmirch" means to sully or dirty something. This line indicates that Hamlet's love for Ophelia is still "pure," playing on the different connotations of "soil" to reference both emotional purity and physical chastity. Despite Laertes' assumptions regarding his sister's chastity, contemporary readings of Hamlet suggest that Ophelia and Hamlet may have already consummated their relationship prior to Laertes offering this advice, which explains Ophelia's behavior going forward.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  26. "Thews and bulk" refers to the size and power of a man, as measured in his physical strength. In an attempt to console his sister, Laertes tells her that Hamlet might actually love her in the present. However, he states that humans do not only grow physically, but mentally and spiritually. While Hamlet's feelings for Ophelia are real in the moment, Laertes insists that those emotions will not last.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  27. Laertes suggests that the momentum of Ophelia and Hamlet's relationship has made it seem more serious than it is, and that it will, in time, run its course. He cautions his sister to reject Hamlet's advances since their relationship will not last more than "a minute." Ophelia expresses her dismay over this prediction, indicating that her affection for Hamlet is genuine. Laertes' advice comes from a place of brotherly concern, but he ends up hurting Ophelia since his speech does not account for her feelings.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  28. Laertes knows about Hamlet's interest in Ophelia and actively disapproves of it. In Laertes' eyes, Hamlet's strange, brooding behavior makes him emotionally unavailable and so he advises his sister to be reserved with her affections towards the Prince. Despite his moments of introspection and education, Hamlet's character seems immature to outsiders, leading him to be perceived as a fickle suitor at best.

    — 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  30. For modern readers and stage actors, the stage directions function as a way of establishing the 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 through dialogue. Laertes and Polonius were already introduced in the previous scene as father and son, so this scene functions as a way of introducing Ophelia and adding depth to the relationships between the characters.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  31. This line, Ophelia's first, characterizes her as a loving sister, part of a tight-knit family that includes her father Polonius and her brother Laertes. Ophelia did not need Laertes to ask her to keep in touch since she already planned to write to him. The ensuing conversation is full of earnest advice, highlighting the genuine care that exists between Ophelia, Laertes, and Polonius. The loving atmosphere of this parting scene serves as a contrast to the awkward and disingenuous conversation between Claudius, Gertrude, and Hamlet in Act I, Scene II.

    — 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. Instead, Shakespeare provides a chronological account of the day and introduces some other important characters. This scene, like the one before it, establishes some of the key relationships in the royal court. It also builds anticipation for when the Ghost does eventually appear.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  33. Polonius knows what kind of trouble his young, inexperienced son can get into at college. He counsels his son about the importance of moderation and encourages him to choose his associations wisely. Though much of the advice is cliche, Polonius' concern for his son's reputation shines through. As a man who has worked his way into a position of importance, Polonius is very concerned with appearances and word of Laertes' indiscretions reflects poorly on his family.

    — William Delaney
  34. In the previous scene, Laertes was given permission by Claudius to leave Denmark and return to France. Since Shakespeare's plays were written for the stage, keeping track of characters could prove difficult for live audiences, especially if characters were absent from the story for long stretches of time. Shakespeare responded to this problem by reinforcing the importance of certain characters with multiple appearances, as he does here. This scene makes Laertes more memorable by exploring his relationship with his father and sister, contextually foreshadowing that he'll return later in the play.

    — William Delaney
  35. Ophelia, one of the few female characters in Hamlet, is a classic example of the ingenue, a Latin-derived stage term meaning "guileless." It is used to describe a young, innocent woman. It is common for Shakespeare's ingenues to meet tragic ends, as Desdemona does in Othello and Juliet does in Romeo & Juliet.

    — William Delaney
  36. 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).

    — Tyler Yamaguchi
  37. Since the 15th Century, "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. Ophelia is calling out the double standard that allows Laertes to lecture her about virtue while he misbehaves in France.

    — Tyler Yamaguchi
  38. Protocol dictated that royals would marry partners pre-selected for them according to their parents' needs and wishes. Many marriages were 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 Hamlet, marrying for love was not an option.

    — Tyler Yamaguchi