Act II - Scene I

[Elsinore. A room in the house of Polonius.]

Enter old Polonius with his man [Reynaldo] or two.

Give him this money and these notes, Reynaldo.
I will, my lord.
You shall do marvellous wisely, good Reynaldo,
Before you visit him, to make inquire
Of his behaviour.(5)
My lord, I did intend it.
Marry, well said, very well said. Look you, sir,
Inquire me first what Danskers are in Paris,
And how, and who, what means, and where they keep,
What company, at what expense; and finding(10)
By this encompassment and drift of question
That they do know my son, come you more nearer
Than your particular demands will touch it.
Take you, as 'twere, some distant knowledge of him,
As thus, ‘I know his father and his friends,(15)
And in part him.’ Do you mark this, Reynaldo?
Ay, very well, my lord.
‘And in part him, but,’ you may say, ‘not well.
But if't be he I mean, he's very wild,
Addicted so and so’; and there put on him(20)
What forgeries you please—marry, none so rank
As may dishonour him, take heed of that—
But, sir, such wanton, wild and usual slips
As are companions noted and most known
To youth and liberty.(25)
As gaming, my lord?
Ay, or drinking, fencing, swearing, quarrelling,
Drabbing. You may go so far.
My lord, that would dishonour him.
Faith, no; as you may season it in the charge.(30)
You must not put another scandal on him,
That he is open to incontinency.
That's not my meaning; but breathe his faults so quaintly
That they may seem the taints of liberty,
The flash and outbreak of a fiery mind,(35)
A savageness in unreclaimed blood,
Of general assault.
But, my good lord—
Wherefore should you do this?
Ay, my lord,(40)
I would know that.
Marry, sir, here's my drift,
And I believe it is a fetch of warrant.
You laying these slight sullies on my son
As 'twere a thing a little soil'd i' the working,(45)
Mark you,
Your party in converse, him you would sound,
Having ever seen in the prenominate crimes
The youth you breathe of guilty, be assured
He closes with you in this consequence:(50)
‘Good sir,’ or so, or ‘friend,’ or ‘gentleman’
According to the phrase or the addition
Of man and country
Very good, my lord.
And then, sir, does he this—he does—what was I(55)
about to say?
By the mass, I was about to say something! Where did I
At ‘closes in the consequence,’ at ‘friend or so,’ and
At ‘closes in the consequence,’ ay, marry!
He closes with you thus: ‘I know the gentleman.
I saw him yesterday,’ or ‘t'other day,’
Or then, or then, with such, or such; ‘and, as you say,
There was a gaming,’ ‘there o'ertook in's rouse,’(65)
‘There falling out at tennis’; or perchance,
‘I saw him enter such a house of sale,’
Videlicet, a brothel, or so forth.
See you now;
Your bait of falsehood takes this carp of truth;(70)
And thus do we of wisdom and of reach,
With windlasses and with assays of bias,
By indirections find directions out.
So, by my former lecture and advice,
Shall you my son. You have me, have you not?(75)
My lord, I have.
God be wi' ye. Fare ye well!
Good my lord!
Observe his inclination in yourself.
I shall, my lord.(80)
And let him play his music.
Well, my lord.

Exit Reynaldo.

Enter Ophelia.

How now, Ophelia, what's the matter?
O, my lord, my lord, I have been so affrighted!(85)
With what, i' the name of God?
My lord, as I was sewing in my closet,
Lord Hamlet, with his doublet all unbraced,
No hat upon his head, his stockings fouled,
Ungartered, and down-gyved to his ankle;(90)
Pale as his shirt, his knees knocking each other,
And with a look so piteous in purport
As if he had been loosed out of hell
To speak of horrors, he comes before me.
Mad for thy love?(95)
My lord, I do not know,
But truly I do fear it.
What said he?
He took me by the wrist and held me hard;
Then goes he to the length of all his arm,(100)
And, with his other hand thus o'er his brow,
He falls to such perusal of my face
As he would draw it. Long stay'd he so.
At last, a little shaking of mine arm,
And thrice his head thus waving up and down,(105)
He raised a sigh so piteous and profound
As it did seem to shatter all his bulk
And end his being. That done, he lets me go,
And with his head over his shoulder turn'd
He seem'd to find his way without his eyes;(110)
For out o' doors he went without their help,
And to the last bended their light on me.
Come, go with me. I will go seek the King.
This is the very ecstasy of love,
Whose violent property fordoes itself(115)
And leads the will to desperate undertakings
As oft as any passion under heaven
That does afflict our natures. I am sorry.
What, have you given him any hard words of late?
No, my good lord; but, as you did command,(120)
I did repel his letters and denied
His access to me.
That hath made him mad.
I am sorry that with better heed and judgment
I had not quoted him. I fear'd he did but trifle(125)
And meant to wrack thee; but beshrew my jealousy!
By heaven, it is as proper to our age
To cast beyond ourselves in our opinions
As it is common for the younger sort
To lack discretion. Come, go we to the King.(130)
This must be known; which, being kept close, might move
More grief to hide than hate to utter love.



  1. What does Ophelia mean by "bended their light on me"?

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. In terms of drama, why does Shakespeare have Ophelia tell us about Hamlet's actions instead of having Hamlet perform the scene on stage?

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. Who is Polonius's son?

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. Dramatic irony exists when the audience knows more than the characters know in a given situation. How is Ophelia’s exchange with Hamlet an example of dramatic irony?

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. How does Polonius interpret Hamlet's mad behavior?

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. What does this scene reveal about Polonius's character?

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. "Unreclaimed blood" refers to somebody having too much blood in the body. Blood is one of Hippocrates’ four bodily humors (the others being black bile, yellow bile, and phlegm), and it is associated with the emotion of sanguinity, or excessive passion and lust. ‘Hot-blooded’ is a modern term with similar meaning.

    — Georgia, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. Polonius believed that Hamlet’s interest in Ophelia was fleeting and would pass, but Hamlet’s grief, which has coincided with Ophelia’s rejection of him, has made Polonius believe that Hamlet truly loves Ophelia. Polonius therefore feels he misjudged Hamlet.

    — Georgia, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. Polonius says that love is such a strong, violent emotion that it can lead people to self-destruct and commit strange and ‘desperate’ acts. It is interesting that Polonius suggests this is the ecstasy (extreme happiness) of love when Hamlet indeed appears to be suffering greatly. Polonius can become wrapped up in his own conceptions of things, ignoring any contradicting evidence.

    — Georgia, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. Ophelia and Polonius interpret Hamlet’s wild behavior as a symptom of his love for her. The audience, however, is privy to a more likely explanation: Hamlet really does have horrors out of hell to speak of (specifically, his new knowledge that Claudius murdered his father).

    — Georgia, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. Polonius explains that if Reynaldo makes up small lies about Laertes to his acquaintances, these people may in turn divulge some unsavory truths about Laertes’ behavior, which Reynaldo will report to Polonius. The metaphor here is clear: lies are the bait, and true stories about Laertes are the carp (the fish they want to catch)

    — Georgia, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. Polonius asks Reynaldo to casually speak with those who might know Laertes to figure out whether or not the men do, in fact, know Laertes. This is somewhat similar to Polonius’s own approach above, when he indirectly suggests that Reynaldo ought to ask after Laertes. Polonius may feel that he was being subtle, but he is not particularly good at the art in which he is instructing Reynaldo.

    — Georgia, Owl Eyes Staff
  13. Polonius does not credit Reynaldo with much intelligence, feeling the need to explain his plan to Reynaldo down to the very responses these men will be likely to give. Clearly Polonius thinks he is being very artful with the deception he is asking Reynaldo to stage.

    — Georgia, Owl Eyes Staff
  14. Polonius is telling Reynaldo that his ‘party in converse’ will agree with Reynaldo’s claims, especially if that person had observed Laertes behaving poorly. Reynaldo’s lies also add an element of trust: if this party were Laertes’s friend, they would not wish to divulge any details of inappropriateness if they thought Reynaldo would relay these stories to Polonius. By telling these stories as though they were humorous trifles, Reynaldo will not arouse suspicion.

    — Georgia, Owl Eyes Staff
  15. Polonius suggests that Reynaldo can avoid dishonoring Laertes with his false stories of gambling and drinking by presenting them in a particular fashion. Later on, Polonius elaborates that the right “seasoning” would be to portray the events as the harmless, ‘quaint’ misbehavior - the ‘taints of liberty’ - common in young men.

    — Georgia, Owl Eyes Staff
  16. Polonius’s use of language here is quite interesting: his meaning is abundantly clear, and yet he still avoids directly asking Reynaldo if he would speak to others about Laerte’s behavior. This is perhaps Polonius’s way of feeling out Reynaldo’s willingness to do as Polonius wishes. When Reynaldo responds in the affirmative, Polonius becomes more direct and specific about exactly what Reynaldo should do.

    — Georgia, Owl Eyes Staff
  17. Here, forgeries means ‘white lies’: Polonius is asking Reynaldo to lie about Laertes’ behavior (e.g. that Laertes is known to drink and swear). Reynaldo is understandably confused about this (Why would Polonius wish to give his own son a bad reputation?), but as we shall see, Polonius has an objective in mind.

    — Georgia, Owl Eyes Staff
  18. That is, by deceit, we find out the truth. Polonius expects that the people Reynaldo speaks to will say, "Oh, no, this is not true of Laertes at all, and here's why," and leave open the possibility that this acquaintance will tell Reynaldo more (true) stories of Laertes’ misconduct. Thus Laertes' true conduct will be revealed and his honor will be publicized. This course of action on Polonius's part is understandable given that he seeks to prevent "another scandal"

    — Karen P.L. Hardison
  19. Hamlet was so wild and incomprehensible that Ophelia could only compare his behavior to a demon escaped from hell to deliver some evil message. It is no wonder that Ophelia agrees with her father, Polonius, that Hamlet has gone mad, though they assume it is because he is kept from Ophelia's love.

    — Karen P.L. Hardison