Friday 9 October 2015

Hamlet ~~ Act I, Scene III

Ophelia (1905)
Odilon Redon
source Wikiart

Hamlet  ~  Act I,  Scene III

Laertes prepares to embark on his journey back to France, but, as he speaks to his sister Ophelia, he brings into question Hamlet's love for her.  He cautions that Hamlet's first loyalty is to the kingdom on Denmark and, if personal relationships get in the way, he will choose country over love.  Oh sister, keep you love under control and your virtue guarded lest you experience future regret, and Ophelia agrees to his plea, but oddly tells him only if he takes his own advice.

Polonius enters and gives his son advice on how to conduct himself respectfully and honourably.

"....... Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportioned thought his act.
Be thou familiar but by no means vulgar.
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel,
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatched, unfledged comrade.  Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,
Bear 't that th' opposèd may beware of thee.
Give every man thy ear but few thy voice.
Take each man's censure but reserve thy judgement.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not expressed in fancy --- rich, not gaudy,
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,
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."

At Laertes' departure, Polonius inquires at to what they were speaking of, and Ophelia relates that he has cautioned her about Hamlet.  Polonius supports his son's advice and, though Ophelia tells of Hamlet's recent attentions to her, Polonius indicates those attentions are meaningless and that he is, in effect, playing with her feelings.  She needs to conduct herself honourably and really, to have nothing more to do with Hamlet.  She states that she will comply with her father's wishes.

Ophelia and Laertes
William Gorman Wills
source Wikipedia


The beginning of this scene contains a number of cautions and instruction to both Ophelia and Laertes on how to live in a way that will benefit them.  It's as if the keys to a happy life are given to them to use if they choose.  Why?  Why so many cautions given to each other in this family?  I can see Laertes being wise enough to pick up on the uncomfortableness of the situation at court. Perhaps he senses that the situation will come to a head and that Hamlet will be diverted by his political responsibility with no time for courting, and he wishes to advise his sister to spare her feelings.  As for Polonius' warnings to Laertes, I'm less certain.  Polonius doesn't seem particularly bright, so far, but his advice is sound.  What prompted it?  Is he simply giving fatherly counsel ....???

This scene also gives us the first exposure to Hamlet and Ophelia's relationship.  Is there a hint that she is being a little too free with her behaviour?  From the words of her father and brother, it appears she is a young, unexperienced girl who is taking the attentions of a man who is her superior, too much to heart.  She foolishly believes him when he is really just toying with her affections.  And what does this say about Hamlet?  Is our prince really so insincere?  Is he also being portrayed as being young and immature, or are Laertes and Polonius overreacting?

Hamlet Read-Along Posts

Act I  Scene III 


  1. Sir John Gielgud, who I've been quoting a bunch during the read-along (and who is the old dude in my blog header -- he still holds the record for most performances in the role of Hamlet, having played him more than 500 times!!!) calls Polonius, Ophelia, and Laertes "a family of lecturers." My father-in-law is a little like this -- he loves to dispense advice and information. He wants to help, and he knows lots of stuff, so he likes to impart it. Sure enough, several of his kids have turned out to be lecturers too -- perhaps it's a passed-along habit. I like to think Polonius is trying to help both Laertes and Ophelia with all this advice, but also, he is one of those people who can't stop talking, so he goes on and on and on about it.

    As for Hamlet and his intentions, I think that before his father's death, he was probably a fairly carefree guy. He was next in line for the throne, but not expected to do much politically yet -- he was off at the University in Wittenberg, either a student there or maybe even a sort of professor (depending on how old he was -- we'll get into that). Did he and Ophelia have a romance going on for a long time, or did it spring up when he returned from school for his father's funeral 2 months ago? I don't know. Either way, I think he probably was sincere, but not serious, if that makes sense. He didn't need to get married yet, Ophelia was around and probably a very eager young audience whose attention flattered his ego -- I don't think he was trifling with her, but I also think she was probably more in love with him than he with her.

    Laertes and Polonius, then, are being cautious. Trying to keep Ophelia from getting her heart broken by what is probably not going to be a lasting relationship.

    1. "Either way, I think he probably was sincere, but not serious, if that makes sense. "

      That makes total sense and I think it fits in very well to explain what happens later on between the two. This made much more sense to me after I'd read Scene V.

      As for the lecturers, definitely, but I still wonder how this behaviour fits with the rest of the play. Perhaps later I'll discover why. Laertes' lecture to Ophelia does make sense but not Polonius' to Laertes ..... at least, not yet ...... :-)

    2. Well, when you get to Act II there's a whole scene with Polonius and Reynaldo that will give you a bunch of insight into Polonius and Laertes and why Polonius might feel the need to give him advice.

    3. Oh good! I can't even remember who Reynaldo was; isn't that awful?

    4. Not awful at all. Reynaldo is a throw-away character.

  2. I always feel a strong sympathy for Ophelia...she gets caught in the maelstrom of emotions and events all because she loved and I think a bit obsessively, Hamlet! Was he sincere? I don't know...he probably meant no harm and that in itself shows a disregard of other's was like you said she was around and he was I guess bored! Her love for him was way more than his love for her....

    1. I don't know how I feel towards Ophelia yet, so I'll wait and see. She's young and who wouldn't feel flattered and swept away by the attentions of a prince. I think her reaction is understandable. Just as she may hear the cautions her brother is given her but may not actually listen to them, if you know what I mean.