Act II – Scenes.i and ii
Ophelia tells her father that she has just met with
Hamlet and he was acting in a most peculiar fashion.
His clothes were unfastened and he was in a piteous state. Polonius thinks that Hamlet is mad over the love of his daughter, Ophelia, because she has spurned his advances. Polonius decides to take this information to the King.
King Claudius has summoned two of Hamlet’s school chums, Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern to spy on Hamlet, as he is concerned about his welfare. The two friends agree.
Polonius enters and claims to have the answer to Prince Hamlet’s affliction
and he will elaborate later, but Claudius has to attend to the Norwegian Ambassadors.
The ailing King of Norway has managed to restrain his nephew, young
Fortinbras from invading Denmark provided that he can obtain safe passage through Denmark in order to invade Poland.
Polonius asserts that Hamlet is mad and he bases this on a letter he has
confiscated from his daughter from Prince Hamlet. He tells Claudius and Gertrude that he has forbidden Ophelia to liaise with the Prince and this has led to poor Hamlet’s madness.
Ophelia hopes to meet with Hamlet in order to return his gifts of
love. Polonius suggests that he and Claudius should spy on this meeting.
Claudius agrees, just as Hamlet enters, so Polonius says that he will speak to Hamlet himself. Hamlet makes a fool of Polonius. Polonius leaves and Hamlet’s two school friends enter and Hamlet greets them as his ‘excellent good friends’. He tells them that Denmark is a prison. Hamlet quizzes them and eventually they admit that the King and Queen have asked them to spy on him.
Rosencrantz announces that a troupe of traveling players has arrived and
this alters Hamlet’s mood as he welcomes the diversion. Hamlet asks Polonius to make sure that the players are in suitable lodgings.
They intend to enact a performance of ‘The Murder of Gonzago’ and Hamlet tells them that he would like them to include some additional lines, which they agree to. The enhanced scene will re-enact the murder that the ghost has described, and Hamlet will watch Claudius to see if he acts in a guilty fashion. This will prove to Hamlet once and for all, what foul deed befell his father.
Polonius comes to the conclusion that Hamlet is mad for Ophelia’s love.
It is not clear why Claudius summoned Hamlet’s two school friends back to
Denmark. Clearly Gertrude had Hamlet’s welfare in mind, but Claudius may have had other motives. He does nothing without planning ahead.
Shakespeare is anxious to ensure that the reader appreciates that fathers or
Kings mistrust their heirs. He does this by having Polonius send a spy to France to observe his son, Laertes, and has Claudius do the same by bringing Hamlet’s school chums to the castle.
The Ambassadors from Norway have good news for Claudius, which prompts him
to have another party.
We have indications also that Gertrude disapproves of Polonius, and she does
not like the plan to trap Hamlet by spying on him. She is concerned more for her son’s welfare than for political matters, but she does agree to Polonius’ plan because it gives some hope that Hamlet’s madness
is a result of Ophelia’s rejection, and this can be easily remedied.
One cannot understate Gertrude’s over-protectiveness for her son, and the
actions she has taken have clearly caused turmoil to Hamlet, who mistrusts her and probably all women. This is a key element for part of Hamlet’s problem is that he could not share his torment with
anybody. If he had been able to trust Ophelia, then the play ‘Hamlet’ might have been completely different.
Instead of being a tragedy, it would have been a romance. The reader must conclude that Hamlet was incapable of understanding Ophelia, and therefore, appreciate the true depth of her love for him.
Despite the pressures on Hamlet, and whether he is mad or not, he is still
able to outwit Polonius, calling him a fishmonger, which in Elizabethan times was used as another word for a pimp.
He is also able to manipulate his ‘excellent good friends’ into confessing that they have been sent to spy on him.