Act III – Scene.i
Claudius asks Rosencrantz and Guildenstern about
Hamlet’s madness. They respond by saying that they are not sure what the reason is for his madness.
Hamlet is excited at the forthcoming play.
Gertrude is asked to leave so that Claudius and Polonius can spy on Hamlet
when he meets Ophelia.
The Queen meets Ophelia and expresses her wish that they should repair their
broken romance so that Hamlet can get on with his life.
Polonius greets Ophelia and tells her to pretend to be reading while she
waits for Hamlet to arrive. Hamlet enters speaking his ‘To be or not to be’ soliloquy (see Pr'cis). He then sees Ophelia reading, and assumes that she is praying for him.
She responds by saying that she wishes to return his gifts of love to her. He replies by saying that he did not give her any gifts much to her consternation. These were gifts given to her with words of love and she is deeply hurt by Hamlet’s response. He goes on to deny that he ever loved her, and he suggests that she is lying. He tells her that all men are untrustworthy knaves and that she should go to a nunnery.
Hamlet knows he is being spied upon and he abruptly asks Ophelia where her
She replies that he is at home. Enraged, Hamlet curses her, and again tells her to go to a nunnery. He states that women are two-faced and untrustworthy and deserve to be cast aside. He leaves.
Ophelia considers Hamlet has descended into complete madness. Claudius
and Polonius join her.
Claudius doubts that it is love that has made him mad. He suspects there is more to this show than meets the eye. He tells Polonius that it may be necessary to exile Hamlet to England, but Polonius is still convinced that it is love that affects Hamlet so, and suggests that Claudius makes one more attempt to establish the reason for Hamlet’s behavior.
Polonius suggest that the King should send Hamlet to Gertrude that evening
and Polonius will spy on them. Gertrude should try and persuade Hamlet to open his heart to her. Claudius agrees.
We have the first indication that Claudius sees through
Hamlet’s fa'ade, and considers him a potential threat. At this stage, Hamlet appears to be in more and more danger, while Claudius weaves a web of intrigue supported by Polonius.
Our hero appears to be no match for Claudius who possesses all the power within the castle.
Just as Hamlet is caught in this web, so Gertrude appears also to be
helpless. She, weakly, hopes to cure her son’s ills by rekindling the romance between Ophelia and Hamlet. This is totally undone by the meeting between Ophelia and Hamlet who denies that he ever gave her
gifts of love.
He tells Ophelia to go to a nunnery, which the Elizabethan audience would interpret as a brothel. Ophelia is now in a sorry state. The words that the Queen spoke to her must have added to her confusion. Now Hamlet accuses her of prostitution. He knows that she is working for her father and Claudius. He accosts her further by saying ‘Where is your father?’ He also asks her the questions ‘are you honest? Are you fair?’ Knowing that she lies, Hamlet flies into a rage. The conspirators are lining up against him. She is convinced of his total madness, which can only lead to destruction. Clearly Hamlet is courting with death, for he is revealing more about himself to Claudius who is spying on him. Claudius suspects that there is more to Hamlet, and so he hatches a plan to exile the Prince to England. Polonius suggests another trap - spy on Hamlet when he goes to see Gertrude. Hopefully, his mother will be able to make Hamlet confide in her.
Another thing that annoys Hamlet is that they treat him as having no
intelligence at all, like a fool, as well as a madman.
During this scene is the famous ‘To be or not to be’ soliloquy which we will examine later on.