Act 2

Act 2: Scene 1

This scene opens with more meddling by Polonius. He is sending a spy, Reynaldo, to France not only to observe his son but to subtly slander him and note how others take this, whether they are shocked and offended or in agreement with Reynaldo’s assessment of Laertes. Polonius is insensible to the fact that he is asking Reynaldo to dishonor his own son, which even Reynaldo can see. Polonius regards himself as a wise father and means by deception to find out the truth of his son’s conduct. It is a further example of the disconnect between generations: The old generation does not trust the young, and the young cannot trust the old. A discernible gap is present. Hamlet is meant to close that gap (on the ghost’s orders)—but his support, Ophelia, is about to be stripped from him.

It is to Ophelia that Polonius, indeed, now turns. Ophelia is frightened by Hamlet’s aspect. She has “repelled” his letters, as instructed to do by Polonius. Hamlet, his mind already disturbed by the appearance of the ghost, is now further shaken by Ophelia’s rejection of his love. She tells Polonius that Hamlet encountered her in her sewing chamber, that he was disheveled and pale; that he scrutinized her face as though searching for something or, as she says, as though he meant to draw it. Then she reports that he heaved such a sigh as seemed to shatter his soul; that he turned and, watching her over his shoulder, exited the room without taking his eyes from her: “For out o’ doors he went without their helps and to the last bended their light on me.” The language reflects what Ophelia has been to Hamlet: a light and an anchor in Elsinore. Now that she has loosed him, he is receding—a stranger in a strange land, adrift and unseeing. Just as the loss of sight turns Oedipus’ eyes inward, so too will the loss of figurative sight turn Hamlet’s attention into his own self.

Polonius mistakenly attributes this to a fit of passionate madness. He decides that the only...

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Essays About Hamlet