Hamlet: Hamlet and Polonius Essay

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Home : Hamlet : Study Guide : Summary and Analysis of Act 2
Hamlet Summary and Analysis
by William Shakespeare
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Act 2
Summary
Scene 1
Act Two begins with Polonius speaking to one of his servants, Reynaldo, about his son, Laertes, who has by this time returned to Paris. We see Polonius in the act of sending Reynaldo after Laertes to inquire into his son’s conduct. He instructs Reynaldo very precisely in the method of obtaining this information. First, Reynaldo is to find out from strangers in Paris about the prominent Danes in the city without revealing that he has any particular attachment to Laertes. When Laertes’ name comes up, Reynaldo is to pretend to have some distant knowledge of him, and is further to suggest that he knows of Laertes as something of a happy-go-lucky youth given to gambling, drinking, fencing, swearing, fighting, and whoring. By this path of insinuation, Polonius explains, Reynaldo will hear from his hypothetical Parisian interlocutor the unvarnished truth about Laertes’ conduct in France. Having thus prepared Reynaldo to spy on his son, Polonius sends him off. Home : Hamlet : Study Guide : Summary and Analysis of Act 2
Hamlet Summary and Analysis
by William Shakespeare
Buy PDFBuy Paperback
Act 2
Summary
Scene 1
Act Two begins with Polonius speaking to one of his servants, Reynaldo, about his son, Laertes, who has by this time returned to Paris. We see Polonius in the act of sending Reynaldo after Laertes to inquire into his son’s conduct. He instructs Reynaldo very precisely in the method of obtaining this information. First, Reynaldo is to find out from strangers in Paris about the prominent Danes in the city without revealing that he has any particular attachment to Laertes. When Laertes’ name comes up, Reynaldo is to pretend to have some distant knowledge of him, and is further to suggest that he knows of Laertes as something of a happy-go-lucky youth given to gambling, drinking, fencing, swearing, fighting, and whoring. By this path of insinuation, Polonius explains, Reynaldo will hear from his hypothetical Parisian interlocutor the unvarnished truth about Laertes’ conduct in France. Having thus prepared Reynaldo to spy on his son, Polonius sends him off.

Ophelia enters, distraught. She tells her father that Hamlet has frightened her with his wild, unkempt appearance and deranged manners. After Ophelia describes Hamlet’s behavior, she further reveals that, as per Polonius’ orders, she has cut off all contact with Hamlet and has refused his letters. Polonius reasons, thus, that Hamlet’s madness is the result of Ophelia’s rejection. He had thought that Hamlet was only trifling with her, but it turns out (he now declares) that Hamlet was indeed deeply in love with Ophelia. Polonius hurries off to tell Claudius and Gertrude that he has discovered the reason for their son’s odd behavior.
Scene 2
King Claudius has made plans of his own to discover the reasons for Hamlet’s supposed madness. He has summoned two of Hamlet’s school friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, both to comfort his nephew-cum-son and to try to discover the reason for his distemper (so he says). The two scholars are only too happy to oblige in this task.
After Rosencrantz and Guildenstern leave the royal presence, Polonius rushes in, announcing that he has found the reason for Hamlet’s madness. Before he reveals his news, however, he entreats Claudius and Gertrude to hear from the two ambassadors to Norway, Voltemand and Cornelius, who have just returned. They report that the King of Norway, after looking into his nephew Fortinbras’ actions, found out that he was indeed planning to invade Denmark. The King of Norway then rebuked Fortinbras and ordered him to abandon his plan of Danish conquest, which young Fortinbras agreed to do. Overjoyed at his nephew’s acquiescence, Norway then rewarded Fortinbras with a generous annual allowance. Further, Norway granted Fortinbras leave to levy war…