Hamlet: Act 2 Scene 1 - Summary

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Hamlet: Act 2 Scene 1 - Notes

Contextual Info:

  • Hamlet Act 2 Scene 1 involves Polonius, Reynaldo, and Ophelia
  • This scene occurs somewhere inside Elsinore Castle, presumably (but not confirmed) in Polonius’ quarters (although it could be taking place outside the castle as well)
  • This scene introduces Polonius’ darker nature, as well as a behind-the-scenes plot advancement in the “Hamlet is crazy” department

Plot Summary:

  • The scene opens with Polonius giving Reynaldo some money and letters to deliver to Laertes, who is now in France studying
  • However, Polonius goes on to instruct Laertes to also check up on Laertes by spying - and he doesn’t just want Reynaldo to simply sit in some corner and spy on Laertes…
  • Polonius wants Reynaldo to go so far as to question the locals, to ask what they think of Danish people overall in Paris - Polonius believes that more accurate information regarding Laertes might spill out this way
  • It starts off sounding like a good plan - in order to spy on someone, blend in with the community of “watchers” and find what information can be gleaned from the “natural state” of the person being spied on, including their environment
  • However, Polonius goes a bit further than this… Polonius actually tells Reynaldo to frame Laertes as a man of poor reputation in order to see what people say about Laertes
  • This dialogue is important because it not only reaffirms Polonius’ ability to ramble on, but because it shows that there is some intelligence in those ramblings. Unfortunately, the intelligence is just slightly misplaced and overly backed by self-assurance and hubris
  • Hilariously, Polonius loses his train of thought in the middle of his conversation
  • Astonishingly, at the end of his lengthy lecture on “how to gain information through gossip,” Polonius basically says for Reynaldo not to trust gossip…(?!?!)
  • His conversation with Ophelia is comparatively short and to-the-point, but it’s still off the point
  • Polonius has fallen for Hamlet’s “crazy” act without even witnessing it, and sums up Hamlet’s reported behavior as love sickness/love madness
  • This scene highlights Polonius’ hypocrisy in two ways - 1) He’s believing in gossip 2) He’s not trusting Laertes, even though he basically said “I trust you” when he saw off Laertes earlier

What did Ophelia report to her father, Polonius, about Hamlet's appearance and behaviour?

Hamlet has gone mad/crazy, possibly because of his love for Ophelia
Hamlet has gone mad/crazy, most likely because of his recent interaction with the Ghost
Hamlet has gone mad/crazy, possibly because of his hate for Claudius and Gertrude's marriage
Hamlet has gone mad/crazy because he found out that Laertes and Ophelia had a secret incestuous relationship
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Why does Polonius send Reynaldo off to Paris?

He wants Reynaldo to retrieve some special gifts for Claudius
He wants to find out what kind of reputation his son, Laertes, has been building up in Paris
He wants to simply be away from Reynaldo for the time being
He wants Reynaldo to take care of some import/export business matters
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Upon hearing from Ophelia that Hamlet seemed to look like a crazy guy lately, what kind of plan does Polonius set up?

He decides to take the matter up with King Claudius
He decides to talk to Hamlet himself and straighten things out
He decides to do nothing about the matter
He decides to take the matter up with Gertrude
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