Study Guide

Hamlet Act II, Scene i

By William Shakespeare

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Act II, Scene i

  • It's several weeks later. Shoot! Did we miss all the awesome avenging action?
  • No, we have not missed the avenging action. Literally nothing has happened.
  • Well, nothing vengeful, anyway.
  • Polonius gives a guy named Reynaldo a bunch of money and tells him to take the cash to his son, Laertes, who we all remember is studying in France. But, Polonius says, be sure to spy on Laertes a bunch first.
  • Reynaldo exits, and in comes Ophelia comes in, rather "affrighted." Apparently, Hamlet burst into her room while she was "sewing in her closet." She says Hamlet looked terrible, all pale and wobbly-kneed and disheveled.
  • Historical Context Lesson: When Ophelia describes Hamlet coming in with his shirt hanging open and his stockings bunched up at his ankles, Elizabethan audiences would have recognized this as the classic "sad and anguished lover" look. Some thought that love really could make a man sick and mentally unstable. Check out what a doctor, Bernard of Gordon, had to say in Lilium Medicinae (Lily of Medicine), an encyclopedia of diseases that was completed by 1305 and cited as an authoritative medical text for the next three hundred years: The illness called heroes is melancholy anguish caused by love for a woman. The cause of this affliction lies in the corruption of the faculty to evaluate… [men forget] all sense of proportion and common sense…it can be defined as melancholy anguish (source).
  • Apparently, Hamlet grabbed Ophelia by the wrist and sighed for about five minutes. Ophelia and her father are convinced this is exasperation stems from being frustrated in love (remember, Polonius made Ophelia break up with Hamlet).
  • Ophelia assures her father that she hasn't said anything extra mean to Hamlet lately. She just followed her dad's orders to keep her distance from Hamlet and return his love letters. Polonius sasy, "Oops. I thought he was just messing around, but it sounds like he's really in love with you." He decides the most discreet and tactful thing to do would be to tell the King all about the situation.

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