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In Act II scene 2 of Hamlet, what do Claudius and Gertrude conclude about Hamlet's...

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shay95 | Student | eNotes Newbie

Posted December 7, 2011 at 1:22 AM via web

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In Act II scene 2 of Hamlet, what do Claudius and Gertrude conclude about Hamlet's behavior after hearing Polonius read Hamlet's love letter to Ophelia? Do they believe, as Polonius says, that Ophelia's rejection of Hamlet is the "cause of Hamlet's lunacy"?

It says in Act 2 Scene 2 (line 48-49)

Polonius: As it hath used to do, that I have found the very cause of Hamlet's lunacy.

I can't find the exact answer, though. I got my answer wrong in my previous Hamlet quiz.

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chriseparker | College Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted December 7, 2011 at 3:04 PM (Answer #1)

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First, note that I have consulted the online site for Shakespeare’s works, Open Source Shakespeare, so my line numbers refer to this online version of Hamlet. You can find the lines in the Act II scene 2.

After Polonius tells the King that he knows the “cause of Hamlet’s lunacy,” Polonius indicates he will wait until the business of the ambassadors from Norway is finished before he shares his conclusions. Polonius exits momentarily to bring the ambassadors into the King’s audience. In the meantime, Claudius says to Gertrude that Polonius has “found/The head and source of all your son’s distemper”  (1143-44).

Gertrude replies:

I doubt it is no other but the main,/
His father’s death and our o’erhasty marriage. (1145-1146)

Polonius ushers the ambassadors in, the political business is taken care of, and then Polonius, Claudius, and Gertrude are alone to discuss their concerns about Hamlet. 

It is here, later in the scene, that we hear Claudius and Gertrude’s conclusions after Polonius reveals what he believes is the reason for Hamlet’s madness. Polonius reads the love letter from Hamlet to Ophelia. He then tells them how he told Ophelia to reject Hamlet’s advances because “Lord Hamlet is a prince, out of thy star” (1239).  Polonius states that he has commanded Ophelia to “lock herself from his resort,” thus blocking all access to her person by Hamlet. After these rejections, Polonius notes that:

...he, repulsed...
Fell into a sadness, then into a fast,
Thence to a watch, thence into a weakness,
Thence to a lightness, and, by this declension,
Into the madness wherein now he raves,
And all we mourn for. (1244-1249)

Claudius asks Gertrude: “Do you think ‘tis this?”  She replies, “It may be, very like” (1250-51).

After this, they all agree to let Ophelia walk in the lobby where Hamlet often walks. Then Claudius and Polonius will spy on the encounter between Ophelia and Hamlet to see if his lovesickness is indeed the source of his madness.

Thus we see that Claudius and Gertrude are reserving judgement until they see some proof. They are willing to consider that Ophelia’s rejection of Hamlet might indeed be the cause of his odd behavior.

As Claudius says of their plot to spy on the young people:
“We will try it” (1270). Basically, they have concluded “we shall see.”


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