What advice do both Polonius and Laertes give to Ophelia in Hamlet, act 1, scene 3?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Laertes, Ophelia's sister, tells her in no uncertain terms that he thinks Hamlet's "favor" is likely to be extremely variable and that she should not take it seriously. He notes that Hamlet is very young and that young men change their minds frequently. He goes on to explain that it may be the case that Hamlet loves Ophelia now, but she must take into account Hamlet's position: "his will is not his own." Because he is to be the king, he is in a position of apparent power which actually limits his power to choose the woman he marries. Laertes counsels his sister against unwisely allowing Hamlet to take her "honor" from her, given that he will almost certainly either change his own feelings about her or be counselled to marry someone else for political reasons.

Polonius reiterates this when he enters and asks Ophelia what she and Laertes have been talking about. He says that Ophelia is young and "green" and that it would be foolish of her to believe Hamlet's "tenders." This word has a double meaning: Hamlet is tendering affection toward Ophelia, as one might tender money, and at the same time, his feelings are themselves tender. But Polonius says that the overtures he makes should not be thought of as "sterling," or true currency. He advises his daughter not to believe anything Hamlet has said to her about his feelings.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Just before departing for his studies in Paris, Laertes gives some unsolicited advice to his sister, Ophelia. He tells her that Hamlet's attentions are not to be taken seriously; he's just going through a typical phase of hot-blooded youth. And besides, even if Hamlet really is in love with Ophelia, as a member of the royal family, he's not in a position to make his own decisions concerning matters of the heart; he has family responsibilities to consider.

Taking everything into consideration, Ophelia should be on her guard against Hamlet, Laertes advises. Even if he professes his undying love for her, she should remain cautious. Furthermore, it would be shameful for Ophelia to allow Hamlet to open her "chaste treasure" (i.e., take her virginity). Even good girls can get a bad reputation, and that's the last thing Laertes wants for his little sister.

As for Polonius, he tells Ophelia that Hamlet's professions of love mean absolutely nothing. His affections are not real, and if Ophelia believes otherwise, then she's nothing more than a "baby." Even if Hamlet has made vows to Ophelia, they are but "springes to catch woodcocks" (traps to catch birds). When men's hearts are on fire, they're apt to say all kinds of things they don't really mean. Polonius warns Ophelia not to take such expressions at face value or regard them as evidence of true love.

As always, Polonius is thinking of himself and his own interests rather than those of his daughter. If Ophelia believes Hamlet's expressions of love, then she runs the serious risk of turning her father into a laughingstock. Polonius's position at court is everything to him, and the last thing he wants is to have his exalted status undermined by his daughter's foolish actions.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Both Polonius and Laertes give advice to Ophelia in Act 1, Scene 3. Laertes enjoins his sister not to take any expressions of love from Hamlet seriously and to protect her virtue. In other words, modern words, Laertes tells his sister that he believes Hamlet only says words of love to get Ophelia in a loving mood and go to bed with him.

Polonius agrees with his son, Laertes, but with a slightly ulterior motive. He does not want his daughter to dishonor the family name by having a affair with Hamlet when he is sure the prince does not want to make the union an honorable one by marrying Ophelia.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Act I, scene iii, Laertes warns his sister to not take Prince Hamlet's profession of love seriously as marriages for princes are usually matters of state.  In other words, royal marriages are made for political reasons, not for love:

...Perhaps he loves you now,

...but you must fear,

His greatness weighted, his will is not his own,

Also, Laertes warns Ophelia against to restrain her affections lest she be embarrassed:  "Be wary then..."  Ophelia promises to heed his advice. 

Polonius enters and bids Laertes be prudent on his venture to Paris.  Then he asks his daughter about Hamlet and her.  When she says Hamlet has been affectionate, Polonius cautions her as did Laertes:  "Tender yourself more dearly...or you'll tender me a fool."  To this Ophelia replies that Hamlet has been honorable.  But Polonius is skeptical: 

"When the blood burns, how prodigal the soul...From this time

Be something scanter of your maiden presence."

Polonius warns his daughter against showing affection, also. However, his reasons are that Hamlet may simply be trying to seduce her with "mere implications of unholy suits.

To both her brother's and to her father's advice Ophelia promises to "abide."

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial