In "Hamlet," what does Polonius give to Ophelia In Act 3?

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davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Poor Ophelia has become the unwitting guinea pig in a psychological experiment conducted by her father and Claudius. They want to find out whether or not Hamlet really is mad. Polonius suspects that if that is indeed the case, then Hamlet's insanity has come about as a result of his intense love for Ophelia. To find out if this is true, Polonius and Claudius are going to hide behind a curtain and see how Hamlet behaves toward Ophelia. As Hamlet approaches, Polonius gives his daughter a prayer book; this will make it look as if she's all alone. She's also instructed to tell Hamlet that she wants to return the love tokens he gave her.

We cannot know for sure, but we suspect that Hamlet is aware that he and Ophelia are not alone. In any case, he makes it brutally obvious that his madness—such as it is—is not in the slightest bit related to his love for Ophelia. As well as making his notorious outburst ("Get thee to a nunnery!"), Hamlet flat-out denies that he ever gave Ophelia any love tokens in the first place. By the end of the scene, a crestfallen Ophelia is even more convinced of Hamlet's insanity. But Polonius and Claudius are not. And although they are certain that Hamlet isn't mad after all, his behavior is still far from normal, and if anything, that simply makes him even more of a threat to Claudius' throne.

ms-mcgregor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At the beginning of Act 3, Polonius gives Ophelia a book of devotions so it will seem like she is alone because she is reading and meditating. He also tells her to return all the gifts that Hamlet had given to her. The plan backfires, Hamlet becomes angry and tells Ophelia to "get thee to a nunnery". Obviously, Polonius misjudged the situation because Hamlet certainly does not seem to be in love with Ophelia by the end of this scene. Perhaps, Hamlet suspects that he is being watched because he asks Ophelia where he father is. However, poor Ophelia takes the brunt of the punishment for her father's plan.

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