Hamlet Act II, Scene 1 Summary and Analysis

William Shakespeare

Act II, Scene 1 Summary and Analysis

New Character
Reynaldo: Polonius’s servant

Polonius sends Reynaldo to Paris to spy on Laertes, instructing him to use delicate indirection to learn of Laertes’s behavior from other “Danskers [who] are in Paris” (7). After Reynaldo leaves, Ophelia enters, distressed, and tells her father that Hamlet has just approached her with “his doublet all unbraced; / No hat upon his head; his stockings fouled, / Ungartered, and down-gyved to his ankle” (75-77). She says he “held [her] hard” (84) by the wrist, studied her silently for several moments, sighed “piteous and profound” 91), and then left her. Polonius believes Hamlet is lovesick because Ophelia has shunned him, and modifies his earlier suspicion that Hamlet meant only to trifle with Ophelia. Polonius and Ophelia depart to inform Claudius of this news.

Scene 1 shows Ophelia to be a naive young girl who trusts her father’s judgment and is obedient to his will. Polonius’s tedious instructions to Reynaldo echo his earlier advice to both Ophelia and Laertes, and foreshadow his behavior in Scene 2. When Reynaldo asks why he is being sent to spy on Laertes, Polonius’s justification is so circuitous even he loses track of what he was saying: “What was I about to say? By the mass, I was about to say something! Where did I leave?” (49-50).