Hamlet Act I Scene 3



Act I, Scene 3

  • Summary

- Laertes warns his sister about Hamlet and her own sexuality

- Polonius gives his departing son advice on how to conduct himself

- Polonius orders Ophelia to reject Hamlet unless he offers more. She obeys. 

  • Ophelia Gets Some Advice from Polonius and Laertes

Compared to Hamlet's dysfunctional family, Polonius appears to be head of a more conventional family. Shakespeare uses this scene to draw more contracts between characters in the play: 

- In the previous scene Hamlet rejects Claudius's and Gertrude's advice to stop mourning, but in his scene, Ophelia and Laertes seem to accept their father's advice: "I shall obey, my lord"

- Although a lot of Polonius's patronizing advice is just a thinly-veiled order, there seems to be some genuine fatherly love behind it, which contrasts with Hamlet's distant relationship with his uncle. 

- This scene links to Act 1, scene 5, where Hamlet's conversation with the Ghost is a dark echo of Polonius's father-son speech. However, like Ophelia, Hamlet agrees to his father's demands in spite of his doubts and says very little. 

  • The Other Important Courtly Family is Introduced

Polonius and Laertes are Foils to Hamlet

- Shakespeare uses Polonius and Laertes as foils to develop Hamlet's character. 

- Polonius, Laertes, and Hamlet all love Ophelia and want to protect her- Polonius and Laertes want to protect her from Hamlet, and Hamlet wants to protect her from being corrupted by a sinful world. 

- Laertes has a complicated relationship with his sister. His rise of sexual imagery, his fixation on her "chaste treasure' and the affectionate language between theme creates an incestuous undertone, which is similar to Hamlet and Gertrude's relationship. 

- Polonius's language and wordplay are an exaggerated version of Hamlet's own habits.

- Laertes is a rash, a man of action, and has inherited his father's pompous and preachy attitude. Shakespeare hints in this scene that Laertes is intended as a foil to Hamlet's inaction. 

Ophelia's Relationship with Hamlet is a Major Subplot

-  There are three plots in Hamlet- the main revenge plot, and two subplots. The first subplot involves the threat of Fortinbras, which is introduced in the first scene of the play. The second subplot revolves around Hamlet and Ophelia's relationship, which is introduced here. 

- Laertes warns Ophelia that Hamlet's love won't last, and Polonius fears that Hamlet is untrustworthy. Polonius orders Ophelia to end their relationship, which she agrees to. Ophelia's rejection probably provokes Hamlet's cruel treatment of her. 

- Both Polonius and Laertes act as though they have complete authority over Ophelia- Hamlet, neither gives her much credit. Polonius thinks she's foolish, "Pooh! you speak like a green girl" and Laertes suspects that she has a flawed judgment, "Youth to itself rebels, though none else near". 

- Ophelia doesn't reveal her true feelings in this scene, despite Laertes's and Polonius's poor treatment of her. This is a theme that continues throughout Hamlet- Ophelia only gets a voice when she goes mad. 


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