Scene 3

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See the page Interscene 2 - 3 for a description of the probable events between Scene 2 and Scene 3.

Synopsis

At the harbor of the local town of Elsinore, Laertes is leaving to return to France, with Ophelia present to wish him farewell (or so it appears. Ophelia thought Hamlet would be leaving, since he was petitioning the court for permission to leave.) Laertes lectures Ophelia against Hamlet, thinking Hamlet can't be serious about Ophelia, because of the difference in social status if nothing else.

Polonius enters, gives Laertes some parting advice, and Laertes exits.

Polonius then also lectures Ophelia against Hamlet, and forbids her to have anything further to do with him.

Characters

The Scene 3 Characters are: Laertes, Ophelia, Polonius.

Passage Links

Polonius entry #054-SD, Laertes exit #092-SD

Jump down to the start of the Notes.


Dialogue

Scene 3      [ ~ Primrose Path ~ ]      (Act 1 Scene 3)

#03-Setting:  The harbor of Elsinore Town;
            A ship there is ready to sail;
            Daytime, early afternoon.

#03-000-SD  (Laertes and Ophelia enter)

#03-001  Laertes:  My necessaries are embarked, farewell;
                        My things are on board the ship, farewell.
#03-002        And sister, as the winds give benefit
                        And, my sister, the way the winds do me good
#03-003        And convey, in assistant, do not sleep
                        And convey me, be of help to me, also, and do not sleep tonight
#03-004        But let me hear from you.
                        Without writing me a letter.
#03-005  Ophelia:  Do you doubt that?
                        Do you doubt that I will?
#03-006  Laertes:  For Hamlet, and the trifling of his favor,
                        As for Hamlet, and his flirtation with you,
#03-007        Hold it a fashion, and a toy in blood,
                        Consider it a temporary interest, and an idea from his passion,
#03-008        A violet in the youth of primy nature,
                        Like a violet in the springtime of youthful nature:
#03-009        Forward, not permanent; sweet, not lasting,
                        Assertive, but not permanent, sweet but not lasting,
#03-010        The perfume and suppliance of a minute,
                        The allure and entreaty of the moment.
#03-011        No more.
                        No more than that.
#03-012  Ophelia:  No more but so?
                        No more than that?
#03-013  Laertes:  Think it no more;
                        Think no more of it than that.
#03-014        For nature, crescent, does not grow alone
                        For female nature, as it matures, doesn't grow only
#03-015        In thews and bulks, but as this temple waxes,
                        In buttocks and breasts, but as the body matures,
#03-016        The inward service of the mind and soul
                        The inner devotion of the mind and soul
#03-017        Grows wide withal; perhaps he loves you now,
                        Grows broader, too.  Perhaps Hamlet loves you for now,
#03-018        And now no soil nor cautel doth besmirch
                        And now no moral stain or deceit taints
#03-019        The virtue of his will, but you must fear:
                        The virtue of his desire.  But be fearful,
#03-020        His greatness weighed, his will is not his own,
                        Considering his social status, his future is not entirely his own.
#03-021        For he, himself, is subject to his birth;
                        For he, himself, is subservient to his high birth.
#03-022        He may not, as unvalued persons do,
                        He cannot do as commoners do,
#03-023        Carve for himself; for on his choice depends
                        To make his own selection of a wife.  His choice involves
#03-024        The sanctity and health of this whole state,
                        The blessedness and healthiness of this entire nation.
#03-025        And therefore must his choice be circumscribed
                        Therefore Hamlet's choice of wife must be subjected
#03-026        Unto the voice and yielding of that body
                        To the vote and consent of the body politic
#03-027        Whereof he is the head; then, if he says he loves you,
                        Of whom he is the Prince.  If he says he loves you,
#03-028        It fits your wisdom so far to believe it
                        Use your wisdom to believe that only as far
#03-029        As he, in his peculiar sect and force,
                        As he, within his station in life and its compulsion,
#03-030        May give his saying deed, which is no further
                        Can act upon what he says.  That is no further
#03-031        Than the main voice of Denmark goes withal;
                        Than the consent of the King of Denmark goes along with it.
#03-032        Then weigh what loss your honor may sustain
                        Then, consider the loss your honor might suffer
#03-033        If with too credent ear you list his songs,
                        If you believe too readily when you hear his loving words,
#03-034        Or loose your heart, or your chaste treasure open
                        Or free your heart to him, or open your virginity
#03-035        To his unmastered importunity;
                        To his unbridled intrusion.
#03-036        Fear it, Ophelia, fear it, my dear sister,
                        Fear the consequences, Ophelia, fear it, my dear sister,
#03-037        And keep you in the rear of your affection,
                        And keep yourself back from the battle of your emotions,
#03-038        Out of the shot and danger of desire:
                        At a distance from the discharge and danger of lustful desire.
#03-039        "The chariest maid is prodigal enough
                        The most careful maiden is lavish enough with her favors
#03-040        "If she unmask her beauty to the moon;
                        If she only reveals her beauty to the moon.
#03-041        "Virtue, itself, 'scapes not calumnious strokes;
                        Virtue, personified, cannot avoid slanderous accusations.
#03-042        "The canker galls the infants of the spring
                        Plant disease, that causes swelling, attacks the innocent buds of springtime
#03-043        "Too oft' before their buttons be disclosed,
                        Too often before they even open into flowers,
#03-044        And in the morn and liquid dew of youth,
                        And during the fresh and pure "dew" of youth,
#03-045        Contagious blastments are most imminent;
                        Transmitted swellings are highly imminent.
#03-046        Be wary then, best safety lies in fear,
                        Be careful, then; your best protection is found in being apprehensive.
#03-047        "Youth to itself rebels, though none else near.
                        Youth is an enemy to itself, all by itself.
#03-048  Ophelia:  I shall the good effect of this lesson keep,
                        I will take the moral essence of your advice and remember it
#03-049        As watchman to my heart; but, good my brother,
                        To guard my heart. But my good brother,
#03-050        Do not as some ungracious pastors do:
                        Don't do as some hypocritical preachers do, and
#03-051        Show me the steep and thorny way to Heaven,
                        Tell me to take the difficult and painful way to Heaven,
#03-052        While he, a puffed and reckless libertine,
                        While the preacher is a proud and reckless libertine, who,
#03-053        Himself, the primrose path of dalliance treads,
                        Himself, travels a self-indulgent path of careless romance,
#03-054        And recks not his own reed.
                        And doesn't take care about the flight of his own arrows.

#03-054-SD  (Polonius enters)

#03-055  Laertes:  Oh, fear me not;
                        Oh, don't worry about me.
#03-056        I stay too long, but here my father comes;
                        I've stayed too long, just look, here comes father.
#03-057        A double blessing is a double grace,
                        A repeated blessing is a repeated favor;
#03-058        Occasion smiles upon a second leave.
                        The occasion approves of me having a second leave-taking from him.
#03-059  Polonius:  Yet here, Laertes? Aboard, aboard for shame!
                        You're still here, Laertes? Get aboard, aboard! For shame!
#03-060        The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,
                        The wind is in the right direction to fill the sails,
#03-061        And you are stayed for there; my blessing with thee,
                        And they're waiting for you there. My blessing goes with you.
#03-062        And these few precepts in thy memory
                        Also, here are a few precepts, and, within your memory
#03-063        Look thou character: give thy thoughts no tongue,
                        Be sure to note what I tell you: Keep your thoughts to yourself, and
#03-064        Nor any unproportioned thought his act;
                        Don't act on any unanalyzed thought.
#03-065        Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar;
                        Be amiable, but certainly not coarse.
#03-066        Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
                        The friends you have, if their attachment to you is proven,
#03-067        Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel,
                        Embrace their friendship, to your heart, as strongly as with steel bands,
#03-068        But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
                        But don't wear a callus on your palm from shaking hands with
#03-069        Of each new-hatched, unfledged courage; beware
                        Every newly-appeared, immature soul you meet. Be wary
#03-070        Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,
                        Of getting into a fight, but if you do get into a fight
#03-071        Bear it that the opposed may beware of thee;
                        Carry the fight, so the opponent will fear you in the future.
#03-072        Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
                        Listen to anybody, but save your voice for the select few.
#03-073        Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgment;
                        Receive any man's criticism, but reserve your own judgment of people.
#03-074        Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
                        Buy the most expensive clothes you can afford,
#03-075        But not expressed in fancy: rich, not gaudy;
                        But not fancy things - look prosperous, not merely showy,
#03-076        For the apparel oft' proclaims the man,
                        Because the clothes often identify the man,
#03-077        And they in France of the best rank and station,
                        And the French of the highest rank and social position,
#03-078        Or of a most select and generous, chief in that.
                        Or, I mean, the most select and noble of them, lead in that subject of apparel.
#03-079        Neither a borrower nor a lender be
                        Don't borrow money, and don't lend money,
#03-080        For love oft' loses both itself and friend,
                        Because the love of money often loses both the money and the friend,
#03-081        And borrowing dulleth edge of husbandry;
                        And borrowing makes you less sharp in managing your finances.
#03-082        This above all: to thine own self be true,
                        The most important thing is, to be true to yourself,
#03-083        And it must follow as the night the day
                        And then it must follow as naturally as the night follows the day,
#03-084        Thou canst not then be false to any man;
                        You will not, then, be false to any man.
#03-085        Farewell, my blessing season this in thee.
                        Farewell, and may my blessing of you plant my advice in you.
#03-086  Laertes:  Most humbly do I take my leave, my Lord.
                        Most humbly, I now take my leave, my Lord.
#03-087  Polonius:  The time invites you, go, your servants tend.
                        The time tempts you, so go, the sailors await you.
#03-088  Laertes:  Farewell, Ophelia, and remember well
                        Farewell, Ophelia, and remember well
#03-089        What I have said to you.
                        What I said to you.
#03-090  Ophelia:  'Tis in my memory locked
                        Your advice is locked in my memory,
#03-091        And you, yourself, shall keep the key of it.
                        And I will think of it when I think of you.
#03-092  Laertes:  Farewell!
                        Farewell!

#03-092-SD  (Laertes exits)

#03-093  Polonius:  What is it, Ophelia, he hath said to you?
                        What is it he said to you, Ophelia?
#03-094  Ophelia:  So please you, something touching the Lord Hamlet.
                        If it pleases you to know, he said something about Lord Hamlet.
#03-095  Polonius:  Marry, well bethought!
                        Very good, that he thought of that!
#03-096        'Tis told me he hath very oft', of late,
                        I have been told that Hamlet has very often, recently,
#03-097        Spent private time with you, and that you, yourself,
                        Been spending his time with you, and that you, yourself,
#03-098        Have of your audience been most free and bounteous;
                        Have been giving him attention very freely and generously.
#03-099        If it be so, as so 'tis put on me,
                        If it's so, as it was expressed to me,
#03-100        And that in way of caution, I must tell you,
                        In order to alert me, I must tell you,
#03-101        You do not understand yourself so clearly
                        You don't understand your role as fully
#03-102        As it behooves my daughter, and your honor;
                        As is incumbent upon my daughter, and your reputation.
#03-103        What is between you?  Give me up the truth!
                        What is going on between you and Hamlet? Let's have the truth!
#03-104  Ophelia:  He hath, my Lord, of late, made many tenders
                        My Lord, lately Hamlet has made many tenders
#03-105        Of his affection to me.
                        Of his love to me.
#03-106  Polonius:  Affection, puh, you speak like a green girl,
                        Love?  Bah, you speak like an inexperienced girl, who's
#03-107        Unsifted in such perilous circumstances;
                        Untried in such difficult situations.
#03-108        Do you believe his tenders, as you call them?
                        Do you believe his "tenders" as you call them?
#03-109  Ophelia:  I do not know, my Lord, what I should think.
                        My Lord, I don't know what I should think.
#03-110  Polonius:  Marry, I will teach you; think yourself a baby,
                        Very well, I will teach you. Think of yourself as only a baby,
#03-111        That you have taken these tenders for true pay
                        That you have accepted these tenders, as true compensation,
#03-112        Which are not 'starling'; tender yourself more dearly,
                        Which are not good value. So, offer yourself at a higher price,
#03-113        Or, (not to crack the wind of the poor phrase
                        Or, (not to exhaust the poor word, "tender", by
#03-114        Roaming it thus,) you'll tender me a fool.
                        Wandering too much with it,) you'll tender me a fool.
#03-115  Ophelia:  My Lord, he hath importuned me with love
                        My Lord, he has solicited me with love
#03-116        In honorable fashion.
                        In an honorable style.
#03-117  Polonius:  Aye, "fashion" you may call it; go to, go to!
                        Yes, you may call it "appearance."  Go on, keep talking!
#03-118  Ophelia:  And hath given countenance to his speech,
                        And he has confirmed his words,
#03-119        My Lord, with almost all the holy vows of Heaven.
                        My Lord, with almost all the holy vows of Heaven.
#03-120  Polonius:  Aye, springs to catch woodcocks; I do know,
                        Yes, traps to catch foolish birds. I do know
#03-121        When the blood burns, how prodigal the soul
                        That when passion burns, how lavishly the soul
#03-122        Lends the tongue vows; these blazes, daughter,
                        Lends the tongue words to state vows.  These outbursts of passion, daughter,
#03-123        Giving more light than heat, extinct in both
                        Give more light than heat, but become extinct in both
#03-124        Even in their promise, as it is a making
                        Just as they look promising, since it's a made up thing
#03-125        You must not take for fire; from this time
                        You must not mistake for a friendly fire.  From this time forward,
#03-126        Be something scanter of your maiden presence;
                        Be rather scarcer with your innocent presence.
#03-127        Set your entreatments at a higher rate
                        Set the price of entreating you at higher
#03-128        Than a command to parley; for Lord Hamlet,
                        Than only a bidding that you speak. Regarding Lord Hamlet,
#03-129        Believe so much in him: that he is young,
                        Believe only this much about him: that he is young,
#03-130        And with a larger tether may he walk
                        And he is allowed to walk on a longer leash
#03-131        Than may be given you; in few, Ophelia,
                        Than you are allowed to.  Succinctly, Ophelia,
#03-132        Do not believe his vows, for they are brokers,
                        Do not believe his vows, for they are not like brokers
#03-133        Not of that dye which their investments show,
                        Who are proven by the quality of their investments.
#03-134        But mere implorators of unholy suits,
                        Instead his words are lowly beggars of evil suits
#03-135        Breathing like sanctified and pious bonds,
                        That only sound like blessed and virtuous bonds,
#03-136        The better to beguile; this is for all:
                        The better to fool you.  In summary,
#03-137        I would not, in plain terms, from this time forth,
                        I will not - plainly speaking - from this time forward
#03-138        Have you so slander any moment leisure
                        Have you disgrace any moment of your leisure time
#03-139        As to give words or talk with the Lord Hamlet;
                        By writing to, or talking with, Lord Hamlet.
#03-140        Look to it, I charge you.  Come your ways.
                        See to that, I order you.  Come along.
#03-141  Ophelia:  I shall obey, my Lord.
                        I shall obey you, my Lord.

#03-141-SD  (they exit)

End of Scene 3

Scene Links

Go to: Scene 1 - Scene 2 - Scene 3 - Scene 4 - Scene 5 - Scene 6 - Scene 7 - Scene 8 - Scene 9 - Scene 10
Scene 11 - Scene 12 - Scene 13 - Scene 14 - Scene 15 - Scene 16 - Scene 17 - Scene 18 - Scene 19 - Scene 20

Notes

Jump up to the start of the Dialogue.

03-Setting
an English ship
  • Place - The harbor of Elsinore Town.

(The ship pictured is English, not Danish. The ship Laertes takes could be of any nationality which is privileged to use the Elsinore harbor. The ship's ensign, the red cross on the white field, is St. George's Cross. The Danish flag, the Dannebrog, is the reverse in color, a white cross on a red field.)

  • Time of Day - Early afternoon. As Laertes and Ophelia enter in this Scene, it is not long after he was granted permission to leave. Then, when Polonius arrives, it is shortly after Claudius concluded the session of the royal court. Taking it that Claudius adjourned court for the midday meal, the time is now the early afternoon. That would also go along with what Polonius says about the wind, since there can often be an increase in wind in the afternoon.
  • Weather - As we're told, breezy. Good weather for sailing. The sky, clear or partly cloudy, at first. Then, after Ophelia is ordered by Polonius to have nothing further to do with Hamlet, the day turns dark, overcast, and gloomy.
  • Calendar Time - Day 1 of the administration of King Claudius.

Return: #Setting - or - Set Decoration

03-000-SD

(Laertes and Ophelia enter) - correct placement of the characters on stage appears to be, Ophelia to the left of Laertes, with stage left being the direction of the Castle, and stage right being the direction of the ship in the harbor.

It is significant that Laertes has no pals here to wish him farewell. That's part of why he wants to return to Paris. All his friends are there, now. His life is there.

Return: #000-SD

03-001

Laertes: My necessaries are embarked, farewell;

necessaries - items necessary for the trip. Luggage, toothbrush, etc.

embarked - aboard ship.

My necessaries are embarked - It is necessary to point out how this line is acted. There is enough information, from Shakespeare.

Elizabethan times were not Victorian times. I shall first mention. So...

Embarked suggests "bark" as on trees. Trees are wood. One can view embarked then, as "like wood." As Laertes is heading back to Paris, with the ladies of the boulevards much on his mind, what "necessary" could be "like wood?" When Laertes says his "necessaries are embarked," he reaches down and does a tugging motion at his crotch, like a baseball player adjusting his protective cup when he's at bat. This is not what Laertes means as he speaks, but Shakespeare selected wording to inform us of what Laertes does.

"Woodie" is a very old slang term.

When Ophelia notices Laertes do that, she puts a hand to her face and looks away, with a thought of "oh lord, my brother, it's embarrassing for anyone to know I'm related to this hopeless clod."

You may have seen, in some production of Hamlet, or read in some book, the idea Shakespeare wrote this Scene in a syrupy sort of way. That is incorrect.

Return: #001

03-002

And sister, as the winds give benefit

as - the way that.

benefit - do good. Laertes means, do me good (by conveying me to Paris.) Laertes speaks as if the winds blow for his own personal benefit. That is the point of view of a baby, that everything is for his personal benefit. A person is supposed to grow out of that, but Laertes has not, yet. We see how immature Laertes is. This is an important characterization note about him. His lack of maturity will eventually be his undoing, when he falls under the sway of Claudius as his "father figure" after the death of Polonius.

Return: #002

03-003

And convey, in assistant, do not sleep

in assistant - in assistance to me; as my assistant. Ophelia is not, however, his assistant, she is his sister. She does not work for him.

Return: #003

03-004

But let me hear from you.

(do not sleep) But let me hear from you - Laertes is demanding a letter from Ophelia before she goes to bed this night. Does he promise to write to her? No. He does not.

When will Laertes get any letter she writes to him? Not before he gets to Paris. So, what's the point of her writing a letter to him today? None. What is going to happen during the rest of the day that will be worth a letter to him from her? Very little if anything, probably.

So, why is he demanding a letter from her? Because he's a spoiled jerk who has learned he can get away with making unreasonable, insensitive demands. There is also probably more to it than that. See the Extended Note.

A well mannered person would promise to write to her, when he gets to Paris. "I'll write you when I get there," is the proper, and reasonable, thing to say. It's like somebody today saying, "I'll call you when I get there." That would be the correct, sensible thing to say, and the expected thing to say.

Oh, Laertes's remark sounds alright if you don't think about it. If you do think about it, it collapses. Laertes is a rude idiot, rude to his sister, at least.

Return: #004 - or - Extended Note

03-005

Do you doubt that? - Ophelia has long experience at having to put up with her brother, however much of a trial it is. Yes, she'll write the letter. See the Extended Note.

Return: #005 - or - Extended Note

03-006

For Hamlet, and the trifling of his favor - what does Laertes know about the situation with Hamlet and Ophelia? The answer is, nothing. It is explicit in the dialogue that Laertes only returned for the coronation of Claudius, which was a few days ago. He has no actual knowledge of Ophelia's relationship with Hamlet. Laertes is speaking of that which he does not know. It is presumptuous, boorish behavior.

Laertes's ideas about Hamlet are strongly influenced by his own behavior in Paris. Laertes supposes that Hamlet is like he is, but Hamlet is not.

Return: #006

03-007

Hold it a fashion, and a toy in blood,

fashion - temporary interest. Something that comes and goes with the passage of time. A seasonal phenomenon.

toy - plaything, that a person will outgrow. A toy of the mind is an idea the mind plays with, for a while, but then moves on.

toy in blood - a temporary passion. The blood is taken as the center of passion (while the brain is the center of judgment, and the heart, or soul, is the center of intuition.) A passing fancy.

Return: #007

03-008
sweet violet

A violet in the youth of primy nature,

violet - is symbolic of love. In traditional flower meaning, the violet is usually symbolic of faithfulness, but that cannot be correct here. Laertes is obviously not talking about being faithful in love. So, Shakespeare used the violet to mean "love," based on the heart-shaped leaves.

youth - early.

primy nature - the prime of life.

So, a violet in the youth of primy nature = a love in one's early prime of life. What might now be called a "crush" in U.S. slang, meaning a brief infatuation that a young person may have. Is what Laertes believes.

Return: #008

03-009

Forward, not permanent; sweet, not lasting,

Forward - bold; plucky. Attracting attention. Assertive. "Plucky" might be a favored paraphrase, because of the idea of a flower being plucked, being picked.

sweet - alluring.

Ophelia will be forward (attention-getting) later, when she's mad, in Scene 16.

Return: #009

03-010

The perfume and suppliance of a minute,

perfume - pleasure. Perfume is a pleasure to the senses.

suppliance - entreaty. A supplication. Can be read as meaning a temptation. Goes back to Middle English, and to Latin 'supplicat-' ("implored.")

Laertes is speaking of a tempting pleasure. When one sees a freshly bloomed violet, one is tempted to pick it and enjoy it.

perfume and suppliance - can be read as hendiadys, "supplicating pleasantness," "entreating pleasure." Tempting pleasure.

of a minute - of the moment.

Return: #010

03-011

No more. - Hamlet's interest in Ophelia is no more than that.

So he thinks.

Return: #011

03-012

No more but so? - Ophelia asks the question in a casual way, with a simple smile. She knows something Laertes does not know. We will learn it as the Scene continues.

Return: #012

03-013

Laertes: Think it no more; - Don't think any more of it than that.

Return: #013

03-014

For nature, crescent, does not grow alone

nature - Laertes is speaking of female nature.

crescent - maturing. Developing. Like the "young" moon grows during its first quarter. The root is Latin 'crescere' ("grow.")

alone - only.

Return: #014

03-015

In thews and bulks, but as this temple waxes,

thews - strictly, the word thew is a reference to musculature, muscle. Laertes is talking about women. The largest muscle of the female body, or the male body for that matter, is the gluteus maximus, the large muscle of the buttock. Laertes is using thews to refer to the female buttocks.

bulks - breasts. Strictly, bulk refers to the body, especially the torso, but again, we know Laertes is talking about women, so we can easily ascertain what torso "bulk" he means. The word is plural in the Second Quarto because the plural is required for what Laertes means.

temple - the body in total, the temple which houses the soul.

waxes - increases, in size; a usage based on the moon being said to wax, and wane. The female is associated with the moon, poetically.

Return: #015

03-016

The inward service of the mind and soul

service - devotion. Duty. Laertes expresses it that the mind and soul of the female have a duty to the female body, to make the female receptive to sex. His expressed view is the opposite of the theological doctrine that the body is to house and serve the soul. It is convenient, from a certain male point of view, to take it that the mind and soul of a woman exist to serve her body's sexual urges.

Return: #016

03-017

Grows wide withal; perhaps he loves you now,

Grows wide - what Laertes is saying in his speech is that as women grow wider physically, their outlook on sex broadens as well. It's essentially the truism that women become more sexually receptive as they mature.

Notice he expresses it in terms of "wideness," or, one could say, "broadness." It amounts to him calling women "broads." He views women as "sex objects." He's a womanizer, but at the same time he has a low opinion of them as persons. Observe how he presumes to preach to Ophelia.

now - for now. Laertes takes it that Hamlet's affection will change, as his own does.

Return: #017

03-018

And now no soil nor cautel doth besmirch

soil - dirty dealings. Moral impropriety (in Hamlet's desire for Ophelia.)

cautel - deceit. Craftiness; falsehood. Something to be cautious of. From Latin 'cautela' from 'cavere' ("to take care,") the basis of the well-known word "caveat" as in "caveat emptor."

besmirch - taint. Make less than wholesome. Make less than "whole." Bluntly speaking, "rot."

The word "smirch" may derive from Latin 'es-' ("out") + 'morcher' ("to bite,") and beyond that to Latin 'morsus' which is the past participle of 'mordere' ("to bite.") That would make it, in origin, a "bite" word, in anticipation of the language at the beginning of Scene 4. I suspect that conceptual flow, of the "bite" idea, was Shakespeare's intention.

(Incidentally, Latin 'mordere' is virtually identical to Middle English 'morder' = murder. Shakespeare had to know that.)

Here, with besmirch, we take it that something becomes less than whole, or less than wholesome, with a bite taken out of it. For analogy, when an apple has a bad spot, a spot of taint, that rots, it's like a bite taken out of the apple. The well known consequence is that the rot will spread and ruin the whole.

Anyway, Laertes supposes that "perhaps" Hamlet's love for Ophelia isn't besmirched yet. (We may view Laertes, himself, as something of a "bad apple," interpreting the way he talks about women and love, and Hamlet, as a projection, or mirror, of his own character. There is a Mirror Motif in the play.)

Return: #018

03-019

The virtue of his will, but you must fear:

virtue - moral quality.

will - desire. Sexual urge.

fear - be worried about it. More strongly, "be frightened about it." In a way, this anticipates Ophelia going to Polonius, in Scene 6, and saying she has been so "affrighted." Scene 6#079

Return: #019

03-020

His greatness weighed, his will is not his own,

greatness - high social status.

weighed - taken into account.

will - desired course of action.

not his own - not up to him, alone.

Return: #020

03-021

For he, himself, is subject to his birth;

Being the Prince imposes social obligations. Laertes takes it that Ophelia isn't good enough for Hamlet to marry because she isn't royalty.

Return: #021

03-022

He may not, as unvalued persons do,

unvalued persons - common persons; commoners.

This remark by Laertes anticipates, in a way, what the Clown Sexton will say in the Graveyard Scene, Scene 19, about "great folk" having more "countenance in this world to drown or hang themselves" than lesser folk. ( Scene 19#022 ) Laertes is making a class distinction on the matter of social privileges, or lack of social privileges.

Return: #022

03-023

Carve for himself; for on his choice depends

Carve for himself - literally, cut his own piece of meat for himself. Laertes's view of women is not refined. He can be forgiven only to the degree that the idea of a person "carving for himself" was proverbial in Shakespeare's time. Shakespeare did give Laertes this particular proverbial expression for a reason.

Return: #023

03-024

The sanctity and health of this whole state,

sanctity - holiness.

health - wholeness.

sanctity and health - holiness and wholeness.

Thus, "the holiness and wholeness of this whole state." Shakespeare was having some fun with words.

Laertes has become sanctimonious. He's getting carried away with all this.

Return: #024 - or - Folio Difference

03-025

And therefore must his choice be circumscribed

Laertes presumes to know who Hamlet may choose for a wife, and who not. Laertes has no such knowledge, or authority.

circumscribed - restricted; limited. "Subjected," following up what Laertes said in line 021, "subject to his birth;"

Literally, circumscribed is as if Hamlet has to follow a written script ("-scribe") in his choice of a wife. There is a faint allusion to the Show Theme underlying this use of circumscribed by Shakespeare.

Return: #025

03-026

Unto the voice and yielding of that body

voice and yielding - consenting voice. This phrase may be taken as hendiadys.

Otherwise, voice = affirmation, and then yielding = consent. Reference to a vote of approval. There is, however, no sign in the play that Hamlet would need any vote of approval for his selection of a wife. Laertes continues to speak of that which he does not know, and he continues to be carried away with political imaginings. He is fabricating political arguments to try to dissuade Ophelia.

In Paris, Laertes probably pretends to be an expert on Danish political law to the girls he meets. One can guess. To the extent they don't know any better, they might be impressed.

body - the body politic. In this Denmark there is no popular democracy as in modern systems. The body politic here consists of men of the upper social class, the big landowners, the high officials of the Church, etc. They are all male.

The "consent and yielding" of bodies is very much on Laertes's mind as he leaves for Paris.

Return: #026

03-027

Whereof he is the head; then, if he says he loves you,

head - principal person (to someday replace Claudius.) Laertes is talking about Hamlet being first in line to be the next King, as Claudius declared in Scene 2. Laertes can't picture anybody but Hamlet becoming the next King, nor can Laertes picture Ophelia as the Queen.

There is a fantastic deliberate ambiguity in these last two lines that I'm having trouble expressing at the moment. BOOKMARK for me.

Return: #027

03-028

It fits your wisdom so far to believe it

Return: #028

03-029

As he, in his peculiar sect and force,

in - within; restricted to. Confined to.

sect - social rank. Class. Station in life. Similar to the usage in King Lear Act 5 scene 3:

King Lear: ... and we'll wear out,
               In a wall'd prison, packs and sects of great ones,
               That ebb and flow by the moon.

Lear is speaking of entire social classes of great ones. Shakespeare's use of sect here goes along with the confusion between social class terms and religious terms, since the same words are used for both. If one merely says "lord" does he mean God, or the Duke of Finardley?

force - compulsion, is perhaps best. Laertes is speaking of what is expected of Hamlet. He thinks Hamlet will be required to conform to what is proper for the nobility.

in his peculiar sect and force - within his personal station in life and (its) compulsion, (because Hamlet is the Prince.)

Laertes takes for granted that Hamlet is confined to what is expected of a Prince. He's sure Hamlet will marry nobility, a foreign princess, perhaps, (the way James VI of Scotland married Princess Anne of Denmark.) Laertes doesn't think Ophelia has any chance with an honest-to-goodness Prince. Little does he know.

Return: #029 - or - Folio Difference - or - Extended Note

03-030

May give his saying deed, which is no further

give his saying deed - act on what he says. Turn what he says into a deed.

Return: #030

03-031

Than the main voice of Denmark goes withal;

the main voice of Denmark - the voice of the King. Hamlet cannot marry without Claudius's permission, is what Laertes means. This is why Polonius will later seek to involve Claudius, as Polonius will say toward the end of Scene 6: "come, go we to the King." Scene 6#124

Hamlet is a minor. He is 16 years old.

Return: #031

03-032

Then weigh what loss your honor may sustain

weigh - ponder, is best because of Latin 'ponder-' ("weight.")

honor - reputation.

sustain - suffer. The underlying idea in the word sustain is that of being held down, or pulled down. From Latin 'sub-' ("under") + 'tenere' ("hold.") The word is ominous. Ophelia will die from being "held under" the water in the brook.

Return: #032

03-033

If with too credent ear you list his songs,

credent - trusting; believing. From Latin 'credere' ("believe.")

list - hear, in the sense of heed. This meaning of list has become obsolete. "Desire" is also an earlier meaning of list, as is "lust," so "desire" or "lust for" are available interpretations.

songs - sweet talk. Words that express the "music" of love.

Return: #033

03-034
"loose" in the Second Quarto

Or loose your heart, or your chaste treasure open

loose - free from restraint. Untether; unleash. Polonius will say "tether" to Ophelia at line 130. The figure of speech is that of Ophelia "freeing" her heart, to "run" to Hamlet. Laertes is cautioning her against that.

chaste treasure - virginity.

open - unlock, so to speak.

Return: #034 - or - Folio Difference

03-035

To his unmastered importunity;

unmastered - unbridled, might be the best paraphrase, because of the Horse Motif in the play. Otherwise, "uncontrolled."

importunity - persistence; intrusion. The latter is probably best. Importunity is based on Latin 'portus' ("harbor,") so it's a perfect word from Shakespeare in this Scene set at the Elsinore harbor.

Return: #035

03-036

Fear it, Ophelia, fear it, my dear sister,

Return: #036

03-037

And keep you in the rear of your affection,

Return: #037

03-038

Out of the shot and danger of desire:

Return: #038

03-039
inverted quotes in the Second Quarto

"The chariest maid is prodigal enough

Return: #039

03-040
the Moon card in the Visconti-Sforza tarot deck

"If she unmask her beauty to the moon;

Return: #040

03-041

"Virtue, itself, 'scapes not calumnious strokes;

Return: #041

03-042

"The canker galls the infants of the spring

Return: #042

03-043

"Too oft' before their buttons be disclosed,

before their buttons be disclosed - before their buds open, (to be revealed as flowers.)

This line informs us of Ophelia's age. When a flower opens, it shows itself for the admiration of the world. The flower makes its social debut, one might say.

By analogy to flowers, young ladies are "still in the bud" before they make their social debut. The traditional age for a young lady's social debut is 16. Laertes is the same as saying that Ophelia is "still in the bud." She is not 16 yet. She must be close, however, so make it 15. Hamlet and Ophelia are another two of Shakespeare's precocious youngsters, just a bit older than Romeo and Juliet.

Ophelia is still a minor child in her father's household.

Return: #043

03-044

And in the morn and liquid dew of youth,

morn - early. Fresh.

liquid - limpid. Clear and unstained. Pure.

dew - the "early time," the time when dew is still on the leaves. The dew of youth is the early time of youth. There is a subtle pun with "due." What is "due" is what is needed, or demanded. So, with what Laertes is talking about, the idea of "due" is that of sexual need.

Return: #044

03-045

Contagious blastments are most imminent;

Contagious blastments - Transmitted swellings. Contagious as in transmitted from one person to another. Blast as in "blow up" literally, i.e. expand, swell. Laertes is worried about Hamlet "transmitting a swelling" to Ophelia. The English suffix "-blast" is from Greek 'blastos,' "sprout." Youngsters are sometimes called "sprouts."

The phrase is an analogy of pregnancy to plant disease. That's an odd way to look at it, albeit a poetic one. I guess.

Return: #045 - or - Extended Note

03-046

Be wary then, best safety lies in fear,

Return: #046

03-047

"Youth to itself rebels, though none else near.

rebels - literally, "makes war," like an enemy.

Youth to itself rebels - youth is an enemy to itself.

though none else near - all by itself. On its own.

Shakespeare has given Laertes a preposterously mysterious way of saying, "Youth is its own worst enemy." It's a fantastic job of turning that cliche into phrasing that would rhyme, and, in the process, giving us an ingenious word puzzle.

Return: #047

03-048

Ophelia: I shall the good effect of this lesson keep,

good effect - moral. Ophelia is fair-minded enough that she does recognize the merit in what Laertes says, even if he is a fool and a hypocrite. It is possible for deplorable persons to say sensible things.

lesson - lecture. Advice; guidance.

keep - remember.

Ophelia has realized why Laertes spoke against Hamlet, even though Laertes hasn't been there and knows nothing about it, himself. Laertes has gotten his point of view from their father talking to him. That's the only way Laertes could know anything to say on the subject. So, Laertes has at least served the purpose, accidentally, of informing her what Polonius thinks about it.

Return: #048

03-049

As watchman to my heart; but, good my brother,

Return: #049

03-050

Do not as some ungracious pastors do:

ungracious - not in a state of grace. Hypocritical.

Return: #050

03-051

Show me the steep and thorny way to Heaven - Kindly forgive me that I find it necessary to point something out to the reader. It concerns how this line is correctly acted. As a prerequisite, one must fathom that Elizabethan times were not Victorian times.

Laertes is standing to Ophelia's right. The ship on which Laertes will leave is to his right, and he is glancing that way, since he knows it is time he should be going, so he is not looking constantly at Ophelia, to his left.

Following from "pastors" in the previous line:

Pastors pray. Acting Ophelia, place your hands together in the prayer position just below your chin.

show me - swing your right arm out, from the prayer position, maintaining the angle, and place your left hand to your heart for me.

steep - is the angle of your right forearm, now toward Laertes.

thorny - is your middle finger, as you extend it.

Heaven - is up. Elevate your forearm, in that "steep" position, with middle finger thornily extended.

As Ophelia, you are showing Laertes the "steep and thorny way to Heaven."

Did Ophelia appreciate her uncouth brother's long-winded lecture on her and Hamlet, a subject he knows nothing about?

No, she did not.

Laertes did not see what she did, he was looking toward the ship. Ophelia didn't think he would see it. She has learned that most of the time when she tries to talk to her insufferable brother, he doesn't even look at her.

You may have seen this Scene played, or read it described, in a sweety-pie, cutsey pie way, between Laertes and Ophelia. That is not correct.

Laertes is an excessively indulged, downright spoiled, older brother. Ophelia is a disregarded, put-upon younger sister.

Laertes and Ophelia have both been trained to 'Put on a Show' of family feeling, that they don't truly feel. They do not like each other. Laertes's view of Ophelia is that she is a foolish, naive baby. Ophelia's view of her brother is that he is a wretched affliction sent to earth to test a person's faith. Of the two, Ophelia is the more nearly correct.

Return: #051

03-052

While he, a puffed and reckless libertine,

puffed - proud. Full of himself. Ophelia has tossed the "puffed up" idea back at Laertes. Ophelia is thinking, "No matter how pregnant I ever get, I'll never be as puffed up as you are, brother."

Second, puffed = windy.

reckless - careless. Negligent.

Return: #052 - or - Folio Difference

03-053

Himself, the primrose path of dalliance treads,

Primrose

primrose path - an aimless, self-indulgent path that goes far afield, wherever the flowers grow (flowers representing young ladies.) As opposed to "walking the straight and narrow." Primroses, growing wild, are found scattered, some over here, some over there. A person going from one patch of primroses to another would wander in an aimless way over the countryside.

dalliance - casual love affairs.

There's an action that goes with "treading the primrose path." Do the action of "walking" your fingers through the air. That is, work your index and middle fingers like legs, as you move your hand away from your body. Ophelia does that. The usual interpretation of that action is "get lost," "be gone."

Did Ophelia really come to the harbor to wish her brother farewell? It does not seem likely. Why is she here? She could have said goodbye to her brother in the Polonius family apartments in the Castle. Well, she thought Hamlet would get permission to return to Wittenberg. Hamlet thought that, we know, else he would not have bothered asking.

Ophelia is a minor in her father's household. She is not allowed to be this far from the Castle without someone accompanying her. She came to the harbor with her brother, not for his sake, but so she would be here to wish Hamlet goodbye. However, he did not get permission, so she did end up here with just her brother. Darn.

Return: #053

03-054

And recks not his own reed.

Tarocco Siciliano Love card

recks not - doesn't reckon. Doesn't take care about.

his own reed - the flight of his own arrow (of love.)

The image is an artist's recreation taken from the picture on the Love card in the Tarocco Siciliano, an historical tarot deck, a deck documented to go back at least to about the mid-1600s. I have to suspect the deck is somewhat older, or a tarot deck ancestral to the Tarocco Siciliano had a similar picture on the Love card.

The picture shows a young man whose sword hilt makes it appear his "necessary is embarked," so to speak, while a young lady cautions him to "reck his own reed."

Several lines in Hamlet suggest the pictures that can be found on historical tarot decks, both the Tarocco Siciliano, and Visconti-Sforza at least, and perhaps others. In Shakespeare's day tarot was an upper class card game. The tarot deck was not seen as having occult significance until a century or more after Shakespeare's time. It is easily possible some of Shakespeare's wealthy patrons played tarot, and he may have played the game himself.

Second meaning, recks not his own [rede] = does not heed his own advice. The "arrow" meaning (with reed) takes precedence because of "Cupid's arrow" being the context.

The idea of not being cautious about the flight of one's arrow will be heard again in Scene 20, when Hamlet will speak of shooting his arrow over the house and hurting his brother. ( Scene 20#223 )

Return: #054

03-054-SD
Polonius's entry in the Second Quarto

(Polonius enters) - When Claudius adjourned the session of the royal court, Polonius went to eat his midday meal, (and may have done so now,) but then he looked out the window and saw that the ship, on which Laertes is to sail, had not left yet. Polonius has come down to the harbor to see why not.

Laertes and Ophelia do not immediately notice Polonius at his entry. Polonius is approaching from behind Ophelia, and Laertes is glancing toward the ship as he speaks his next line.

Polonius is a slow old fellow. It's four more lines until he's in position to speak. The time it takes him to move into position to speak, after his entry is given, is part of the verification that this Scene is set at the harbor, outdoors.

Return: #054-SD

03-055

Laertes: Oh, fear me not;

fear me not - don't fear about me; don't fear for me. Don't worry about me.

Ophelia was nice enough to say she would regard Laertes's pontificating. He is not nice enough to return the favor for her simple, sensible advice (to which he was not really listening.)

Return: #055

03-056

I stay too long, but here my father comes;

I stay too long - which is his own fault. He's too infatuated with his own voice, whether he knows what he's talking about or not.

but here my father comes - which means I'm going to be staying even longer. Laertes says my father because he's sure Polonius will want to talk to him in particular, and Laertes tends to be oblivious to Ophelia, anyway.

When Ophelia looks and sees their father approaching, her heart sinks. She can just feel it, this is going to mean trouble. Oh, if it were only Hamlet, instead.

Return: #056

03-057

A double blessing is a double grace - a repeated blessing is a repeated favor. Or, to be doubly blessed is to be doubly favored.

This is probably a saying of Polonius's about having two children. Laertes has picked it up, and he repeats it here, upon seeing his father approaching.

Return: #057

03-058

Occasion smiles upon a second leave.

Occasion smiles upon - Fortune favors. This is an instance of the Fortune Theme. Laertes is not, however, looking forward to this unexpected opportunity, because his father is so predictable.

a second leave. - the first leave was before the start of Scene 2, because Polonius, and Laertes, already knew the leave would be granted by Claudius. They said their goodbyes before we saw them on stage. The "show" of Claudius granting the leave, during Scene 2, was merely the public process to make it official.

Return: #058

03-059

Polonius: Yet here, Laertes? Aboard, aboard for shame!

Ophelia steps back, as Polonius gets close enough to talk to Laertes; She remains positioned behind Polonius, which is significant, later.

Return: #059

03-060

The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,

sits - is in position. Reference to blowing from the right direction. Visually, when a sail billows, the appearance can sometimes suggest that a huge posterior is sitting in the sail. That is, the curve of the sail resembles the curve of the human posterior. One does not usually think of it like that, but so it is. I am inclined to suspect Shakespeare's word choice was intended to imply that peculiarity of appearance that a sail can have.

the shoulder of your sail - an analogy to the shoulder blade area. The wind is in the right direction to push the ship ahead, just as a push to the shoulder blade area will move a person ahead.

Return: #060

03-061

And you are stayed for there; my blessing with thee,

Return: #061 - or - Folio Difference

03-062

And these few precepts in thy memory

Return: #062

03-063

Look thou character: give thy thoughts no tongue,

Look thou character - is deliberately ambiguous. It can be read either as "be sure you take note (of what I say,)" or it can be read as "look like what you are."

For the first, character = stamp. Polonius means Laertes should "stamp" onto his memory what Polonius says. The English word character is via Latin from Greek 'kharaktēr' ("a stamping tool.")

For the second, character = quality as a person.

give thy thoughts no tongue - is ironic because of the way Polonius constantly jabbers what he's thinking. Here, tongue is voice.

Return: #063 - or - Folio Difference

03-064

Nor any unproportioned thought his act;

unproportioned - unmeasured; unconsidered. Rash. Polonius is simply telling Laertes to consider before he acts. "Think about what you're doing." "Look before you leap."

Return: #064

03-065

Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar;

familiar - unpretentious. Amiable.

vulgar - coarse; crude.

Return: #065

03-066

Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,

Return: #066

03-067

Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel,

Grapple - draw; hold. It's another "hold" word. The word grapple anticipates what Hamlet will write, as read by Horatio in Scene 17, about the battle with the pirate ship.

hoops of steel - strong bands. To create a strong hold on the friends he knows. As Polonius acts it, he extends his arms and then brings his hands to his chest, doing an encircling action, a "hooping" action, with his arms.

Return: #067

03-068

But do not dull thy palm with entertainment

dull - has a double meaning, of both "desensitize" and "dirty." Like a gravedigger's hands are both desensitized, by being callused, and also dirty. This anticipates Scene 19 with the Sexton Clown (Gravedigger.)

entertainment - hospitality (to an excessive degree, Polonius means in this case.) Polonius is telling Laertes not to "treat" everyone. Entertainment had an earlier meaning of "treating" people, and it still does, in a way. The root is Latin 'tenere' ("to hold") so it's a "hold" word, at root, going along with the other "hold," "grasp," and "seize" words we've seen, and will continue to see, in the dialogue. So this can be seen as Polonius telling Laertes not to "hold with" (approve of) just anybody. Laertes, himself, has the idea of "holding with" a lot of persons in Paris, persons of the female variety.

Return: #068

03-069

Of each new-hatched, unfledged courage; beware

new-hatched - newly met.

unfledged - untried. Untested. Like a fledgling bird that does not yet have wings, to fly. An unfledged bird is an untried flier. Polonius is advising Laertes, or trying to, that he shouldn't rely on untested acquaintances.

courage - is a synonym for "spirit." A spirit is a soul. A soul is a person. Polonius has used courage to mean "person." Or, that is, Shakespeare gave us a little word puzzle with that solution.

Polonius, himself, can be taken as meaning a spirited young man. We know "young" because Polonius is talking about friends Laertes might make, and he is young.

There is indeed a courage in the play, that is, a spirit, or at least so it appears. The Ghost.

The Ghost is new-hatched. It only recently emerged. It is unfledged in that it does not have angel's wings to fly to Heaven. Polonius, with his unusual word choice, and his "bird" phrasing, has made allusion to the Ghost, a ghost he doesn't know exists.

So, Polonius advises Laertes not to wear himself out making the acquaintance of new, untried spirits. Good advice for Hamlet, too?

Return: #069 - or - Folio Difference

03-070

Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,

Return: #070

03-071

Bear it that the opposed may beware of thee;

the opposed - the opponent; your opponent.

Return: #071

03-072

Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;

Is the opposite of Polonius's own behavior. He has no ability to perceive his advice in relation to himself.

Return: #072

03-073

Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgment;

Return: #073

03-074

Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,

Is strange to hear. How often does one hear a parent say to a child, "spend as much money on clothes as you can?" It sounds like a prescription for bankruptcy. It underscores how Polonius spoils Laertes.

Return: #074

03-075

But not expressed in fancy: rich, not gaudy;

Polonius thinks what Laertes is wearing is too loud. Polonius doesn't stop to think that Laertes is probably wearing the latest in French fashion, that Laertes bought in Paris, and has put on for his return.

Return: #075

03-076

For the apparel oft' proclaims the man,

Like the old proverb that "clothes make the man." The word oft' is correct. The principle is not invariable. The Ghost was wearing what looked like King Hamlet's armor, but... Then, in Scene 19, the Graveyard Scene, both Hamlet and the Clown Sexton will be fooled by what the other is wearing.

Return: #076

03-077

And they in France of the best rank and station,

best rank and station - highest social position, and best station in life. Best rank - the foremost position in society.

Laertes, who has been living in France, must know far more about French fashion than his father does. That obvious point does not occur to Polonius.

Return: #077

03-078

Or of a most select and generous, chief in that.

of a most select and generous - Polonius means of a most select and generous "rank and station," as he just said.

chief - lead. A chief is a leader, therefore, to chief is to lead.

Return: #078 - or - Folio Difference

03-079

Neither a borrower nor a lender be

Return: #079

03-080

For love oft' loses both itself and friend,

"love" in the Second Quarto

love - is the correct word. When Polonius thinks of money, while he's giving advice, he inevitably thinks of the saying, "the love of money is the root of all evil." With that saying on his mind, he says "love."

Polonius's resulting statement about love being lost is ominous for Hamlet and Ophelia.

Return: #080 - or - Folio Difference

03-081

And borrowing dulleth edge of husbandry;

dulleth edge of husbandry - makes management, of money, less sharp. The idea is that a person is more sharp, aware and alert, when he's managing his own earnings. The phrasing explicitly provides an instance of the Edge Motif.

Return: #081

03-082

This above all: to thine own self be true,

to thine own self be true - sounds good, but is it always? Should a thief be true to what he is, and keep stealing? A person should be true to higher principles, true to standards greater than himself.

Whether a person should be true to himself depends on what he is. It depends on whether he's a good person.

Claudius set out to murder King Hamlet. If Claudius is "true to himself" he'll try to kill Hamlet, too.

Return: #082

03-083

And it must follow as the night the day

Return: #083

03-084

Thou canst not then be false to any man;

Well, if you're a hypocrite, who "recks not his own reed," and you're true to yourself, you'll be false to everyone. Again, it depends on what you are. Polonius is good at memorizing sayings, but he lacks insight and intellect.

Return: #084

03-085

Farewell, my blessing season this in thee.

season - plant; sow. The word season is from Old French 'seson,' from Latin 'satiō' ("a sowing,") from 'serere' ("to sow.") Polonius means he is "planting" his advice in Laertes, so that as his advice "grows to maturity" within Laertes, Laertes's conduct will become mature. Shakespeare went back to root meaning here. You may have encountered the concept of "sowing the seeds of wisdom." This use of season also gives an instance of the Gardening Motif.

Further, season this can be read as "bring this to fruition." That is, the line can be read to mean, "may my blessing bring my advice to fruition in thee." Polonius means by that, that he hopes his advice will "bear fruit" with Laertes, rather than being fruitless, a waste of time. This meaning is supported by what Polonius will say about Ophelia later, in Scene 7: "she took the fruits of my advice." As is typical, Shakespeare probably intended multiple meanings. This understanding of the line is still on the Gardening Motif.

this - the foregoing words of wisdom.

Return: #085

03-086

Laertes: Most humbly do I take my leave, my Lord.

Return: #086

03-087

The time invites you, go, your servants tend

invites - literally in this case, "beckons." As when the Ghost beckoned Hamlet, inviting Hamlet to follow him.

Also, invites has a definition of "tempts." Laertes will soon be away, off to the temptations of Paris. Polonius only means that the time gives Laertes the opportunity to go. From Polonius, it's just a long-winded way of saying it's time for Laertes to go.

your servants - those at his service, i.e. the sailors who man the ship. If one wonders where Laertes got such a self-centered view of the world, we see it's from his father. Polonius speaks as if the entire ship's complement are Laertes's personal servants. That is not actually the case.

Return: #087 - or - Folio Difference

03-088

Laertes: Farewell, Ophelia, and remember well

Return: #088

03-089

What I have said to you.

If Ophelia had a gun she'd shoot her brother. Polonius is standing right there, and she knows how he is, as do we. She knows, as surely as the night follows the day, she will now have to face an interrogation from her father, because of her inconsiderate jerk of a brother saying that.

Return: #089

03-090

Ophelia: 'Tis in my memory locked

It is necessary to describe what Ophelia does. I beg your pardon, but there we are. As I have already mentioned, Elizabethan times were not Victorian times, and this is a common stage play, for the masses, whose level of amusement can be rather primitive.

It is important to know stage positioning. Ophelia stepped back as Polonius entered to talk to Laertes. She is a step or two behind Polonius. Polonius, as he looks at Laertes, cannot see her. She knows that. Also, Laertes has now turned his back as he begins walking toward the ship, or toward the rowboat that will take him to the ship.

We know where memory is, it is in the head. We know what a locking action is, it is a turning action.

Extend your middle finger, place the tip of it to the side of your head, and do a turning action. The following line continues the action.

Return: #090

03-091

And you, yourself, shall keep the key of it.

Continuing the action, Ophelia gives the middle-finger "key" a backhanded "flip" toward her brother's back.

She then clasps her hands across her midsection, and looks as innocent as an angel.

What she said sounded so nice. Neither her brother nor her father has any idea what she did.

What Ophelia's lines mean, verbally, is simply that when she thinks of her brother she'll think of what he said. Picturing him will be the "key" to recalling what he said.

Return: #091

03-092

Laertes: Farewell!

Return: #092

03-092-SD

(Laertes exits)

Return: #092-SD

03-093

Polonius: What is it, Ophelia, he hath said to you?

As predictably as the sunrise or the sunset, here comes the interrogation. She knew it.

It's hopeless to try to evade her father's questions, because, again, she knows how Polonius and Laertes are. Polonius is going to write to Laertes, and Laertes will reply to his father. Polonius can simply ask Laertes in a letter, and Laertes will tell him, that Laertes talked about Ophelia and Hamlet. There's no getting away from it. If she puts Polonius off here, then when Laertes tells him, it will only mean a double scolding for her from Polonius, first, about not being honest in telling him, and then, a scolding about Hamlet as well. It'll only make it worse.

Might as well get it over with, now. Ophelia is now wishing her brother has such a fine time in Paris, he catches a pox that makes his euphemism turn green and fall off.

Again, the only reason she came down to the harbor with her brother was in the expectation she'd get a chance to wish Hamlet goodbye, but he isn't even there. Her hope has turned to sorrow.

Return: #093

03-094

Ophelia: So please you, something touching the Lord Hamlet.

Return: #094

03-095

Polonius: Marry, well bethought!

well bethought - good thinking (on the part of Laertes.)

Return: #095

03-096

'Tis told me he hath very oft', of late,

Return: #096

03-097

Spent private time with you, and that you, yourself,

private time - time in private, as opposed to being in a public area. Further, time alone with her. Time when it was only the two of them.

This worries Polonius.

Return: #097

03-098

Have of your audience been most free and bounteous;

Return: #098

03-099

If it be so, as so 'tis put on me,

put on me - presented to me. This is in keeping with the "show" terminology. A show that's put on is presented.

Also, to put (someone) on is to deceive him, so Polonius's phrasing reveals that he imagines there's some kind of deceit going on. In terms of general conversation, Polonius merely means "told to me."

Return: #099

03-100

And that in way of caution, I must tell you,

Return: #100

03-101

You do not understand yourself so clearly

The phrasing is ironic, since it's abundantly clear Polonius doesn't understand Ophelia, not that she doesn't understand herself.

But Polonius means she doesn't know her proper role well enough. Again, the acting, or show, terminology is best for paraphrase.

Return: #101

03-102

As it behooves my daughter, and your honor;

behooves - befits. Suits. "Is incumbent upon."

Further, As it behooves - as it benefits. As it advantages. Polonius will later speak of "vantage."

honor - reputation for chastity.

Return: #102

03-103

What is between you? Give me up the truth!

Give me up the truth! - is a stupid, rude demand, from a grownup. Where is politeness to one's own child? Polonius's attitude is unwise and a hinderance. He is not going to get the truth by demanding it the way a baby demands to be fed. (We will later hear Polonius described as being a baby, and in his second childhood.)

Return: #103

03-104

Ophelia: He hath, my Lord, of late, made many tenders

Return: #104

03-105

Of his affection to me.

affection - love. The word affection is stronger here than it looks to the modern eye.

(tenders) Of his affection - keepsakes. Mementos. She is referring to the "remembrances" that she will mention in Scene 8. Scene 8#100 Hamlet has given her a few little gifts. A flower, a seashell, that kind of thing. She is attempting to inform Polonius that Hamlet has given tangible expression of his love for her.

Return: #105

03-106

Polonius: Affection, puh, you speak like a green girl,

green girl - in point of fact she is indeed a young, inexperienced girl. To whom does Polonius imagine he's speaking? How else should a young girl speak, than like a young girl? His remark is not rational. It is crazy to accuse a youngster of speaking like a youngster.

Return: #106

03-107

Unsifted in such perilous circumstances;

Again, Polonius's statement that she is "like" that, is crazy. She is in fact that. She is young, innocent, and new to romance. Polonius doesn't speak as though he can identify to whom he is speaking. He clearly has no idea how to speak to his own daughter. We can be sure they have never been close.

Return: #107

03-108

Do you believe his tenders, as you call them?

believe his tenders - Polonius has misunderstood what Ophelia meant. He thinks she was referring to statements Hamlet has made.

Polonius's childish whining over her word choices is only going to guarantee she says as little to him as possible.

Return: #108

03-109

Ophelia: I do not know, my Lord, what I should think.

She doesn't bother trying to correct him on what she meant by "tenders." She is near the point of giving up on conversation with him.

Return: #109

03-110

Polonius: Marry, I will teach you; think yourself a baby,

Polonius welcomes the opportunity to lecture. What facts has he found out about the situation, upon which he can base his lecture? None.

think yourself a baby - is an amusing phrasing by Shakespeare. Polonius is worried about Ophelia having a baby, while unmarried, but she is not going to think herself a baby. That isn't how it works. Polonius, himself, is telling her to be ready to learn, to put herself in the role of a baby, whose mind is uneducated. Polonius does still see her as only a baby, but that is no longer correct.

Return: #110

03-111

That you have taken these tenders for true pay

Return: #111

03-112
"starling" in the First Folio

Which are not 'starling'; tender yourself more dearly

"starling" in the Century Dictionary

starling - the word is "sterling" in modern spelling, but it is spelled starling in the First Folio, as the image shows. I have used the First Folio spelling because a starling is also a bird, and there is a Bird Motif in the play. The meaning here is not the bird, but the point is that the word is compatible with the motif. I believe the spelling starling is likely to be Shakespeare's own, to have a form compatible with the Bird Motif. I mark starling in the text because it is not the modern spelling of the actual word, sterling.

"stare" in the Century Dictionary

By the way, not only is "starling" an obsolete spelling of "sterling," it is also the case that "sterling" is an obsolete spelling of "starling." I was sure everyone would want to know that.

The bird, starling, is also called a stare. From that knowledge, the word also serves as an embedded stage direction, implying Polonius gives Ophelia a beady-eyed stare. The "stare" implication may have as much to do with why Shakespeare used the word, or more, as the Bird Motif does.

The quotations under "stare" in the Century Dictionary are fortunate, for this context, since Parliament of Fowls gets some allusion in Hamlet, as does the fall of Troy. Chapman began his translation of the Iliad in 1598.

When Polonius says starling he means the idea of good value, true value, honest value. He thinks Ophelia has no hope of getting anything out of Hamlet's approach to her, except trouble.

Return: #112

03-113

Or, (not to crack the wind of the poor phrase

Return: #113

03-114

Roaming it thus,) you'll tender me a fool.

Polonius has spoken various meanings of tender. He has, however, not run it as far as he should. He has not (and will not) use the best meaning of tender, the meaning he ought to use when speaking to his daughter. That meaning is "kind."

tender me a fool - BOOKMARK

Return: #114

03-115

Ophelia: My Lord, he hath importuned me with love

importuned - Harassed and oppressed by her father, Ophelia is having trouble finding words. She has gone back to something Laertes said of Hamlet, at line 035 "his unmastered importunity." However, importuned means "troubled," which is not what Ophelia was trying to express. It gives Polonius the wrong impression.

Ophelia only meant something like "approached," but she has inadvertently made it sound like Hamlet is being troublesome. Polonius now has the idea Hamlet is bothering Ophelia. That is not at all the case.

For interpretation of the play overall, please observe, the characters do not always say exactly what they mean. They occasionally misuse words, and have trouble finding the right words, just like you and me. Shakespeare was brilliantly realistic in composing his characters' speech. Here, Ophelia is not saying what she means, because her relationship with her father is so unfriendly that her attempts to communicate with him are an unpleasant ordeal.

One could guess that importune occurs to Ophelia because her father is behaving that way. In Medieval Latin, 'importunari' meant "to make oneself troublesome," and that general idea carried over into English.

Importune originally meant "having no harbor" (so, figuratively "difficult to access;") from Latin 'in-' ("not") + 'portus' ("harbor.") It's another indication this Scene is set at the harbor.

Return: #115

03-116

In honorable fashion.

Return: #116

03-117

Polonius: Aye, "fashion" you may call it; go to, go to!

Polonius continues his childish whining about her word choices.

He uses fashion to mean "appearance." Polonius is sure Hamlet is fooling Ophelia with a mere "show." This is a subtle instance of the Putting on a Show theme.

go to - go on; keep talking.

Return: #117

03-118

Ophelia: And hath given countenance to his speech,

countenance - expression. Also, "support." Confirmation. She is trying to tell Polonius it's been more than just talk (and Polonius still doesn't get it.)

Return: #118

03-119

My Lord, with almost all the holy vows of Heaven.

holy vows of Heaven - vows of holy matrimony; marriage vows.

almost all the holy vows of Heaven - almost marriage vows. Ophelia is implying that Hamlet has asked her to marry him, and she has accepted. They are engaged. She is engaged to be married to the Prince of Denmark.

Polonius is so intent on lecturing Ophelia, while discounting everything she says, that he misses the significance of what she tells him. He doesn't get what she means, he thinks it's just rhetoric, which it certainly is not.

This is why Ophelia asked Laertes, with a smile, "no more but so?" in line 012 when he began lecturing her against Hamlet. Her pompous cluck of a brother didn't know she was engaged to Hamlet.

It's easy to understand why Hamlet and Ophelia have kept their engagement secret. They are minors, first of all. Then, Hamlet despises Claudius, and no longer trusts Gertrude. Then, we see how Polonius is. They have strong motivation to keep it secret, to keep the "tedious old fools" out of it. (Hamlet will use that phrase in Scene 7 after talking to Polonius.) Ophelia implies it here only because of the browbeating she is taking from her father.

Return: #119

03-120
woodcock illustration

Polonius: Aye, springs to catch woodcocks; I do know,

springs - snares. From the use of spring traps, which can be as simple as a loop of string tied to a bent twig.

woodcocks - foolish birds. Woodcocks were accounted foolish even for birds.

Who is the actual fool, though, as Polonius completely missed that his daughter just tried to tell him she's engaged to the Prince of Denmark?

Return: #120

03-121

When the blood burns, how prodigal the soul

how prodigal the soul - simply read it as "how the prodigal soul." (There is no printing error implied in being able to read it that way. Shakespeare used the poetic phrasing, but poetic phrasing is sometimes only a simple word rearrangement away from ordinary prose.)

Otherwise, prodigal = lavishly, also, wastefully. Thriftlessly. (Recall: "Thrift, thrift, Horatio," in Scene 2.)

Return: #121

03-122

Lends the tongue vows; these blazes, daughter,

Lends - carries the idea that the soul will take back the vows, since they are only lent. Polonius is sure Hamlet's interest is only temporary.

blazes - flares. Flare ups.

Return: #122 - or - Folio Difference

03-123

Giving more light than heat, extinct in both

more light than heat - So wrapped up in his lecturing, and hectoring, Polonius got it backwards, and didn't notice. He of course meant, "more heat than light," which is the common saying. Polonius is trying to speak of passion without judgment.

Return: #123

03-124

Even in their promise, as it is a making

a making - a phenomenon. Carries the idea of Hamlet's vows to Ophelia being "made up," so Polonius believes.

Return: #124

03-125

You must not take for fire; from this time

Polonius has moronically told Ophelia not to mistake a blaze for a fire. She has trouble following that, but then, she usually has trouble understanding her father's prating.

We may take it he means a hearth fire, a so-called "friendly fire," the kind with which one warms a house, that is, the kind a married couple would have in their home.

from this time - from now on.

Return: #125

03-126

Be something scanter of your maiden presence;

As a general rule, he means. Polonius is speaking of Ophelia keeping company with men in general. He is telling her to be "scarce" to men, on the principle, that which is scarcer is more valuable.

Return: #126

03-127

Set your entreatments at a higher rate

entreatments - the ways she is entreated.

at a higher rate - at more than, at a higher price. Essentially, Polonius is telling Ophelia not to be "free." She should demand a price for her attention. Crudely, that is what prostitutes do, they demand a price for their time. Polonius would be shocked and indignant if this were pointed out to him. Indeed, he doesn't mean quite that. Not quite. It's Polonius's greed showing, and also his view of his daughter as something valuable he owns.

Polonius is still giving general instructions.

Return: #127

03-128

Than a command to parley; for Lord Hamlet,

command - bidding. The synonym with a financial connotation (bid) is best for paraphrase here, to go along with Polonius's financial concern about his daughter.

parley - speak, with the implication of negotiations. Polonius doesn't take Hamlet's interest in Ophelia seriously, and it's on Polonius's mind that it's getting to be the time he should negotiate a profitable marriage for Ophelia. Profitable for Polonius, that is, as he hopes to ally himself with a wealthy father, of the aristocratic class, who has a son of marriageable age.

Return: #128

03-129

Believe so much in him: that he is young,

Return: #129

03-130

And with a larger tether may he walk

larger tether - longer leash. It is now on Polonius's mind that he had better keep Ophelia on a "short leash" as the saying goes. He will order the servants, in strictest terms, to keep a close eye on her, and to keep him informed.

Return: #130

03-131

Than may be given you; in few, Ophelia,

Return: #131

03-132
"broker" in the Century Dictionary

Do not believe his vows, for they are brokers,

brokers - go-betweens. The way vows can be brokers is that words "go between" people. In that way, in "going between," words are analogous to human agents, who go between the parties during a negotiation.

The idea of a lender is relevant, following what Polonius has said in this Scene. The idea of pandering is overplayed in the historical Hamlet commentary. It is not primary here, but is not irrelevant.

Return: #132

03-133

Not of that dye which their investments show,

dye - "color" = character; quality.

their investments - "their clothing" = the way they are "dressed up." Polonius is speaking of false appearance.

show - explicitly an instance of the Show Theme.

There is deliberate ambiguity in these lines - BOOKMARK for me, explain that - and also unknowing allusion to the Ghost by Polonius, who doesn't even know it exists.

Return: #133 - or - Folio Difference

03-134

But mere implorators of unholy suits,

mere - lowly.

implorators - beggars. Hamlet will later call himself a "beggar."

unholy - evil. Wicked.

Return: #134

03-135
Second Quarto "bonds"
First Folio "bonds"

Breathing like sanctified and pious bonds,

Breathing like - sounding like. Breath is voice, here. "Seeming to be." That which "sounds like" is that which "seems to be."

(By the way, in many published editions of Hamlet you will see the word "bawds" instead of bonds in this line. That word "bawds" is only an ignorant, illiterate editorialization that began with a man named Theobald in 1726, who had himself a crazy little brainstorm, to the point he could not even read what was printed in front of his face. The stranger thing is that Theobald's goofball editorializing was picked up and repeated by later editors. The stupidity, and sometimes downright illiteracy, you can find in the historical Hamlet commentary is just amazing. Anyway, Shakespeare's word is bonds, of course, as anybody who can read can see.)

By bonds, Polonius means "attachments," of the legal kind. He is referring to marriage, but he is so oblivious, he missed that was already what Ophelia was trying to tell him.

Return: #135

03-136

The better to beguile; this is for all:

beguile - deceive; trick.

Indeed, the way a thing is dressed up, and the way it sounds, can deceive a person.

Return: #136

03-137

I would not, in plain terms, from this time forth,

Return: #137

03-138

Have you so slander any moment leisure

slander - disgrace. Scandalize. It is then with wicked irony, and sheer hypocrisy, that Polonius will send Reynaldo to Paris, in Scene 6, to slander Laertes to all his friends.

Polonius thinks of slander because of what he fears happening with Hamlet and Ophelia.

moment leisure - leisure moment. In Polonius's vocabulary, leisure time is "private time." Line 097 above. He is ordering Ophelia not to spend any moment, of her private time, with Hamlet, for fear of consequent slander, and scandal.

Spending private time with one's fiancé is not usually considered scandalous, to my knowledge. However, Polonius has been talking, instead of listening, which is exactly contrary to the advice he tried to impress on Laertes. The poor, foolish old hypocrite.

And poor Ophelia.

Return: #138

03-139

As to give words or talk with the Lord Hamlet;

give words - write, in even a short note.

Polonius has just ordered his daughter to have nothing further to do with her fiancé, the Prince of Denmark.

The old fool is... an old fool.

Return: #139

03-140

Look to it, I charge you. Come your ways.

charge - order. Stated like an accusatory legal term. In action from Polonius, a pointing finger and a stern facial expression. Charge is from Latin carcare' ("to load,") thus implying a burden. Polonius is imposing the burden on Ophelia of obeying him. The "burden" concept recurs in the play, enough that it can be regarded as a Burden Motif.

Come your ways - is an idiomatic expression, ironic in this case because Polonius is demanding Ophelia go his way, not her own.

Return: #140

03-141

Ophelia: I shall obey, my Lord.

She will, because as a minor in her father's household, in a patriarchal society, with her father being a man of high status, she has no choice about it.

That doesn't mean she likes it. Ophelia deeply resents this, and has been greatly offended by her father's attitude. She is also wondering how Hamlet will take it, that she is no longer allowed to see him, or even write to him.

She has one consolation, perhaps. Hamlet is the Prince, so if he really loves her, he might be able to do something. She will pray.

Return: #141

03-141-SD

(they exit)

Old Polonius slowly leads the way back to the Castle, as Ophelia trails, head bowed, now painfully depressed at this turn of events. She came here to the harbor to bid Hamlet farewell, and so it seems to have turned out, even though he did not leave.

Return: #141-SD


Scene Links

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