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Act One, Scene Three: Father and Daughter

Marcus GeduldMarcus Geduld, Shakespearean director, comput... (more)
2 upvotes by John Armitage and Marc Bodnick.


What is't, Ophelia, he hath said to you?

So please you, something touching the Lord Hamlet.

Marry [By the Virgin Mary], well bethought [it is well considered]:
'Tis told me, he hath very oft of late [often lately]
Given private time to you; and you yourself
Have of your audience been most free and bounteous:
If it be so, as so 'tis put on me,
And that in way of caution [and as a warning], I must tell you,
You do not understand yourself so clearly
As it behoves my daughter and your honour [reputation].
What is between you? give me up the truth.

He hath, my lord, of late made many tenders [offers]
Of his affection to me.

Affection! pooh! you speak like a green girl,
Unsifted [inexperienced] in such perilous circumstance.
Do you believe his tenders, as you call them?

I do not know, my lord, what I should think.

Marry, I'll teach you: think yourself a baby;
That you have ta'en [taken] these tenders for true pay,
[That you have believed these offers (of Hamlet's) are true signs of love]
Which are not sterling [legal currency]. Tender yourself more dearly [Take better care of yourself; value yourself as more costly];
Or--not to crack the wind of the poor phrase,
Running it thus--you'll tender me a fool.

[Translation: or -- not to overuse the phrase "to tender someone" (Polonius likens overusing a phrase to a rider cracking a whip, goading a tired horse to keep running) -- you'll 'tender me' a fool. That is, you'll make me seem a fool. It's also possible he means "you'll give birth to a fool," e.g. a bastard child of Hamlet's]

My lord, he hath importuned [constantly solicited] me with love
In honourable fashion.

["Importuned" is pronounced "imPORtuned"]

Ay, fashion  [passing fancy] you may call it; go to, go to.

["Go to" was a phrase of dismissal, similar to the modern "get outtahere" or "puh-lease!"]

And hath given countenance [support] to his speech, my lord,
With almost all the holy vows of heaven.

Ay, springes [traps] to catch woodcocks [easily caught birds]. I do know,
When the blood burns, how prodigal [lavishly] the soul
Lends the tongue vows [helps the tongue speak false vows]: these blazes,
 ---------- daughter,
Giving more light than heat, extinct in both [become devoid of both light and heat],
Even in their promise, as it is a-making,
[Even as the speaking is making his promise]
You must not take for fire [fire = two syllables]. From this time
Be somewhat scanter of your maiden presence;
Set your entreatments [negotiations] at a higher rate
Than a command to parley [then a call to discuss terms]. For Lord Hamlet,
-------------------------------------------------------------------------- [As for Lord Hamlet]
Believe so much in [Believe this of] him, that he is young
And with a larger [longer] tether may he walk
Than may be given you:
[And he has more latitude to play around than you do]
------------------------------------ in few [in short], Ophelia,
Do not believe his vows; for they are brokers [go-betweens],
Not of that dye [color] which their investments show,
But mere implorators [spokesmen; stress: imPLORators] of unholy suits,
Breathing [speaking] like sanctified and pious bawds* [pimps],
The better to beguile. This is for all [this is my summary]:
I would not, in plain terms, from this time forth,
Have you so slander [ruin] any moment leisure [free moment],
As to give [by giving] words or talk with the Lord Hamlet.
Look to't, I charge you: come your ways [Be on your way! "No get out of here!"].

I shall obey, my lord.


* in some editions, it's "bonds," e.g. like sanctified and pious agreements.

As befitting his injunction to "neither a borrower nor a lender be," Polonius thinks of romance as a financial transaction.

He always seems cruel in this scene, and he is cruel in terms of the way he speaks to his daughter, even if he's right. But he's a very smart man, and it's good advice, even if delivered harshly. Ophelia has everything to lose and very little to gain, unless Hamlet marries her, which is unlikely if he's to be king of Denmark. His marriage will be needed to forge some political alliance.

It's possible Polonius winds up playing a complex power game, though, if he does, it couldn't have yet fully occurred to him in this scene. By suggesting, as he does later, that Hamlet's madness is born of his love for Ophelia, he may be steering her towards the throne.

In Act Two, Gertrude says ...

And for your part, Ophelia, I do wish
That your good beauties be the happy cause
Of Hamlet's wildness: so shall I hope your virtues
Will bring him to his wonted way again,
To both your honours.

Even in this scene, though he mostly commands Ophelia to stay away from Hamlet, there's a glimmer of ambition:

Set your entreatments at a higher rate
Than a command to parley.

A "higher rate" is not the same as no sale at all.

What does Ophelia think of all this? She says very little to either her brother or her father. Perhaps she has learned Polonius rule: "Give thy thoughts no tongue..."

We do learn, the next time we see her, that she's obeyed her father's wishes and kept a distance from Hamlet. In Kenneth Branagh's version, Polonius physically threatens her, so the implication is that she obeys out of fear. It's equally possible that she obeys out of duty -- or even that she sees the wisdom of her father's words.

She does, though much of the play, become a tool of other characters, obeying their wishes. Eventually, she bursts free, taking charge of her own life by ending it.

Next: Act One, Scene Four. Hamlet & Co Go To Meet the Ghost


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Marcus Geduld
Marcus Geduld
Shakespearean director, computer programmer, teacher, writer, ...