This scene’s a long’un, so I’ll be splitting it into two parts for the sake of your sanity.
Having realised that Hamlet’s behaviour isn’t exactly normal (and that’s before they find out about his visit to Ophelia and the fact that he’s not wearing a hat!), Claudius and Gertrude have summoned Hamlet’s childhood friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to ask if they notice a worrying change in his behaviour and if they can get through to him. Gertrude says that “sure I am two men there are not living / To whom he more adheres”, but I’m sure that the Hamlet/Horatio stans would have something to say about that! Seriously though, Hamlet hasn’t really seen these two since he was young and seems more irritated by their presence than anything and he *SPOILER* later sends them to their deaths without a second thought, so it’s possible that Gertrude just doesn’t know her son very well.
It’s not really relevant to the play because it’s not part of the main canon, but I have a soft spot for R & G because of Tom Stoppard’s wonderful play Rozencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, which imagines what R & G get up to between scenes and is deliciously meta.. If you haven’t come across it I would highly recommend seeking out a production or just reading the book because it’s hilarious and extremely clever. There’s also the film version with Tim Roth and Gary Oldman, but I haven’t seen it and have heard it’s dire, so watch that at your own peril.
They leave to find Hamlet just as Polonius arrives with the news that Hamlet’s crazy may have been upgraded to full-on cray-cray. First though, a brief interlude from Norway courtesy of the Norwegian ambassadors: remember Fortinbras? I didn’t. Last we heard Claudius had written a strongly worded letter to the King of Norway telling him to get his nephew under control, which seems like a hilarious under-reaction to someone declaring war on you. Still, it seems to have worked, because Fortinbras was arrested and given a good finger wagging. Fortinbras said sorry, which is apparently good enough for the Norwegian king because he puts him in charge of troops and order him to march them through Denmark to invade Poland. I can only conclude from this that the Norwegian king is an idiot. Claudius doesn’t seem to see any problem with the man who swore to take over Denmark entering the country with hundreds of soldiers and agrees to the arrangement. I can only conclude that Claudius is also an idiot. Okay, you can forget about Fortinbras again, back to Hamlet. Polonius pulls out a letter Hamlet has written to Ophelia. It’s mostly bad poetry and some mildly racy things about bosoms; average teenage boy love-letter stuff, but according to Polonius it’s a sign that Hamlet has really gone off the deep end. Claudius and Gertrude are only kind of convinced, but Polonius insists that because he’s loyal and honest it’s impossible for him to be mistaken.
Polonius pulls out a letter Hamlet has written to Ophelia. It’s mostly bad poetry and some mildly racy things about bosoms; average teenage boy love-letter stuff, but according to Polonius it’s a sign that Hamlet has really gone off the deep end. Claudius and Gertrude are only kind of convinced but Polonius insists that because he’s honest and truthful it’s entirely impossible for him to be wrong.
Hamlet enters reading – a true sign of madness! – and Polonius puts on his detective hat to get to the bottom of it. He then has a conversation with Hamlet that is a combination of Hamlet subtly insulting Polonius (he mistakes him for a fish seller and says that all old men have “a plentiful lack of wit” and weak legs) and Hamlet just saying the first death-related thing that comes into his head, including kissing dog corpses and jumping into his own grave. Polonius is weirdly impressed by Hamlet; he seems to think that there’s great wisdom behind the madness, but it reminds me more of a very morbid version of that XD LOL SO RANDOM humour phase we all went through as tweens. Hamlet also makes a peculiar comment about not letting Ophelia walk outside in case she gets pregnant which Polonius obviously takes as confirmation that he is obsessed with his daughter.
I know this is already a long post, but I just want to finish by pointing out Hamlet’s attitude to Ophelia. Polonius is creepy about Ophelia’s sexuality because he’s her father and is ridiculously protective of her, but Hamlet is possibly even more weird about her; just wait until we get to the Play Scene where things get equal parts saucy and repulsive. There are a couple of possibilities why depending on whether you think Hamlet’s really mad or not. It could just be Mad Hamlet being Mad Hamlet, or it could be Sane Hamlet’s anger at his mother’s perceived adultery (by marrying Claudius so soon after Hamlet Sr.’s death) turning into a distrust of womankind in general. Or it could be a combination of the two, with Mad Hamlet inadvertently projecting his feelings about his mother onto Ophelia. With Ophelia and Gertrude being the only two women in the play it’s hard to tell how Hamlet feels about women generally, but whatever it is poor Ophelia has to bear the brunt of it and it sucks.
And things are only going to get worse…