Polonius enters and says that he has figured out the cause of Hamlet’s lunacy. But, first, the ambassadors have returned from Norway. He goes to get them. While Polonius is gone, Gertrude remarks that Hamlet’s mania probably comes from his father’s death and her too-hasty marriage to Claudius.
Polonius returns with the ambassadors. They report that the King of Norway rebuked Fortinbras, who promised not to attack the Danes. Norway then rewarded Fortinbras by letting him attack the Poles. Now Norway asks that Claudius give Fortinbras’ army free passage through Denmark on the way to Poland. Claudius agrees. The ambassadors leave.
After a long-winded ramble about Hamlet’s madness, Polonius reads love letters Hamlet sent to Ophelia. Claudius and Gertrude agree that lovesickness may be causing Hamlet’s behavior. Polonius proposes that they stage a meeting between Hamlet and Ophelia and spy on it to test his theory. Claudius agrees.
Hamlet enters, reading. The King and Queen leave Polonius alone to talk with him. Polonius speaks with Hamlet, who responds with statements about pregnancy, death, and rot that, though nonsensical, also seem to refer to Denmark, Ophelia, and Polonius. Polonius, perplexed, exits.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter. Hamlet greets his old friends warmly, and tells them that Denmark is a prison. They disagree. Hamlet responds, “then tis none to you; there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so” (2.2.245-246). He launches into a long speech about the beauty of the world and nobility of man, all of which looks to him like dust and fails to delight him.
Hamlet asks why they’ve come. They say to visit him, but Hamlet angrily demands whether they were summoned by the King and Queen. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern admit they were.
Hamlet cheers up a little when Rosencrantz mentions the arrival of a troupe of players (actors). Hamlet says his “uncle-father and aunt-mother” are wrong: he’s only insane some of the time (2.2.359).
Polonius enters with the players. Hamlet mocks Polonius, but greets the players warmly. He asks the First player to act a speech about the Trojan queen Hecuba’s grief at the death of her husband, Priam. The Player does, with great feeling.
Hamlet tells Polonius to treat the players well and give them good lodgings, and privately asks the First Player to perform The Murder of Gonzago on the following night, with some extra lines Hamlet will insert himself. The Player agrees.
Alone, Hamlet is furious that the Player could get so emotional over long-dead Hecuba, while he can’t even bring himself to revenge his murdered father. Hamlet muses on a plan he’s come up with: he’ll have the players show a scene similar to Claudius’s murder of his father: “The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King” (2.2.582).
This suggests control and allows him to manipulate Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
Gertrude here uses imagery of commerce and trade- again significant of the objective nature of Rosrncrantz and Guildenstern and representative of the ownership and manipulation of them by the Royals.
G: Thanks Guildenstern and gentle Rosencrantz.”
This difference between the two echos their own internal differences and so serves to distance Gertrude from Claudius internally, if not externally.
Appearance vs. Reality.
However, Fortinbras’s march on the Poles could be what really dooms Hamlet- his own nature, whilst pensive he is too much so. Fortinbras is a man of action, which his march against the Poles suggests.
His march against the Poles could be seen also as a sign of his rulership abilities, foreshadowing his eventual triumph at the end of the play- He is engaging in conflict, and so has a “fair and warlike form”, yet his promise to merely have military access through Denmark could be a plot in itself to take revenge, which shows he also possesses the needed diplomacy and skills of intrigue, which Claudius possesses.
Claudius’s decision therefore to allow this could indicate his own political naivity, thus reducing his legitimacy as King.
Action and Inaction/ Appearance vs. Reality/ Religion, Honour and Revenge.
Appearance vs. Reality/ Religion, Honour and Revenge/ Women and sexuality.
“Doubt thou the stars are fire; Doubt that the Sun doth move…”
The eternal and universal imagery of “sun” and “stars” reflect Hamlet’s eternal and never changing love for Ophelia. His use of “thou” echos this due to its intimacy. Use of the “sun” also indicates Hamlet’s dependence on Ophelia as the Earth is dependent on the Sun, which could be an intentional trap to lure Polonius.
Used to demonstrate social difference-
“Lord Hamlet is a Prince, out of thy star.”
Polonius here uses the imagery of the star to signify the distance between the two individuals from reality. This is possibly foreshadowing Hamlet’s eventual failure as it could be suggesting that fanticised dreams are not practical in the world of the court.
However, he mocks Polonius here rather than acting maliciously towards him, which indicates that his madness here is indeed feigned.
Appearance vs. Reality/ Poison, Corruption and Death.
This has a significant duality to it. On the one hand, Hamlet is referring to his own physical imprisonment as he realises that Claudius sees him as a potential threat, whilst it also reflects his internal strive and feeling of imprisonment.
Yet, this also indicates Hamlet’s detachment from the world and his disgust with it. Hamlet is imprisoned and thus unreachable- he seeks to distance himself from the corrupt world he sees around him but ironically must fall prey to it in order to seek revenge. His decline is therefore inevitable.
This suggests two things. Firstly, that status itself is merely illusion and a form of dream (shadow), therefore making Claudius’s claim as king again insubstantial.
This could also indicate Hamlet’s rebuke for the life of the court. He tellingly notes that “beggars” and not “monarchs” are truly real, suggesting that status is a euphemism for deception, which may be why he finds delight in the Players, Yorick and even Ophelia, who are of all a lower class to himself.
Hamlet himself is only human and so seeks delight and happiness within the world and crucially from the world.
Yet, surrounded by misdeeds, misfortune and corruption (culminating in his father’s death), he sees that beauty itself is a falsity to hide ulterior motives.
Therefore, if Hamlet’s motivation in life, beauty, is meaningless, then he may subconsciously feel that his own life is meaningless and thus feels no need for revenge. (This again separates him from Fortinbras, whose conviction drives him as oppose to reason).
Hamlet’s joy in them could represent his connection to them concerning his own feigned, not real, madness.
Appearance vs Reality.
Priam was killed by the Greek Pyrrhus, who was getting revenge because Priam’s son, Hector, killed Pyrrhus’s son. This reflects the relationship between Old Hamlet and Claudius slightly, in this case in terms of Claudius killing OH and Hamlet, in the sense of his honour.
Appearance vs. Reality/ Religion, Honour and Revenge.
This suggests that Hamlet believes that all men are naturally worthy of rebuke, suggesting a continual corruption within everyone. This therefore links to the Biblical idea of original sin and thus shows the decline of all characters to be unavoidable.
This is strengthened by Hamlet’s exclamation “For Hecuba!” Hecuba is essentially a myth, but is the object of desire in the story of Pryam and Phyrrus, which could suggest that real happiness which she represents is in reality unattainable.
This hyperbole could represent Hamlet’s restriction- he does not see any way in which he could contemplate the actions which the players carry out. He requires something more than natural conviction.
This reflects Hamlet’s injustices dealt to him by different characters in the play who he feels oppressed emotionally by;
“…calls me a villian/ breaks my pate”- this is a foreshadowing of Laertes’s physical struggle with Hamlet or possibly a reflection of Polonius’s accusations.
“Plucks off my beard….” This could be a reference to Ophelia who is exposing Hamlet’s true feelings. This is potentially unjustified and so demonstrates the extent of his internal turmoil.
“Tweaks me by the nose?”- This is a more jovial image and so could refer to the relationship between him and Gertrude. He is angry at her neglecting of her duties as a mother towards him.
“gives me a lie i’the throat”- This could be a reference to R + G or Claudius who have decieved him in some way or another.
The rhyming couplet of “The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of a King.” reinforces Hamlet’s certainty in this and his retention of logical reasoning.
Action and Inaction/ Appearance vs. Reality/ Religion, Honour and Revenge.