Summary and Analysis Act III: Scene 1


Aware that they are being watched, Hamlet stages his own response and argues that he gave her nothing and that he has never loved her. He tells her to go to a nunnery, assaulting her with another double entendre insult. In the Protestant Elizabethan world, people used the word "nunnery" as a euphemism for "brothel." Knowing that she is working for her father and Claudius, Hamlet accuses Ophelia of prostitution. Hamlet now asks a question on which turns the entire remaining action of the play: "Where is your father?" He earlier asked her, "Are you honest? Are you fair?" To which she gave no direct reply. Now he asks her where her father is, knowing full well that he is in the room. She lies, "At home, my lord." Hamlet flies into a rage. He calls her two-faced and accuses her and all women of painting a false face. His accusations leave her aghast and certain that his madness is complete and completely destructive.

Ophelia's response to Hamlet's question serves as the force that propels Hamlet's story to its tragic ends. If Ophelia had answered truthfully, if she had disclosed her father's whereabouts, if she had allied herself with Hamlet rather than with Claudius, if she had truly believed in her love for Hamlet, Ophelia might have saved Hamlet from his burden. The play could have been a romance rather than a tragedy. However, by confirming his belief in women's basic dishonesty — "frailty thy name is woman" — Ophelia seals her fate and Hamlet's at the same time.

Claudius and Polonius emerge from hiding, astounded. Claudius still finds Polonius' case for Hamlet's love of Ophelia dubious. Furthermore, Claudius questions Hamlet's madness. A master of deception, Claudius suspects that Hamlet is not as he seems and, as such, is a danger. He hatches his plan to exile the Prince to England. Perhaps to save Hamlet or perhaps to buy favor with the Queen, Polonius suggests yet another trap. Send Hamlet to see Gertrude, and instruct her to beg Hamlet to leave well enough alone. Polonius will spy as Hamlet confides in his mother. The old man expects that Hamlet will confess his love for Ophelia. For reasons he does not disclose, Claudius agrees to the plan. Hamlet knows that his elders are ganging up on him. He is furious and skittish, and his judgment is entirely impaired. Polonius' plot cannot help but backfire.


drift of conference roundabout methods.

lawful espials spies who are justified in their action.

rub an obstacle hindrance, difficulty, or impediment.

contumely haughty and contemptuous rudeness; insulting and humiliating treatment or language.

bodkin a dagger or stiletto.

fardels burdens; misfortune.

bourn limit; boundary.

pitch and moment height and importance.

expectancy and rose bright hope ( as future king).

mould of form pattern of manly beauty and behavior.

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