Hamlet Act 1, Scene 3 Summary & Quotes

Hamlet Act 1, Scene 3 Summary & Quotes
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  • 0:04 Act 1, Scene 3 in Context
  • 0:53 Act 1, Scene 3 -…
  • 2:42 Act 1, Scene 3 -…
  • 3:19 Act 1, Scene 3 -…
  • 4:05 Significant Quotes
  • 5:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lucy Barnhouse
Act 1, Scene 3 of Hamlet takes place in the house of the courtier Polonius, who is seeing his son Laertes off to France. We also meet the character of Ophelia, Polonius' daughter, who is advised by both her father and brother to stay away from Hamlet.

Act 1, Scene 3 in Context

The previous scene introduced the characters of Polonius and Laertes. Polonius has already been established as the kind of person who likes to say everything twice. Laertes' successful request to return to France from Denmark is contrasted with Hamlet's unsuccessful petition to return to university in Wittenberg. Then, in Act 1, Scene 3 of Hamlet, the audience learns that father and son both like giving long-winded and sexist advice. Ophelia is introduced in this scene, and the audience learns that she has an unofficial romance with Hamlet. In her few lines, Ophelia is shown to be intelligent, perceptive, and sensitive.

Act 1, Scene 3 - Laertes & Ophelia

The Departure of Laertes
medievalism and melodrama

As Act 1, Scene 3 opens, Laertes has just finished getting his things on board ship and is giving some last-minute advice to his sister, Ophelia. He tells her she has to promise to write to him and immediately proceeds to tell her that Hamlet is just playing with her feelings. This is the first the audience knows anything about a romance between Hamlet and Ophelia. There's a lot of room for interpretation here: do Laertes and Hamlet have a history of rivalry? Is Laertes (consciously or subconsciously) envious of the fact that his younger sister has struck up an intimate relationship with the prince, while his own position at court remains only average? We don't know; whatever the cause, Laertes dismisses Hamlet's favor of Ophelia (lines 6-11).

Laertes might have the best (or worst) intentions in the world; in any case, he seems to be deeply worried about Ophelia's relationship with Hamlet. He's a bit inconsistent in giving his reasons; at first, he seems to doubt Hamlet's intentions, saying only ''Perhaps he loves you now'' (line 17). Then, he points out that since Hamlet's the prince, he can't make decisions based only on his personal wishes (lines 20-32). Laertes goes on to express great fear that Ophelia might - gasp - actually have sex (lines 35-36). He even seems afraid that his sister might allow herself to have feelings for Hamlet, advising her to stay ''out of the shot and danger of desire'' (line 39). Ophelia is troubled, but appears to take all this with a grain of salt.

Act 1, Scene 3 - Laertes & Polonius

Polonius' conversation with Laertes provides one of the comic interludes that Shakespeare liked to insert in his tragedies. Polonius opens by scolding Laertes for running late, saying that his ship is waiting for him. He then proceeds to give his son clichéd parting advice for more than twenty lines (lines 65-87). He even provides unnecessarily detailed instructions on how Laertes should dress. Interestingly, Laertes never promises to follow any of his father's advice, but does make Ophelia promise to follow his.

Act 1, Scene 3 - Polonius & Ophelia

Hamlet and Ophelia
compositional study, Rossetti

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