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Summary and Detailed Notes for Hamlet Act II

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Brief Summary of Act 2

Polonius sends Reynaldo to gather information on Laertes in Paris
Polonius instructs Reynaldo to gather information on his son, Laertes. He advises Reynaldo to seek information by indirect means, suggesting that Laertes may be involved in various vices.

Ophelia reports Hamlet’s strange behavior to Polonius
Ophelia reports Hamlet’s strange behavior to Polonius. Polonius tells Ophelia that Hamlet’s behavior is a sign of love. Polonius and Ophelia then go to inform the King.

The King seeks information on Hamlet’s “transformation”
The King welcomes Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and seeks information about Hamlet’s “transformation.” Polonius believes he has found the cause of Hamlet’s madness, and the King and Queen welcome Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to help. Ambassadors from Norway arrive, seeking permission to pass through Denmark for an invasion of Poland.

Polonius discusses Hamlet’s love for Ophelia, leading to his madness
Polonius discusses Hamlet’s love for Ophelia with the Queen and King, revealing his involvement in keeping them apart leading to Hamlet’s madness. Polonius plans to test if Hamlet loves his daughter by eavesdropping on their conversation. However, Hamlet skewers Polonius with his words, mistaking him for a rat.

Hamlet expresses despair and disinterest in humanity
In Act 2 Scene 2, Polonius speaks with Hamlet, who then meets with Guildenstern and Rosencrantz and discusses Fortune. Hamlet considers Denmark a prison and is visited by two friends who were sent for by the king and queen. He questions their honesty. Hamlet then expresses his despair and disinterest in humanity. Rosencrantz brings news of traveling players, but their popularity has declined.
The State of Theater and Actors
Hamlet discusses the state of theater and actors with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. He criticizes contemporary actors for being too bombastic and lacking subtlety. Hamlet also laments the decline of theater, saying that it has become diluted and compromised by commercial interests.

The Arrival of the Actors
Hamlet welcomes a group of players to Elsinore. He asks them to perform a speech, which they do to his satisfaction. Hamlet discusses Jephthah’s daughter with Polonius, and expresses admiration for the way the player performed the story.

A Play Within a Play
A group of actors perform a play within Hamlet. The main character says he particularly enjoyed a speech about Priam’s slaughter. Hamlet interrupts the performance to express his admiration for the actor’s portrayal of grief and asks Polonius to treat the actors well.

Reflections on Acting
Hamlet reflects on his own inability to show passion and emotion like the actors do. He is struck by the actor’s ability to create such a powerful and realistic portrayal of grief. Hamlet plans to use a play to test the guilt of his uncle, believing murder speaks through the “miraculous organ” of the conscience.

Detailed Notes on Act 2

Polonius Instructs Reynaldo on Spying on Laertes

•Polonius gives Reynaldo money and notes to go spy on Laertes and inquire about his behavior.

•Polonius advises Reynaldo to first find out about Danish people in Paris, their association with Laertes, and their expenses.

•Polonius instructs Reynaldo to mention to people that he knows Laertes’ family and friends but not Laertes well, and to add some minor allegations of wild behavior, such as gambling or drinking.

•Polonius warns Reynaldo not to mention any scandal that may dishonor Laertes or suggest he is open to incontinency.

•Polonius explains that his goal is to obtain more honest information about Laertes from the people he questions.

Polonius and Reynaldo’s Conversation and Ophelia’s Encounter with Hamlet – Hamlet Act 2 Scene 1

•Polonius and Reynaldo discuss gathering information about Laertes.

•Polonius advises Reynaldo to spread false information to test Laertes’ character.

•Ophelia reports to Polonius that Hamlet came to her in a disturbed state.

•Hamlet’s appearance was disheveled, pale, and with a look of horror.

•Polonius speculates that Hamlet may be mad for Ophelia’s love.

•Ophelia fears Hamlet’s behavior towards her.

King and Queen seek help from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern

•The King and Queen invite Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to their court to help them figure out what is bothering their son, Hamlet.

•They want Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to spend time with Hamlet and try to draw him out of his melancholy.

•both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern offer their services enthusiastically and are thanked by the King and Queen.

•Polonius informs the King that the ambassadors from Norway have returned and are waiting to be received.

•Polonius tells the King that he has discovered the reason behind Hamlet’s strange behavior and the King expresses his desire to know more.

•The Ambassador enters and begins to speak with the King, and the Queen expresses her belief that Hamlet’s mental state is due to his father’s death and her marriage to the King.

•Polonius exits to allow the King to speak with the Ambassador in private.

Conversation between Hamlet and the King, Polonius and the Queen’s reaction

•Voltemand reports that Norway has given up his attempt to prepare for a Polack war and asked to send his army in the opposite direction through Denmark.

•The King responds favorably, indicating his approval for the passing of Norway’s troops.

•Polonius seeks to move on and address the issue at hand, which is Hamlet’s madness.

•Hamlet declares that he will be brief because ‘brevity is the soul of wit,’ and states that his noble son is mad.

•The Queen and Polonius ask for more information on the topic of Hamlet’s supposed madness.

•Hamlet states that his son is ‘mad’ and that there’s nothing else he could possibly be.

•The group attempts to figure out what could be the cause of Hamlet’s madness.

•Polonius reveals that his daughter has something valuable to share.

Analysis of Hamlet’s Love Letter to Ophelia

•Hamlet reads a love letter he wrote to Ophelia, which includes the line “To the celestial, and my soul’s idol, the most beautified Ophelia”

•Queen Polonius interrupts the reading and asks about the letter’s content

•Hamlet reads a quote from the letter: “Doubt thou the stars are fire, Doubt that the sun doth move, Doubt truth to be a liar, But never doubt I love”

•Polonius questions how Ophelia received Hamlet’s love, and the king refers to him as “faithful and honorable”

•Polonius explains how he instructed Ophelia to avoid Hamlet’s attention, causing Hamlet’s subsequent descent into madness

•The scene ends with Polonius questioning if his actions caused Hamlet’s insanity

Hamlet Act 2, Scene 2 Analysis

•Polonius questions the King and Queen if there has been a time when he has been wrong about something he thought was true.

•The King asks how they can test if Hamlet is truly insane, and Polonius suggests spying on him while he walks in the lobby, and allowing his daughter to talk to him.

•The King agrees to the plan and they exit.

•Hamlet enters and Polonius greets him, asking if he knows him.

•Hamlet responds with a sarcastic remark, calling Polonius a fishmonger.

•Polonius is confused and asks Hamlet what he is reading; Hamlet responds with “Words, words, words.”

•Polonius continues to try to talk to Hamlet, but Hamlet’s responses become more erratic.

Hamlet’s Exchange with Polonius and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern

•Hamlet expresses his frustration with Polonius, calling him a foolish and weak-minded individual, but refrains from writing it down.

•Polonius attempts to engage Hamlet in conversation; he asks if Hamlet would walk out of the air and Hamlet sarcastically responds, asking if he should step into his own grave.

•Hamlet insults Polonius and comments on his sanity, all while Polonius praises Hamlet’s wit.

•As Polonius exits, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter, greeting Hamlet warmly.

•Hamlet asks how they are and sarcastically suggests that they must be living on Fortune’s waist.

•When asked about any news, Hamlet responds that the world has not become more honest, contrary to Rosencrantz’s claim.

Hamlet and his perspective on the world

•Rosencrantz and Hamlet discuss Denmark, with Hamlet calling it a prison while Rosencrantz disagrees.

•Hamlet says his bad dreams prevent him from feeling like a king in his confined space.

•Guildenstern says ambition is the substance of the ambitious, which Hamlet calls a mere shadow.

•Hamlet compares beggars to bodies and monarchs to shadows.

•Rosencrantz and Guildenstern say they are at Elsinore to visit Hamlet.

•Hamlet requests they be honest with him, and they admit they were sent for by the king and queen.

Analysis of Hamlet’s existential crisis in Act 2 Scene 2

•Hamlet shares his depression and detachment from life, feeling like Earth is barren and the sky is only full of vapors despite the beauty of the world and man’s noble nature.

•He expresses his disdain for humanity and claims that men and women do not delight him.

•Rosencrantz denies thinking of such things and Hamlet questions why he laughed at his statement.

•The discussion then shifts to the arrival of players, who Hamlet welcomes as they bring entertainment.

•Hamlet asks about their reputation and status, which seems to have declined due to children’s performances stealing the spotlight.

Hamlet Act 2, Scene 2 Analysis

•Hamlet criticizes the players and their tendency to complain about their roles.

•Rosencrantz explains there has been considerable debate about the value of writers and actors.

•Guildenstern comments on the intellectual effort invested in the debates over theater.

•Hamlet is surprised to learn that boys and girls are the performers.

•The players arrive, and Hamlet welcomes them, but he is unimpressed with their fashion sense.

•Polonius enters and greets Guildenstern and Hamlet.

•Hamlet jokingly calls Polonius a baby because he behaves foolishly.

•Hamlet acknowledges his madness but claims he can distinguish a hawk from a handsaw in the correct weather condition.

Hamlet Discusses Acting With Polonius and Meets the Players

•Rosencrantz believes that Hamlet’s behavior is reminiscent of that of a child.

•Hamlet predicts that Rosencrantz will tell him about the actors visiting the castle.

•Polonius informs Hamlet that he has news to share.

•Hamlet interrupts Polonius, saying that he wants to tell a story about a Roman actor named Roscius.

•Polonius informs Hamlet that the actors have arrived at the castle, and Hamlet dismisses the news with a sarcastic sound.

•Polonius brags about the actors, saying they are the best in the world and versatile in their performances.

•Hamlet recites a passage from the Bible describing Jephthah and his only daughter.

•Polonius admires Jephthah’s daughter and Hamlet jokes about her beauty.

•Hamlet welcomes the actors and invites them to perform a speech for him, praising their talents while criticizing the public’s taste.

Analysis of ‘Hamlet’ Act 2 Scene 2

•The play is well-written, with modesty and cunning, despite lacking in “sallets” and affection-inducing phrases.

•A speech in the play about Priam’s slaughter is particularly remarkable, starting with “The rugged Pyrrhus”.

•The player describes Pyrrhus’ violent actions against the Greeks and Priam, resulting in his downfall.

•The image of Priam’s death is vividly described, with Pyrrhus appearing as a “painted tyrant”.

•Pyrrhus is depicted as a neutral figure who does nothing but stands idly while committing atrocities.

Hamlet’s Reaction to “The Mousetrap” Play

•Pyrrhus, a Trojan warrior, takes his revenge on Priam, King of Troy.

•Pyrrhus’ cruelty reminds Hamlet of his own revenge against his uncle, the new King of Denmark.

•Hamlet implores the gods to take away Fortune’s power and curses her for treating him unjustly.

•Polonius interrupts the play, and Hamlet asks the players to continue.

•The player begins to recite Hecuba, a play that reminds Hamlet of his own mother’s unfaithfulness.

•Hamlet admires the player’s ability to evoke emotions by portraying Hecuba’s grief.

•When he hears Hecuba’s lament over Priam, he comments on the grief he felt when his father died.

•Hamlet orders Polonius to take good care of the players and treat them with respect.

Analysis of Hamlet’s Soliloquy in Act 2, Scene 2

•Hamlet plans to watch “The Murder of Gonzago” with the First Player and requests him to add a few lines to his speech.

•After First Player exits, Hamlet contemplates the player’s ability to become emotional for a fictional character and laments his own inability to feel the same.

•He wonders how he could lack the passion to avenge his father’s death that a mere actor could feel for Hecuba, a fictional character.

•He calls himself a coward and wonders why he hasn’t already sought revenge on his uncle, who killed his father and stole his throne.

•He insults himself, calling himself a “bloody, bawdy villain” and ponders why he lacks the courage to act on his emotions.

Analysis of Hamlet’s thoughts and plans

•Hamlet regrets hesitating to carry out his revenge and feels disgusted with himself for not taking action sooner.

•He devises a plan to catch his uncle’s conscience by having actors perform a play similar to his father’s murder to observe his reactions.

•Hamlet is paranoid about the spirit he saw and suspects it may be a devil that wants to deceive him.

•He is determined to have stronger evidence before confronting his uncle, seeking grounds more relative than his suspicions.

•King, Queen, Polonius, Ophelia, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Lords discuss Hamlet’s apparent madness and express concern for his safety.

•Hamlet’s acquaintances find him difficult to converse with and are unable to get an explanation for his strange behavior.

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