Hamlet, written by William Shakespeare, is one of his greatest tragedy. It is the story of the prince of Denmark, Hamlet, whose father has been murdered by his uncle who now wears the crown. However in Act I, scene iii, there is an interesting contradiction presented by the author. This is the scene where Laertes tells Ophelia to be good while he leaves for college and gives her advice on life. Through this scene one may see three interesting aspects of the characters; the unwanted resemblance between Laertes and his father Polonius, the untrusting relation that they have and the power struggle that Ophelia represents.
The way Shakespeare shows these three aspects of the characters in this scene is through the diction, irony , and the symbol that Ophelia represents. The reader may perceive those three eminent aspects of the characters through the diction used by Shakespeare in this scene. In the dialogue between Ophelia and Laertes at the beginning of the scene he uses specific words, and a sarcastic tone that makes the reader understand what type of men Laertes really is.
When Ophelia says “Do not as some ungracious pastors do,/ Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven,/ Whiles like a puff’d and reckless libertine/ Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads,/ And recks not his own rede. ( Shakespeare. I, iii, ll 47-51)” What the reader understands from that passage is that Laertes is a man that has a very festive and wild life when he is not at home, yet he tells his sister to be chaste, and lock herself up from men.
Because she says that she will take his advice if he himself applies it too when he is away, this show that Laertes is the opposite of what he advices his sister to be. This is one contradiction that Shakespeare uses to criticize the society of his time and the women’s place in it. Yet it is even more ironic when one knows that Shakespeare wrote this play during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, was it to criticize her for being queen while it was a man’s job? However the contradiction stands even stronger when Polonius, Ophelia and Laertes’ father, renew this advice later on in the scene.
There again Shakespeare’s choice of words put forward even more this contradiction, and the unwanted resemblance between Polonius and Laertes. As it is seen when Polonius says: ” This above all: to thine own self be true,/ And it must follow as the night the day/ Thou canst not then be false to any man. (Shakespeare, I, iii, ll. 78-80) ” There Polonius is doing the same thing as Laertes did to Ophelia when he tells her to follow his advice. Polonius is telling Laertes to be true, while him himself is not a truthful person for he spies on Laertes later on in the play.
This is proof of their unwanted resemblance. Irony is often used by Shakespeare in this scene. He uses it to make the reader ponder on the meaning of the actions and true personality of the characters in the scene. Again when Ophelia declares that she will accept the advice if Laertes does the same on his side, he changes the subject and tries to leave. However, his father, who enters at the same time, ironically gives him the same type of advice that Laertes just has given to Ophelia.
Polonius tells Laertes how he should live his life when he goes away and Laertes just told Ophelia how to live her life when he is gone. This shows the resemblance between the father and the son. They both give advice before looking at themselves. The resemblance is further seen later in the play when Polonius sends a spy to see if his son is really studying or having fun. The reader can then draw the conclusion that when Polonius was young he too had a wild life, and knows what he was like at that age, therefore he expects the worse out of his son.
However both of them seem to not accept the resemblances that they have, creating an untrusting and unloving relationship between them. It seems as though Ophelia is always in the middle, and always obeys to whatever she is told to do or say, which is again a reference of the roles of women in the society of those times. Ophelia in this scene is a very important character and she has a lot of power over the two men that she lives with. Shakespeare shows this strength through the answers that she gives to both her brother and father. She always obeys to everything that is asked of her.
This is done to show the reader that in those times women had to do always as they were told, by men, for in the hierarchy of things they were placed after men and would never be heir to the family’s riches. As well as they could dishonor the entire family if when she marries, she would not be chaste. Yet she represents a struggle for power between Laertes and Polonius. When Polonius finds out that Laertes has given Ophelia advice that a father should give, he feels that he has lost the power to control her, and therefore repeats the same thing that Laertes just said.
Giving another reason to their bad relationship, since both of them want to be in control over Ophelia, there is always some competition between them at some level. This struggle between father and son furthermore emphasize Ophelia’s power, and importance to the scene. Because she says what he brother and father want to hear, such as “I shall obey, my lord. (Shakespeare, I, iii, ll. 136)”, therefore leaving them both to think that they have power over her, while this is proven wrong at the end of the play when she commits suicide.
This furthermore shows that she has control and power over her own life, showing another way Shakespeare defend women’s position in society. This scene is of great importance to the play, for it is not only about a son leaving for college and a father giving him advice on life, and an obeying daughter; it is more Shakespeare’s way to give the reader a perspective on his society. One may also notice that the struggle between Laertes and Polonius is a symbol for a greater struggle; the one between Hamlet and the King. In both cases they want to have control over a women, whether it be Ophelia or Gertrude, Hamlet’s mom also known as the Queen.
Polonius represent the King; who seems innocent to everyone, but to the audience, and Laertes represents the prince Hamlet. Hamlet is represented by Laertes in this scene because like Laertes he is trying to have control over a women that it is not for him to have control over, and they are both being spied on for their behavior by their fathers. Shakespeare could not have done away with this scene for it is crucial to the main plot, and to criticize his own society at the time the play was written.
Bibliography: > Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Ed. Gill, Roma Oxford School Shakespeare. Oxford University Press. New York. 1997.