Polonius sat at his desk. He handed his servant a purse and some letters. ‘Give him these, Reynaldo,’ he said.
‘I will, my lord,’ said Reynaldo.
‘It would be very wise of you to make inquiries about his behaviour before you visit him.’
‘I intended to do that, my lord.’
‘Good, good,’ said Polonius. ‘Well said. Look here, sir. First find out what Danes there are in Paris, how they live, who they are, where they gather, with whom, and at what expense. And finding, by casually asking around, that they know my son, dig out particulars. Do it by suggesting that you know him slightly, such as “I know his father and his friends and I’ve met him once or twice.” Do you understand, Reynaldo?’
‘Yes, entirely,’ my lord,’ said Reynaldo.
‘”And I’ve met him once or twice.” But you should say “I don’t know him well, but if he’s the one I think he is, he’s very wild. Addicted etcetera.” And then invent whatever forgeries you like about him.’ Polonius paused and held up his finger. ‘But none so gross as to slander him, mind. Remember that! But, sir, those time wasting, wild and usual slips that free young people get up to.’
‘Like gambling, my lord.’
‘Exactly. Or drinking, fighting, swearing, quarreling, whoring – you may go that far.’
‘My lord, that would dishonour him.’
‘Not really: it depends on the way you put it. No, you mustn’t accuse him of anything really bad, that’s not what I mean: but hint at his faults so artfully that they may seem the small consequences of the freedom that he has – a fiery nature expressing itself, the wildness of the undisciplined mind that most young men have.’
‘But my good lord …..’
‘Why I want to know?’
‘Yes my lord, why you want to know.’
Polonius chuckled. ‘Well here’s my drift and, I think, it’s quite clever. You lay these little foibles on my son as though they were minor faults. See now. This fellow you’re talking to, the one you’re sounding out: if he’s ever seen the youth you’re discussing doing any of those things, you can be sure he’ll confide in you with something like this. “Good sir,” or something, or “friend” or “gentleman,” according to the manner of speaking of his nationality.’
Reynaldo had stopped listening. He was used to these long, drawn-out speeches. ‘Very good, my lord,’ he murmured.
‘And then, sir, what he does is …..’ Polonius stared at the window. ‘He ….. I was about to say something. What was I saying?’
‘Something about confiding in me. No, friend or something. And gentleman.’
‘……… Confides the substance. Oh yes. He confides in you like this: “I know him. I saw him yesterday, or the other day, or at such and such a time, with so and so, as they say. They were gambling, and he was drunk somewhere else: another time playing tennis,” or perhaps, even, “I saw him going into a whorehouse,” a brothel, or something like that. Now you see, your bait of falsehood catches the big carp of truth. And so, in this roundabout way, we discover what’s happening. So, by applying my advice you’ll find out about my son. Have you got it?’
‘My lord, I have.’
‘Goodbye then, farewell.’
‘And make your own observations too.’
‘I will, my lord.’
‘And let him talk.’
‘Yes, my lord.’
Polonius smiled broadly and shook Reynaldo’s hand. ‘Farewell.’
As Reynaldo was going out he was almost knocked over by Ophelia, running. Tears streamed down her cheeks. Polonius got up and went towards her.
‘Ophelia! What’s the matter?’ he said.
‘Oh, my lord, my lord,’ she sobbed. ‘I’ve been so frightened!’
‘By what, in the name of God?’
‘My lord, as I was sewing in my room Lord Hamlet came in. His doublet was all unbuttoned, he had no hat, his stockings were dirty and ungartered, hanging down around his ankles. He was as pale as his shirt: his knees were knocking together, and he had such a piteous expression, as though he had been released from hell to tell us of its horrors.’
‘Mad for your love?’
‘I don’t know, my lord, but I really do fear that.’
‘What did he say?’
‘He grabbed my wrist and held it tight. Then he withdrew to his full arm’s length and, with his other hand over his forehead, like this ….’ She demonstrated .. ‘…he began examining my face so intensely, as though he was going to draw it. He stayed like that for a long time. Eventually, after shaking my arm a little, and waving his head up and down three times, he sighed so sadly and deeply that it seemed to shake his whole body to death. Then he let go of me and, still staring at me, he turned his body and made his way to the door without watching where he was going because he didn’t take his eyes off me until he had gone.’
Polonius could hardly contain his excitement. ‘Come with me. I’m going to find the king. This is the passion of love. Its violent feelings overwhelm us and make us do desperate things, more than any other passion in the world. I’m sorry. What!’ He looked at her sternly. ‘Have you made any declarations of love to him lately?’
‘No, my good lord, I did as you commanded. I rejected his advances and denied him access to me.’
‘That’s what’s made him mad. I’m sorry that I didn’t observe him more closely and with better judgment. I thought he had been just trifling with you and intended to take advantage of you. But so what of my suspicions! For God’s sake, it’s as natural to one of my age to be cautious as it is for the younger ones to be careless. Come, let’s go to the king. We’d better tell him about this. If we hide it it might cause more trouble than if we had revealed it.’
Read other Hamlet scenes in modern English:
Modern Hamlet Act 4, Scene 1
Modern Hamlet Act 4, Scene 2
Modern Hamlet Act 4, Scene 3
Modern Hamlet Act 4, Scene 4
Modern Hamlet Act 4, Scene 5
Modern Hamlet Act 4, Scene 6
Modern Hamlet Act 4, Scene 7
Read all of Shakespeare’s plays in modern English