This is another scene that has SO MUCH going on that I'm going to split this into two parts.
Isn't it interesting that the Gentleman says Ophelia's "speech is nothing, Yet the unshaped use of it doth move The hearers to collection" (7-9) kind of mirrors what Polonius said about Hamlet's antic speech, that "though this be madness, yet there is method in't (II, 2, 201-02). Hamlet was only pretending to mad, but it seems he was doing a very realistic job of it.
Also, even though Hamlet has been basically banished from Denmark, Horatio is still here. And not just still here, but hanging out with Gertrude, giving her advice. Do you suppose Hamlet asked him to stay and keep an eye on things? Why do you think Claudius has kept him around? I really have no idea -- I'm just doing my usual thing where I try to fill in gaps in stories I love.
Anyway, so Gertrude doesn't want to talk to Ophelia, but Horatio convinces her it would be a good idea, so in comes poor Ophelia. She seems to be referring to her father's death and burial with her song about "He is dead and gone, lady" (28). Then later she sings this rather bawdy song about a maiden who lost her virtue to a man who had promised to marry him, only to be spurned by him. Sometimes this gets staged in a very bawdy way, implying more or less directly that this song somehow pertains to what's passed between Ophelia and Hamlet. I'd like to share this insight from John Gielgud on this song:
"I'm rather sick of the wild indecency that has been put into the scene in recent productions, with Ophelia tearing off her clothes and clutching all the gentlemen. I don't think Shakespeare meant it. It must be a touching scene. You see, I think in Shakespeare's time people always laughed at lunatics. They visited madhouses right up to the eighteenth century in England as we visit the zoo today. And Shakespeare knew that the only way to make madness pitiful, as is obvious with Lady Macbeth and Ophelia, was to give them a poignant, agonized, though not sentimental, scene. If that was not intended by Shakespeare, Laertes would never say 'Thought and affliction, passion, hell itself she turns to favor and to prettiness.' And to suddenly make Ophelia openly lewd onstage is against the intention of the writing." (John Gielgud Directs Richard Burton in Hamlet, Richard L. Sterne, p.16-17)
I like that. (Obviously, or I wouldn't have taken the time to type it all up, huh?) I don't personally think that Ophelia has been debauched by Hamlet, or is given to singing naughty songs. I think it's much more likely this is a song she's heard the soldiers singing and thought was catchy, and it's just come to her mind now for some reason, so out it pops. But if that's the case, I do wonder why Shakespeare has her sing it in particular... who knows. The Freudians would say her madness has let her subconscious urges surface or something, I suppose.
Anyway, Ophelia threatens that Laertes will hear of Polonius' death (though clearly he already has) and runs off. Claudius instructs Horatio to follow her and watch over her, and off goes Horatio too. And that's where we'll stop today.
"So full of artless jealously is guilt,
It spills itself in fearing to be spilt" (18-19).
"Lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be" (42-43).
"When sorrows come, they come not single spies
But in battalions" (77-78).
Possible Discussion Questions:
Hamlet is all about play-acting versus truly being, so of course Hamlet's feigned madness gets contrasted with Ophelia's genuine madness here. Can you think of other reasons Shakespeare might have made her go mad instead of just making her really weepy or angry about Polonius' death and Hamlet's absence? (Obviously if you haven't read/seen the whole play, this isn't going to work quite as well, but give it a whirl anyway if you want!)