Okay, so in comes Laertes, with this big mob behind him that wants to make him king instead of Claudius because they think Claudius is involved in Polonius' death or whatever. I am never quite sure why they think Laertes should be king, to be honest, other than that maybe they don't like how Claudius is managing things, and with Hamlet gone, they just pick Laertes as the likeliest candidate? Hmm. Anyway, Laertes is pretty riled, isn't he? Even reading the words, you can tell he's yelling and gesticulating and probably brandishing a sword, can't you?
I've got to shake my head at Claudius, though. He makes this nice little speech about how "[t]here's such divinity doth hedge a king" that treasonous people can't hurt them (124). But, dude, you totally killed a king yourself, Claudius! So you're just an old faker with that line -- trying to keep convincing Gertrude and everyone else that you had nothing to do with your brother's death.
Back to Laertes -- he's such an energetic contrast to Hamlet. He says, "I'll be revenged Most thoroughly for my father" (134-35). He's making all kinds of vows about it, behaving in every way like a stereotypical vengeance-seeker, isn't he? And then he drops all his ranting and threatening when Ophelia returns. I absolutely love how tender and kind he is toward here, and how sad he is about her affliction. "O rose of May" (156) is one of the loveliest nicknames I can think of for the flower-loving Ophelia.
Speaking of flowers, I'm sure whatever edition you're reading probably talks all about the fact that back when Shakespeare was writing this, people had assigned meaning to various flowers, and these were common knowledge, so his audience would totally have known what Ophelia meant by giving various things to the other characters. There are no stage directions for who she gives them to, so different productions assign them differently. Just for your personal knowledge...
Rosemary = remembranceAlso, remember that Laertes mentioned violets to Ophelia back when he was warning her against falling in love with Hamlet. Later, he'll mention them again at her graveside. Violets are one of my favorite flowers, so tiny they get hidden by the grass, but when you find one, it's like a little hidden treasure. I like the idea of them representing Ophelia, that most people overlook or ignore her, but Laertes and Hamlet see her for the treasure she is.
Pansies = thoughts
Fennel = flattery and deceit
Columbines = ingratitude and infidelity
Rue = sorrow and repentance
Daisy = springtime and innocent love
Violets = spring and youth
Ophelia wanders out again, and Claudius promises to prove to Laertes that he had nothing to do with Polonius' death, and we're done with the scene!
"And where the offense is, let the great axe fall" (211).
Possible Discussion Questions: When Claudius tells Laertes that Polonius is dead, Gertrude jumps in with "But not by him" (128). Why does she defend Claudius and throw the blame on Hamlet? Just because Hamlet isn't here to get attacked by Laertes for it? Or does she still love Claudius after all that Hamlet has told her?
Who of the characters present here do you think Ophelia should give each of her flowers to, based on what they signify?