The narrator ruminates on the purpose of a prologue, thinking that they perhaps allow critics to rehearse their reaction to the text as a whole. His thoughtful observations are humorously balanced by the comment that their chief virtue is brevity.
Squire Western presses Sophia to accept Blifil. An army officer arrives to restate Lord Fellamar’s appeal to Sophia. Squire Western tells him that Sophia is already spoken for, and he will not be moved on the decision. Sophia appeals to her father not to make her so unhappy. She says she will promise never to marry without his consent, but meanwhile will not marry at his command either.
Black George takes a note from Tom to Sophia, hidden inside a pullet. The note merely states Tom's desire that Sophia be happy. From her confinement, she hears her father arguing with Mrs. Western.
Mrs. Western orders her brother to release Sophia. She is fierce and dominant in her request. Parson Supple offers, unsuccessfully, to mediate between them. Mrs. Western further observes the power and intelligence of women, arguing they should not be locked up. Though angry, Squire Western gives her permission to take Sophia to her own lodging, and then he leaves to get drunk.
Sophia writes to Tom, saying she will neither comply with nor defy her father. He is pleased that she has her freedom, and that she has said she will not marry another man.
Tom, Partridge, Mrs. Miller and her youngest daughter go to a performance of Hamlet. Partridge’s comments and reactions are as entertaining as the play itself. He is particularly disturbed by the ghost. Partridge’s expectations of an actor are raised by the narrator in order to ridicule those in the profession who are less adept. Partridge believes the actor playing the king is the best performer because he is clearly acting, whereas he criticizes the performance of the actor playing Hamlet as being too realistic.
Squire Western sends a message to Blifil saying he has found Sophia and they should be married immediately. Allworthy is concerned by Sophia’s firm rejection of Blifil, since he does not want to force anyone unwillingly into marriage. Blifil talks Allworthy round, saying he will use tender means to win over Sophia.
Mrs. Western is lecturing Sophia on marriage when Blifil and Squire Western burst in. Mrs. Western is perturbed at the drama, and demands that the men return and make a more graceful entrance. Blifil is suspicious of this stalling, and suspects there is another purpose at play.
Lord Fellamar, encouraged by Lady Bellaston, remains determined to have Sophia. He employs a Captain Egglane to contrive some method to have Tom press-ganged and sent away to sea.
Mrs. Western is excited about Lord Fellamar’s suit, as she considers him as a good match for Sophia, and for the family as a whole. Lady Bellaston shows Mrs. Western Tom’s letter of proposal to her, in hopes that it will rid Sophia of her lingering affections for Tom. Mrs. Western was about to show this to Sophia when the squire and Blifil burst in.
Tom visits Mrs. Fitzpatrick who, as she wishes to punish her aunt, plans now to support Tom's attempts to win Sophia. However, in his passionate talk about Sophia, Tom arouses her affections, which makes her contemptuous over Sophia's rejections. Tom remains wary of her, however.
Tom returns to Mrs. Fitzpatrick the next day, and as he is leaving, he runs into Mr. Fitzpatrick, who is just arriving. Though Tom recognizes him from the inn and treats him genially, Mr. Fitzpatrick is immediately jealous and challenges the boy to a duel. Jones defends himself and wounds the man terribly. A group of men suddenly grab Tom and drag him to the magistrate. The narrator reveals that these men are of the gang employed by Lord Fellamar. Mr. Fitzpatrick’s wound is declared fatal.
Partridge arrives the next morning with news that Mr. Fitzpatrick has died. He also brings Tom a letter from Sophia , in which she says she has seen his proposal to Lady Bellaston and never wants to hear from him again.
Sophia is torn between the desire to please her father and the hope for her own happiness. She is willing to submit herself to Squire Western's demands without totally eschewing her happiness, which Fielding accomplishes through clever characterization and plot manipulation. Her submissive spirit, though tempered with some of her own desire, is contrasted by the domineering ferocity of Mrs. Western. Fielding compares her to Thalestris, Queen of the Amazon’s, in her ability to challenger her brother. Her loyalty to her sex and firm belief in their superiority is again stated in this book-
“Lord have mercy upon all affairs which are under the directions of men. The head of one woman is worth a thousand of you” (753). And yet for all her support of women, Mrs. Western remains committed to a system that sees women as tools towards family wealth, and little more. The contrast between this brother and sister is balanced with an effective comparison at the end of Chapter 4 -“…education and sex made the only difference; for both were equally violent, and equally positive; they had both a vast affection for Sophia, and both a sovereign contempt for each other” (754).
Partridge's reactions to the play allow Fielding to mock contemporary drama. His superstitious nature is reasserted in his intense reactions to the ghost. In this Chapter, Fielding ridicules his own use of good-looking characters (Tom in particular) to suggest virtue. For instance, Tom is firmly supported by Mrs. Miller, and others, partly because of his good countenance. Yet here, we see Partridge’s surprise at the appearance of the actor who plays Claudius, the killer of Hamlet’s father – “Who would think, by looking in the king’s face, that he had ever committed a murder?” (758). The idea is made more complex by the fact that this is an acted part, not reality – a concept which Partridge clearly struggles with. Overall, Fielding is commenting on his own use of cliche by exhibiting it in the drama that the characters watch.
It is a relief that Allworthy begins to feel uncomfortable with the union of Blifil and Sophia, as his blindness to her emotions has weakened his character somewhat. However, Allworthy remains limited by his inability to recognize or accept vice. Blifil easily convinces him that he will win Sophia over, even though all the evidence is to the contrary. So sweet is Allworthy that it is difficult for him to consider the ill motives of his devious nephew.
Lastly, it is interesting at this point to consider how attractive Tom is to women. His bewitching qualities affect even Mrs. Fitzpatrick, and Fielding indicates the irony of Tom’s position in that Mrs. Fitzpatrick, like Mrs. Bellaston before her, has fallen for Tom specifically because of the passion he expresses for a different woman. The unhappy meeting with Mr. Fitzpatrick is to trigger a dire chain of events engineered to further challenge Tom, and yet we cannot blame Tom for being passionate. Yet again, Tom is punished not because of any particular vice or virtue, but because events do not always correspond with our character.