POLONIUS

Polonius, Lord Chamberlain, Ophelia and Laertes’s father, is a powerful politician, he is the only significant member of Claudius’s retinue, he is his chief adviser. Shakespeare presents him as a man whose desire to serve the king is rooted as much in vanity and a sense of his own importance as in duty. The play shows parents controlling their children’s lives. Like the Ghost, Polonus is an authoritarian father who demands unconditional obedience but as well as presenting Polonius as authoritarian Shakespeare also presents him as sordid. In Act I scene 3, Polonius’s objection to Hamlet’s suit is that he has not offered a high enough price. In the scene that follows, Shakespeare leaves us in no doubt about how we should see Polonius’s abuse of his daughter. In Act II scene 2 he says he will “loose” her to Hamlet, like live bait. There follows an unconscious pun on the word “board / bawd” and it is at this point that Hamlet calls Polonius a “fishmonger” which, unlike the audience, the old man does not realize is Elizabethan slang for “pimp”.

Polonius shows no interest in either of his children’s views or feelings. Having given Laertes “leave to go“, a paternal blessing and a list of moral instructions to follow, we see him sending a spy to Paris to try and catch him misbehaving. Shakespeare also uses the character of Polonius to parody Hamlet’s habits : his love of wordplay and his tendency to “think too precisely”, “to consider to curiously”. Shakespeare generates rich comedy when Polonius regularly gets lost in tedious qualifications, elaborations and cirumlocutions. Polonius is like a Hamlet gone senile, a comic version of the Prince’s tragic sense of the complexity of things. Later in Act II scene 2, Shakespeare also presents Polonius as a pedant: “the best actors in the world, either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral”.

Shakespeare also presents Polonius as a meddler when we see him in the queen’s rooms.