Since the dawn of time, man has struggled fiercely over the internal conflict within himself between doing what is right for oneself as opposed to doing what is right for society in general. It is what I refer to as the good vs. evil complex. The play Hamlet, written by William Shakespeare somewhere between 1599 and 1603, presents a plethora of characters that are faced with the challenge of not allowing self-interest to reign supreme.
One character in particular that is a parody of divergent personalities is Polonius. Polonius is the father of Laertes and Ophelia, and also acts as council to the king. One can see within him the conflict of self-interest vs. being the loyal father and servant. (I.iii.55-59). One can see both acts of altruism and episodes of scheming and attempts to capitalize on a situation.
Initially, there is an instance in the play where Polonius gives advice to his son Laertes. As Laertes boards the ship to go to France for school, Polonius to says to him, “Give every man thy ear but few thy voice”. (I.iii.68). He then further expands his advice with the following quote:
“This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
It is here that one sees the care and concern of a loving father, providing advice to aid in his son being successful in his studies. Another instance where Polonius’ good nature is shown occurs when his daughter Ophelia comes to him frantic that Hamlet, the man she loves, is going crazy. In this scene, Polonius demonstrates concern for his daughter as it was he who forbade Ophelia to see or talk to Hamlet...
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...he’s going to his mother’s closet Behind the arras I’ll convey myself to hear the process(III.iii.27-29).
Queen Gertrude infuriates Prince Hamlet and fears that Prince Hamlet may kill her. She states:
“A will come straight. Look you lay home to him. Tell him his pranks have been too broad to bear with, And that Your Grace hath screened and stood between
Much heat and him. I’ll silence me even here. Pray you. Be round with him.”
She then proceeds to say, ”What wilt thou do? Thou wilt not murder me? Help, ho!”(III.iv.23-24) Polonius hears Queen Gertrude’s distress. He calls out for help, “What ho! Help” Hamlet stab him as he is hidden behind the curtain, As he lay dying, he replies, “Oh, I am slain!”(II.iv.).