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The Roles of Polonius in The Tragedy of Hamlet

Powerful Essays
The Roles of Polonius in Hamlet

As a secondary character, Polonius' roles in Hamlet are ingenious in their variety and purpose. Shakespeare's masterfully crafted play contains such a multi-faceted character in a sense of economy; Polonius fulfills the roles potentially played by several insignificant characters. Polonius plays the wise old man, the fool, the substitute for the king, and the scapegoat (Oakes). Shakespeare's reasons behind the creation of such a significant secondary character are important to the play as a whole. Polonius roles add a crucial dimension to the play's development of plot, the characterization of Hamlet, and the themes Shakespeare ultimately conveys.

From his first appearances, Polonius seems to be playing the wise old man; he imparts much worldly wisdom to his children--Ophelia and Laertes. In his lecture to his daughter, he claims experience in the matters of love: "I do know / when the blood burns how prodigal the soul / Lends the tongue vows" (I.iii.115-17). This experience lends credit to Polonius' discount of the authenticity of Hamlet's intentions. It also adds credibility to his opinion of Ophelia as susceptible to fraudulent affections. It then seems quite appropriate as parental advice to say to her: "Set your entreatments at a higher rate / Than a command to parley" (I.iii.22-3). Polonius also imparts his worldly wisdom in his speech of personal conduct to Laertes (I.iii.59-80). For all this seeming wisdom, however, Polonius seems more to fit Hamlet's description: "old men have grey beards…their eyes purging thick amber…and that they have a plentiful lack of wit" (II.ii.196-9). Polonius' parental advice is purely wise, but hardly witty, and is more oppressive than it is useful....

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Oakes, Elizabeth. "Polonius, the Man behind the Arras: A Jungian Study." New Essays on Hamlet. Ed. Mark Thornton Burnett and John Manning. NY: AMS Press, 1994. 103-112.
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