The Vanity of Polonious in Hamlet by William Shakespeare Essay

The Vanity of Polonious in Hamlet by William Shakespeare Essay

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The Vanity of Polonious in Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Polonius is an important and respected person. It seems appropriate that he investigates and controls the behavior of his son and daughter. He, as the King's advisor is no longer a private person but a public one: what he or his children do has important public, not just personal implications. However, if his actions and speeches are examined closer, it is evident that he is a limited and vain person who is overly concerned with his appearance and wears different masks to tune up to different people.

In the following speech, Polonius is sending his servant, Reynaldo, to France in order to find out how Laertes, Polonius's son is behaving himself. Polonius instructs Reynaldo to inquire an acquaintance about all the vile things Polonius assumes Laertes to be doing.
"He closes with you in this consequence:
"and as you say,
I saw him enter such a house of sale" -
Vedelicet, a brothel - or so forth. See you now
Your bait of falsehood take this carp of truth;
And thus do we of wisdom and of reach,
With windlasses and with assays of bias,
By indirection find direction out." (II. i. 45-72)


Polonius seems incapable of acting in an honest manner. His actions are reminiscent of a hunter's job - using all his wit to uncover the unwary prey in a roundabout way. He even uses hunters' terminology. "Windlasses" means an indirect approach in hunting. He talks of the "bait of falsehood" - being dishonest to the "prey" - Laertes - and even to the people who are to help him catch the "prey" - the acquaintances. Polonius wants to catch "the carp of truth". This topic is echoed later on when Hamlet calls Polonius a "fishmonger" (II. ii 190). Carp, a big and hard-to-catch fis...


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...aks instructively and authoritatively. Polonius tries to show off his wisdom and uses inflated language in both of these passages, he still has different masks on, depending in the person he is speaking to.

Even though Polonius is a comical character, he has a functional relation to the main themes of the play and helps us gain insight on other characters. The stupidity of his advisor stresses one more time that Claudius is not as able a king as King Hamlet was before him. "Madam, I swear I use no art at all," (II. ii 104) says Polonius, and the readers laugh to the absurdity of this statement. This unfortunately is very characteristic of his personality - to use "art" and to act as a "lawful espial" (III. i. 35). The artificiality of Polonius suggests the kind of world in which Hamlet and the other characters are now living - full of deceit, pretense and masks.

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