Essay PreviewMore ↓
That Polonius, father of Laertes and Ophelia in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, is a character of considerable importance is accepted as true by most literary critics. This essay will develop the notion of his vital importance to the drama.
Ruth Nevo in her essay, “Acts III and IV: Problems of Text and Staging,” states the importance of Polonius to the hero’s evolution in the play on the occasion of Ophelia’s decoying the hero for the sake of observation by Claudius and Polonius:
But it should be noted that we actually need no further explanation for Hamlet’s sudden “Where’s your father?” than the fact that he has not recently been permitted her presence unchaperoned, if at all. And his apparent change of mood at that point in the scene might well be attributed to recollected angry resentment at Polonius’ interference in his affairs. Indeed, this would seem to be born out by the diatribe on calumny – he being calumniated and exposed by his courtship of Ophelia to the insulting aspersions of such as Polonius.
I am inclined to believe that the deeper dramatic purpose of the scene is obscured if Hamlet is made or becomes aware of Polonius at any point in the scene. For if Hamlet knows that Polonius is behind the arras, then he knows that Ophelia is lying when she tells him her father is at home [. . .]. (49)
In the Introduction to Twentieth Century Interpretations of Hamlet, David Bevington presents Polonius as similar to Hamlet in various ways:
Polonius, his [Hamlet’s] seeming opposite in so many ways, is, like Hamlet, an inveterate punster. To whom else but Polonius should Hamlet direct the taunt of “Words, words, words”? The aged counselor recalls that in his youth he “suffered much extremity for love, very near this,” and he has been an actor at the university. Polonius too has advice for the players: “Seneca cannot be too heavy, nor Plautus too light.” When Hamlet jibes at “so capital a calf” enacting Julius Caesar, killed in the Capitol, he reinforces the parallel to his own playacting and anticipates the slaying of Polonius behind the arras. (4)
Polonius’ entry into the play occurs at the social get-together of the royal court. Claudius has already been crowned; Queen Gertrude is there; Hamlet is present in the black clothes of mourning.
How to Cite this Page
"Custom Term Papers: Hamlet – is Polonius a Main Character?." 123HelpMe.com. 12 Dec 2018
Need Writing Help?
Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.Check your paper »
- 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.... [tags: Custom Hamlet Essays]
2066 words (5.9 pages)
- Hamlet and the Character of Gertrude Shakespeare’s sinful woman in the tragedy Hamlet is named Gertrude. Wife of Claudius and mother of the prince, she is not selected by the ghost for vengeance by the protagonist. Let’s consider her story in this essay. There is no doubt that Gertrude is a sinner in this play. In her book, Shakespeare’s Tragic Heroes, Lily B. Campbell describes the extent of Gertrude’s sin and of her punishment: And of the Queen’s punishment as it goes on throughout the play, there can be no doubt either.... [tags: Essays on Shakespeare Hamlet]
1925 words (5.5 pages)
- During the time period between the 14th and 17th centuries, a cultural revolution, known as the Renaissance, took place. One of the topics of this cultural revolution that is widely controversial is the role and treatment of women. The play Hamlet by William Shakespeare features many characters that are perceived as strong, independent leads, such as King Claudius, and Polonius. However, in the same work, Shakespeare also composes characters of lesser strength and independence. The character that seems to fall victim to this view of weakness and foolishness is the female character, Ophelia.... [tags: Characters in Hamlet, Gertrude, Hamlet]
1418 words (4.1 pages)
- Horatio in Hamlet In Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet, the closest friend of the hero is a fellow-student from Wittenberg (Granville-Barker 93), an intelligent and understanding young man by the name of Horatio. This essay seeks to carefully present his character. Marchette Chute in “The Story Told in Hamlet” describes Horatio’s part in the opening scene of the play: The story opens in the cold and dark of a winter night in Denmark, while the guard is being changed on the battlements of the royal castle of Elsinore.... [tags: Custom Essays Hamlet]
2168 words (6.2 pages)
- Polonius as a Tedious Old Fool in Shakespeare's Hamlet 'Tedious old fool', that's the phrase that comes to mind when referring to one of key characters in Shakespeare's classic, Hamlet. Polonius the father of Ophelia and Laertes and chief advisor to Claudius. Hamlet more than any character in the play has a command over the audience in respect to how the other characters are perceived. So when he refers to Polonius as a "tedious old fool" what else is the reader to think of this key player throughout the play.... [tags: Papers]
853 words (2.4 pages)
- Custom Written Essays - The Theme of Actors and Acting in Hamlet. Many would perceive madness and corruption to play the most influential role in Hamlet. However, it could be argued that the central theme in the tragedy is Shakespeare's presentation of actors and acting and the way it acts as a framework on which madness and corruption are built. Shakespeare manifests the theme of actors and acting in the disassembly of his characters, the façades that the individuals assume and the presentation of the `play within a play'.... [tags: Shakespeare Hamlet Essays]
1907 words (5.4 pages)
- The Ambiguous Nature of Hamlet In William Shakespeare's Hamlet, the protagonist exhibits a puzzling, duplicitous nature. Hamlet contradicts himself throughout the play. He endorses both the virtues of acting a role and that of being true to one's self. He further supports both of these conflicting endorsements with his actions. This ambiguity is demonstrated by his alleged madness, for he does behave madly, only to become perfectly calm and rational an instant later. These inconsistencies are related with the internal dilemmas he faces.... [tags: GCSE Coursework Shakespeare Hamlet]
2350 words (6.7 pages)
- The Gertrude of Hamlet Gunnar Bokland in “Hamlet” describes Gertrude’s moral descent during the course of Shakespeare’s Hamlet: With Queen Gertrude and finally also Laertes deeply involved in a situation of increasing ugliness, it becomes clear that, although Claudius and those who associate with him are not the incarnations of evil that Hamlet sees in them, they are corrupt enough from any balanced point of view, a condition that is also intimated by the “heavy-headed revel” that distinguishes life at the Danish court.... [tags: GCSE English Literature Coursework]
2131 words (6.1 pages)
- Hamlet’s Ophelia Explained Who is Ophelia psychologically, morally, mentally, physically in Shakespeare’s dramatic tragedy Hamlet. Is she a lackey of her father Polonius. Is she a true girlfriend to the protagonist. These and other questions regarding this victim-heroine will be answered here. In her essay, “Acts III and IV: Problems of Text and Staging,” Ruth Nevo explains how Ophelia’s treatment of Hamlet causes a negative reaction within the hero: Whereas it is precisely his total inability to know her [Ophelia], or for that matter himself, that the scene, in this theatrically simpler view, would allow us to perceive as the center of his anguish.... [tags: The Tragedy of Hamlet]
3763 words (10.8 pages)
- Analysis of Ophelia from Hamlet Ophelia is gentle, loving and beautiful. She is also obedient to her father and loyal to her family and it is this which draws her into the circle of disaster and leads to her "untimely death". She is deeply in love with Hamlet and believes his "tenders" to be sincere, but her obedience to both her father and her brother must come first. Laertes tells her to beware of Hamlet's interest as it is driven by lust, not love. He also points out the difference in their background and rightly concludes that Hamlet is not in a position, as heir to the throne to choose freely who he will marry.... [tags: Hamlet William Shakespeare Ophelia Essays]
5116 words (14.6 pages)
He hath, my lord, wrung from me my slow leave
By laboursome petition, and at last
Upon his will I seal'd my hard consent:
I do beseech you, give him leave to go. (1.2)
So right at the outset the reader/viewer respects the lord chamberlain as a very fluent spokesman of the language, and respectful of his superior, the king. Later, in Polonius’ house, Laertes is taking leave of his sister, Ophelia, and, in the process, giving her conservative advice regarding her boyfriend, Hamlet. Quietly Polonius enters and begins to advise Laertes regarding life away from home:
Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportioned thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch'd, unfledged comrade. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,
Bear't that the opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgment.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express'd in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most select and generous chief in that.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all: to thine ownself be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell: my blessing season this in thee! (1.3)
Such quotable advice Polonius gives, showing the wisdom of his age and position. Very politely Laertes bids his father goodbye and leaves with his servants. Here is a literary critic who respects the lord chamberlain’s advice: Rebecca West in “A Court and World Infected by the Disease of Corruption” talks about Polonius:
Polonius is interesting because he was a cunning old intriguer who, like an iceberg, only showed one-eighth of himself above the surface. The innocuous sort of worldly wisdom that rolled off his tongue in butter balls was a very small part of what he knew. It has been insufficiently noted that Shakespeare would never have held up the action in order that Polonius should give his son advice as to how to conduct himself abroad, unless the scene helped him to develop his theme. But “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” (I.3.78), has considerable . . . value when it is spoken by an old gentleman who is presently going to instruct a servant to spy on his son, and to profess great anxiety about his daughter’s morals, when plainly he needed to send her away into the country if he really wanted her to retain any [. . .]. (108)
Later, to make certain that Laertes adheres strictly to his advice, Polonius equips his man, Reynaldo, with “money’ and “notes” to take to Laertes, and while there, to inquire about his conduct:
At 'closes in the consequence,' ay, marry;
He closes thus: 'I know the gentleman;
I saw him yesterday, or t' other day,
Or then, or then; with such, or such; and, as you say,
There was a' gaming; there o'ertook in's rouse;
There falling out at tennis:' or perchance,
'I saw him enter such a house of sale,'
Videlicet, a brothel, or so forth.
See you now;
Your bait of falsehood takes this carp of truth:
And thus do we of wisdom and of reach,
With windlasses and with assays of bias,
By indirections find directions out:
So by my former lecture and advice,
Shall you my son. You have me, have you not? (2.1)
Marchette Chute in “The Story Told in Hamlet” comments on Polonius’ controlling attitude toward those around him:
Polonius, the lord chamberlain, has been putting about in his secretive way, making sure that his children obey all his precepts that have been given them. He sets a servant to spy on his son’s behavior in Paris, in the calm conviction he is doing it only for his son’s good, and it is for his daughter’s good that he has ordered her to see no more of Hamlet. (37-38)
We see Polonius developing into a character of complex temperament and motivation, which would render him quite “rounded” (Abrams 33); in other words, he is one of Shakespeare’s “sharply etched characters” (Wilkie and Hurt 2155). Louis B. Wright and Virginia A. LaMar in “Hamlet: A Man Who Thinks Before He Acts” explain the popularity of Shakespeare’s three-dimensional characters:
Much of the delight of modern readers, of course, comes from the study of the characters of the principal figures in the play, for Shakespeare has presented them in three-dimensional vividness. We feel that they are living beings with problems that are perennially human. (62)
With Laertes gone, Polonius has an opportunity to involve himself with Ophelia’s relationship with Prince Hamlet. He asks rather directly: “What is between you? give me up the truth.” She responds concerning his recent “tenders of affection,” to which Polonius reacts with considerable skepticism and with lots of forceful advice:
From this time
Be somewhat scanter of your maiden presence;
Set your entreatments at a higher rate
Than a command to parley. For Lord Hamlet,
Believe so much in him, that he is young
And with a larger tether may he walk
Than may be given you: in few, Ophelia,
Do not believe his vows; for they are brokers,
Not of that dye which their investments show,
But mere implorators of unholy suits,
Breathing like sanctified and pious bawds,
The better to beguile. This is for all:
I would not, in plain terms, from this time forth,
Have you so slander any moment leisure,
As to give words or talk with the Lord Hamlet. (1.3)
With meekness Ophelia promises to follow her father’s directives. Gunnar Boklund in “Judgment in Hamlet” evaluates Polonius’ advice:
Of the minor weeds which disturb Hamlet, Polonius is the most troublesome. We know that his advice to Ophelia and Laertes closely parallels the wisdom that eminently respectable Elizabethan fathers bestowed on their children; prudence was a more commendable virtue in the Renaissance than now, and the sentiment of “This above all, to thine own self be true” remains, I should hope, unexceptionable today. But Polonius’ prudence, loyalty to the King, and pitiful death in his service do not make him the “good old man” that the Queen sees in him. He is a gentleman of the situation who, for his own and his master’s purposes, manipulates human beings, including his own children, and who does not even do it very well. (122)
Meanwhile, Horatio and Marcellus have contacted Hamlet, who is dejected at the “o’erhasty marriage” of his mother to his uncle less than two months after the funeral of Hamlet’s father (Gordon 128). They urge the prince out onto the ramparts, where, at one a.m. the Ghost, ironically a sinner suffering in the afterlife (West 110), reveals to the protagonist the extent of the evil within Elsinore, “the human truth” (Abrams 467). The Ghost says that King Hamlet I was murdered by Claudius, who had a relationship with Gertrude prior to the murder; the ghost requests a “restorative” revenge (Gooch 1) by Hamlet: “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.” Maynard Mack in “The World of Hamlet” states that henceforth the prince “is not to be allowed simply to endure a rotten world, he must also act in it” (258), thus increasing the tension in the hero’s life.
Hamlet resolves to put on an “antic disposition” to disguise his intentions while he establishes whether the ghost is “from heaven, purgatory or hell” (Levine 8). Ophelia is, unfortunately, the first to experience the hero’s new “madness,” and she is terrorized by his visit and disheveled appearance. Polonius diagnoses Hamlet’s condition as madness resulting from unrequited love:
Come, go with me: I will go seek the king.
This is the very ecstasy of love,
Whose violent property fordoes itself
And leads the will to desperate undertakings
As oft as any passion under heaven
That does afflict our natures. I am sorry.
What, have you given him any hard words of late? (2.1)
Ophelia gives her father a love-letter from Hamlet, and this he takes to read to the king and “kindly, slow witted” (Pitt 47) queen: “'To the celestial and my soul's idol, the most beautified Ophelia,'—“ In order to more closely analyze Hamlet’s problem, Polonius makes a proposal to the king:
At such a time I'll loose my daughter to him:
Be you and I behind an arras then;
Mark the encounter: if he love her not
And be not from his reason fall'n thereon,
Let me be no assistant for a state,
But keep a farm and carters. (2.2)
Before the rendezvous takes place, Polonius talks with the hero to try to learn something. His step-by-step psychoanalysis is transmitted to the audience through asides:
[Aside] How say you by that? Still harping on my
daughter: yet he knew me not at first; he said I
was a fishmonger: he is far gone, far gone: and
truly in my youth I suffered much extremity for
love; very near this. I'll speak to him again.
What do you read, my lord?
[Aside] Though this be madness, yet there is method
in 't. Will you walk out of the air, my lord? (2.2)
When the acting troupe arrives at court, Polonius very excitedly tells Hamlet, hoping to penetrate his mind more deeply:
The best actors in the world, either for tragedy,
comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical,
historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-
comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, or
poem unlimited: Seneca cannot be too heavy, nor
Plautus too light. For the law of writ and the
liberty, these are the only men. (2.2)
At the time of the “chance” meeting with Ophelia, Hamlet is already feeling quite low, and perhaps even contemplating suicide: “To be, or not to be: that is the question. . . .” And when the hero suspects Ophelia’s collaboration with others as a decoy or lure for himself, he is completely alienated from her: “Get thee to a nunnery: why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?” Polonius, listening with Claudius behind the arras, steadfastly maintains his theory of lovesickness:
It shall do well: but yet do I believe
The origin and commencement of his grief
Sprung from neglected love. How now, Ophelia!
You need not tell us what Lord Hamlet said;
We heard it all. My lord, do as you please;
But, if you hold it fit, after the play
Let his queen mother all alone entreat him
To show his grief: let her be round with him;
And I'll be placed, so please you, in the ear
Of all their conference. If she find him not,
To England send him, or confine him where
Your wisdom best shall think. (3.1)
The concealment of Polonius behind the curtains in Gertrude’s room sounds like a workable way to eavesdrop of Hamlet after the viewing of the “play within a play”:
Behind the arras I'll convey myself,
To hear the process; and warrant she'll tax him home:
And, as you said, and wisely was it said,
'Tis meet that some more audience than a mother,
Since nature makes them partial, should o'erhear
The speech, of vantage. (3.3)
The hero, in his “madness,” demonstrates his vocation (Rosenberg 63) and redesigns a standard play, The Murder of Gonzago, into The Mousetrap – a reenactment of Claudius’ murder of King Hamlet. With Horatio and Hamlet observing the king’s reaction, Claudius shows himself to be guilty of the murder of his brother, thus confirming the ghost’s utterance. Consequently Hamlet prepares for revenge.
En route to his mother’s room, Hamlet passes on an opportunity to kill Claudius because the king is in prayer and perhaps would not go to the punishing flames of hell (Kliman 155). While conversing with his mother, the very emotionally upset Hamlet (“O heart, lose not thy nature; let not ever / The soul of Nero enter this firm bosom. . . .”) detects sound behind the arras and kills the subject of this essay -- Polonius. Hamlet regrets the accidental death of Polonius, whom he mistook for the king. He repents before dragging the body of the lord chamberlain from his mother’s room:
I do repent: but heaven hath pleased it so,
To punish me with this and this with me,
That I must be their scourge and minister.
I will bestow him, and will answer well
The death I gave him. (3.4)
The killing of Polonius, plus the suspicion of Claudius that Hamlet knows the king murdered Hamlet I, cause Claudius to send the Prince by ship to England with an unsuspecting escort (Madariaga), where the prince will be put to death. Polonius’ death, along with the rejection by Hamlet, cause Ophelia to lose her sanity and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to go to their deaths. This madness, in turn, causes Laertes to plot with Claudius the “certain death” of the prince (Burton); which, in turn, results in the deaths of all the remaining main characters. The death of Polonius is so key to the rest of the narrative. Polonius is the first domino; and the others follow his fall.
In “Shakespeare’s Nomenclature” Harry Levin discusses the name “Polonius’ and other names from the play:
The Latinism Polonius reminds us of the Polish question, moot throughout Hamlet, where the onomastics are polyglot. If Marcellus and Claudius are Latin, Bernardo and Horatio are Italian, and Fortinbras signifies “strong arm” not in Norwegian but French (fort-en-bras).
On the other hand, the son of Polonius has a Greek godfather in Laertes, the father of Odysseus. The Scandinavian names, at least the Germanic Gertrude, stand out because they are in the minority. (79)
Abrams, M. H. A Glossary of Literary Terms. 7th ed. New York: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1999.
- - -, ed. “William Shakespeare.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 6th ed. New York: W.W.Norton and Co., 1996.
Bevington, David. Introduction Twentieth Century Interpretations of Hamlet. Ed. David Bevington. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968.
Boklund, Gunnar. “Judgment in Hamlet.” Essays on Shakespeare. Ed. Gerald Chapman. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1965.
Burton, Philip. “Hamlet.” The Sole Voice. New York: The Dial Press, 1970. N. pag. http://www.freehomepages.com/hamlet/other/burton-hamlet.htm
Chute, Marchette. “The Story Told in Hamlet.” Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. from Stories from Shakespeare. N. p.: E. P. Dutton, 1956.
Gooch, Bryan N. S. "Review of The Shapes of Revenge: Victimization, Vengeance, and Vindictiveness in Shakespeare." Early Modern Literary Studies 4.1 (May, 1998): 5.1-6 http://purl.oclc.org/emls/04-1/rev_goo6.html.
Gordon, Edward J. Introduction to Tragedy. Rochelle Park, NJ: Hayden Book Co., Inc., 1973.
Kliman, Bernice W.. “A Television Interpretation of Hamlet.” Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. from Hamlet: Film, Television and Audio Performance. Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1988.
Levin, Harry. General Introduction. The Riverside Shakespeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1974.
- - - . “Shakespeare’s Nomenclature.” Essays of Shakespeare. Ed. Gerald W. Chapman. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1965.
Mack, Maynard. “The World of Hamlet.” Yale Review. vol. 41 (1952) p. 502-23. Rpt. in Readings on The Tragedies. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996.
Madariaga, Salvador de. “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.” On Hamlet. 2nd ed. London: Frank Cass & Co., Ltd., 1964. p.14-16. http://www.freehomepages.com/hamlet/other/essayson.htm#demag-ess N. pag.
Nevo, Ruth. “Acts III and IV: Problems of Text and Staging.” Modern Critical Interpretations: Hamlet. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986. Rpt. from Tragic Form in Shakespeare. N.p.: Princeton University Press, 1972.
Pitt, Angela. “Women in Shakespeare’s Tragedies.” Readings on The Tragedies. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996. Excerpted from Shakespeare’s Women. N.p.: n.p., 1981.
Rosenberg, Marvin. “Laertes: An Impulsive but Earnest Young Aristocrat.” Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. from The Masks of Hamlet. Newark, NJ: Univ. of Delaware Press, 1992.
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 1995. http://www.chemicool.com/Shakespeare/hamlet/full.html
West, Rebecca. “A Court and World Infected by the Disease of Corruption.” Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. from The Court and the Castle. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1957.
Wilkie, Brian and James Hurt. “Shakespeare.” Literature of the Western World. Ed. Brian Wilkie and James Hurt. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1992.