As with many plays, actors in Shakespeare’s, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, are at liberty to alter the portrayal of their characters. Because of this, the significance and subtleties of various characters can be lost in varying adaptations of the play. This holds true for the character Polonius, who is often incorrectly portrayed as a oblivious and foolish yet caring father. Rather, Shakespeare implicitly and explicitly establishes Polonius as a character in full control of his wits. Polonius’ interaction with other characters throughout the play highlights his cunning, wit, and selfishness.
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.
The main plot of Shakespeare's Hamlet centers around Prince Hamlet's desire to repay King Claudius for his evil deeds. Around this central action revolve the stories concerning the minor characters of Polonius and Ophelia. Though they do not motivate Hamlet's actions towards the King, these characters act as forces upon Hamlet himself, trying to spur him to do things he does not want to do. Both Polonius and Ophelia try, unsuccessfully, to manipulate Hamlet into a place of inferiority.
In the play Hamlet the character Polonius is a courtier to the king Claudius. He is the epitome of everything that Hamlet hates in the court of Denmark. Polonius’s character is at many points in the play is a comic character who contradicts himself constantly and finds incredibly long winded ways to embellish his points. Shakespeare uses the persona of Polonius, as a satirical figure and as a foil, to show what is wrong with the court of the time. Polonius is also the father of Laertes and Ophelia who are integral to the final downfall of the Danish kingdom. The tensions that arise from the death of Polonius is prevalent throughout the remainder of the play, and his passing
When Horatio and Hamlet see each other for the first time in a long while, they immediately are excited. Hamlet, with his sometimes-sinister blunt remarks, goes on to tell of how close the wedding and funeral are to each other. “Thrift, thrift, Horatio. The funeral baked meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables” (1.2.179). However, on the opposite end of the spectrum of Hamlet’s commentary, his conversations with Polonius are rude and often pointed. In act 2 scene 2, Hamlet makes fun of Polonius for being old and for his long-winded speeches, but does so with such intelligence and awareness that Polonius fails to understand what Hamlet is saying at all, thereby thinking Hamlet is simply mad. This differentiation between playful banter and slanderous remarks show that Hamlet was incredibly mentally alert.
It is interesting to note that Hamlet only puts his 'madness'; performance on for the characters he is suspicious of such as Claudius, Polonius, Gertrude, and Ophelia. When Hamlet is around Horatio, Marcellus, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the Players and the Grave-Diggers, he acts rationally. He changes his disposition with ease and speed. During Act 2, Scene 2, Hamlet is speaking with Polonius. When Polonius asks if Hamlet recognizes him, Hamlet replies that 'You are a fishmonger.'; He goes on to insult Polonius further and calls daughter Ophelia a 'good kissing carrion';. When Rosencrantz and Guildenstern appear, Hamlet begins to behave cordially again. He warmly greets his friends and engages them in light philosophical humor.
Hamlet’s lunacy becomes quite real at points, and he enters into a deep melancholy. King Claudius and Queen Gertrude bring Hamlet’s schoolmates Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to probe Hamlet and find the source of his sorrow. Polonious, a pompous, yet loyal, man to Claudius, suggests that Hamlet is madly in love with his daughter Ophelia. It is during this time Polonius’ famous “brevity is the soul of wit” dialogue is said, after which point he rambles for nearly 10 minutes before telling the King and Queen his hypothesis. Claudius tests this theory by spying on Hamlet and Ophelia’s interaction with Polonius, however, Hamlet appears thoroughly insane after screaming at Ophelia and telling her to “get thee to a nunnery.”
How does the use of comic relief best contrast the tragedy of Hamlet? In great works of literature a comic relief is used as contrast to a serious scene to intensify the overall tragic nature of the play or to relieve tension. As illustrated in Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet, intense scenes are joined with character’s banter and vacuous actions as to add a comic relief. In Hamlet, Polonius acts as a comic relief by his dull and windy personality, Hamlet uses his intelligence and his negativity toward the king and queen to create humor, while on the other hand Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are a comic relief by their senseless actions and naïve natures. Polonius, Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are all used as a comic relief to
Prior to this we discover Polonius' rancor for the prince when he warns Ophelia of Hamlet's feigned affections: "Do not believe his vows" (1.3, 127). As with Claudius, there exists little cordiality, less true affection and even less of an attempt to disguise the relationship. The king fears his nephew's grief-enraged condition and the dutiful advisor mirrors these suspicions. Hamlet, meanwhile, casts an equal contempt at the pair in protest of Claudius' unnatural ascension to the roles of both father and husband.
Polonius played a vital role in Hamlet even though he was not one of the main characters. He continued to reinforce the theme of corruption and displayed the social and ethical collapse of Denmark. His deceitful actions show the reader that he is one of dishonesty and chicanery. In the play, Polonius was portrayed as someone who is a deceiver and pretender that betrays people he is supposed to be devoted to; and who only cares about things that will benefit him. These characteristics of Polonius are seen through his interactions with Ophelia, Hamlet, Laertes, Reynaldo and the King.
In Act 2, the King and Queen continue to try and determine why Hamlet is acting the way he is. They request his friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to find out what is wrong. Polonius learns from Ophelia that Hamlet could be "mad for thy love?" (2.1.84), but Ophelia is not sure of it. Polonius delivers his opinion to Claudius and Gertrude in which he states that Hamlet:
Hamlet uses Polonius’s initial interactions within a domestic setting and the royal court to establish Polonius’s character. When Polonius notarizes Reynaldo to spy on Laertes, Polonius lauds his method with such rhetorical flourishes as “wisdom and of reach” and “with windlasses and assays of bias,” to ensure that his ‘grand’ scheme is not lost on Reynaldo (2.1.61-62). The text chooses to show Polonius strutting such ornate rhetoric to commend himself, even when there is no one to impress beyond his own servant, to illustrate how Polonius is by his very nature pompous. When Polonius subsequently hears Ophelia relay her encounter with a deranged Hamlet, Polonius’s first instinct is to “go see the king,” rather than to comfort Ophelia beyond simply saying he’s sorry (2.1.114). Polonius’s primal instinct to serve his lord reveals a servile disposition baked into his very being. These intrinsic tendencies are hyperbolized through Polonius’s interaction with the royal family. Upon entering the court, Polonius immediately professes to “hold my duty … both to my God
One of the more subtle elements of corruption in the play is the manner in which the court of Denmark functions. It is a game of favors, a constant play, with the director as the King, his subjects the players, and none more prominent than Polonius, the royal advisor. Polonius' two main faults lie in his ingratiating manner and his incessant spying. While he tells his daughter Ophelia that Hamlet is not true in his affections, he explains to the King that he warned Ophelia against Hamlet because the Prince it far above her station in life. Polonius perceives himself to be witty and tries to weasel his way around with actions and words to best fit the situation and above all benefit himself. His inclination to spy on people is obvious for he sends a man to France to find out how his son is behaving, he spies on his daughter while she is with Prince Hamlet, and he hides behind the arras to listen to the confrontation between the Queen and Hamlet. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern also try to win favor with the King, foregoing any friendship they once had with Hamlet, to 'play upon [him] . . . pluck out the heart of [his] mystery,' acting as little more than spies for the King, feigning friendship to obtain Hamlet's secrets (3.2.372-374).