The Role and Significance of Polonius in Hamlet by Shakespeare

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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. Polonius’ interactions with Hamlet are often the source of misinterpretations that Polonius is a bumbling fool. In every conversation, Polonius appears oblivious to the witty and cruel remarks Hamlet makes in response to his persistent questioning. Even when explicitly called a “fishmonger,” Polonius feigns surprised ignorance and suggests that Hamlet is insane rather than sarcastic (II.ii.187). He appears to continue ignoring Hamlet’s thinly veiled insults even when Hamlet compares Ophelia to “maggots in a dead dog,” assuming that Hamlet is “still harping on [his] daughter” (II.ii.669). However, Polonius is not the “tedious old fool” that he appears to be; just as Hamlet confessed to being “not in madness,/But mad in craft,” Polonius merely feigns stupidity (II.ii.224; III.iv.204-5). By pretending to be clueless, Polonius is able to question and study Hamlet further without

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