Character Analysis Of Polonius in Hamlet by Shakespeare

Polonius is a blundering, blithering fool, though he knows himself to be a very wise and astute politician. He has nothing to do with any scruple of conscience or nice sense of honour. He can stoop to anything to accomplish his ends. The first thing he does is to diagnose the mental affliction of Hamlet. He is convinced that it is nothing but the madness of love and he precedes to trace its course to the King. After a long and tedious discourse that can only distract the hearers, he finally sums up:

“And he, refuse-a short tale to make,-

Feel into a sadness, then into a fast,

Thence to a watch, ten into a weakness,

Thence to a lightness, and by his declension

Into the madness wherein now he raves,

And all we mourn for.”

Here we see the man that he is-wiseacre, but a tedious fool.

Polonius is apt for vile and crooked means. He sends Reynaldo to spy on his son in Pairs. This is the direction he gave:

“…….. Look you sir,

Inquire me first what Danskers are in Paris;

 And how, and who, what means, and where they keep. 

What company, at what expense: and finding, 

By this encompassment and drift of question, 

That they do know my son, come you more nearer 

Than your particular demands will touch it.”

He is always voluble in speech and Reynaldo finds it difficult to catch his drift. The point is that he is a man of limited intelligence and outlook and lacks principles.

Polonius loads Laertes with precepts when he leaves for Paris. These precepts are the epitome of worldly wisdom. In its practical application worldly wisdom necessarily descends to low and mean tricks. After he takes leave of Laertes he turns to Ophelia. According to his narrow and material out- look, he will naturally push at “many tenders of affection” that Hamlet has made to her, as Ophelia frankly confesses. And he warned his daughter against Hamlet:

“Do not believe his vows: for they are brokers, 

Not of the dye which the investments show,

But mere implorators of unholy suits, 

Breathing like sanctified and pious bonds,

The better to beguile.”

These words betray a coarse and filthy mind. And then later to test Hamlet he makes use of his daughter as a decoy. It is a very mean thing to do. “To cure this madness one must first know its cause, and he suspects nothing sinister in that. He does not stop to consider that it may be somewhat ignoble, a little cruel, to put his daughter to such a use. It is as like him that, having baited the trap with her and placed a prayer-book in her hands, the sight of her, docile in guile, should prompt the incongruous platitude:

“We are apt to blame in this-

Tis too much proved! – that with devotions’s visage

And pious action we do sugar o’er

The devil himself.”

And as like him that, when he and Claudius emerge, disappointed from their hiding-place, he ignores her distress.”

We can imagine we see him go noising about. So he will be the man to suggest to the King:

“My lord, he’s going to his mother’s closet;

Behind the arras I’ll convey myself,

To hear the process.”

H. Granville-Barker writes: Poor Polonius! Were this no other than the world he has so successfully learnt to live in, where words are potent and ambassadors correctly come and go, where one so pleasantly ‘hunts….. the trail of policy,’ or may with a ‘bait of falsehood’ take a carp of truth and

Also Read : 


‘Of wisdom and of reach,

With windlasses and assays of bias

By indirections find directions out…..

Where human nature must perforce become.’

‘As’t were a thing a little soiled I’ the working but to no coarse effect than that a prince may reduce your daughter and your son be debauched in Paris- were life, in sum, simply the sort of clever game he thinks it, he then would be the man he so complacently feels himself to be, the tried and wish ‘assistant for a state,’ who has never,

……. Positively said, ‘tis so’

When it proved otherwise……..

Whose never-lacking advice has only to be followed for all to be well! But Shakespeare shows us, by a harsher light, a very different picture; of a silly old gentleman pettily manoeuvring among passion and forces that are dark to him. No one wishes him ill. But he will meddle. And at last a sword thrust, meant for his master incontinently ends him.”



Leave a Comment