Polonius Is Folish

Polonius: A Fool in Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Hamlet is the most popular of Shakespeare’s plays for theater audiences and
readers. It has been acted live in countries throughout the world and has been translated
into every language. Polonius is one of the major characters in Hamlet, his role in the play
is of great interest to scholars. Parts of Hamlet present Polonius as a fool, whose love of
his own voice leads to his constant babbling. Scholars have been analyzing the character of
Polonius for centuries, and his role in Hamlet will continue to be analyzed for centuries to
come. Scholars believe that Shakespeare created Polonius as a fool because of his foolish
dialogue throughout the play.
Polonius granted Laertes permission to go back to school in France. While saying
good-bye in his chambers, Polonius tells his son: Beware Of entrance to a quarrel, but,
being in, Bear’t that th’ opposed may beware of thee. Give every man they ear, but few
thy voice. Take each man’s censure, but reserve they judgment. Costly thy habit as thy
purse can buy, But not expressed 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 or a lender (be,) For (loan) oft loses both itself
and friend, And borrowing (dulls the) edge of husbandry. 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.
(1. 3. 71-87) The advice that Polonius gives to Laertes is simple and sounds foolish being
told to a person of Laertes’ age. Martin Orkin comments on the nature of Polonius’
speech: 2 “Shakespeare’s first audience would recognize in Polonius’ predilection for such
commonplace expressions of worldly wisdom a mind that runs along conventional tracks,
sticking only to what is practically useful in terms of worldly self-advancement” (Orkin
179). Polonius gives Laertes simple advice, to keep his thoughts to himself and to never
lend or borrow money. While this advice is simple, when looked at in full context his
advice to his son is all about self-advancement. Polonius will go to all extremes to protect
his reputation. Grebanier states on the foolishness of Polonius’ speech: “Such guidance
will do for those who wish to make the world their prey, but it is dignified by no humanity.
Who can live humanly without ever borrowing or lending? Is one to turn his back on his
best friend in an hour of need?” (Grebanier 285). Scholars believe that the advice Polonius
gives to his son is simple, an when looked at in full context, is foolish and selfish. After
Laertes returns to Paris, Polonius send his servant Reynaldo to Paris to spy on Laertes and
question his acquaintances. Polonius says to Reynaldo: At “closes in the consequence”-ay,
marry- He closes thus: “I know the gentleman. I saw him yesterday,” or “th’ other day”
(Or then, or then, with such or such), “and as you say, There was he 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 take
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. (2. 1. 61-75) 3 By spying on Laertes,
Polonius is showing the audience and the reader, that he does now trust him. After giving
Laertes a speech on how to behave, Polonius still feels that he has to spy on his son. Joan
Hartwig comments on Polonius’ plan to spy on his son: “A machiavellian schemer who
takes his plotting to absurd proportions, Polonius pursues ‘indirection’ for its own sake.
His efforts to discover Laertes’ reputation in Paris assume that Laertes will not follow his
earlier advice; thus, the later words become a comic reduction of his previous sermon to
his son” (Hartwig 218). Another reason for Polonius’ foolishness is that Polonius is
convinced, and tries convincing others, that the reason for Hamlet’s madness is his love
for Ophelia. He tells Ophelia: Come, go with me. I will go seek the king. This is the very
ecstasy love, Whose violent property fordoes itself And leads the will to desperate
undertakings As oft as any passions under heaven That does afflict out natures. I am sorry.
What, have you given him