The obscure flatterer

In the play “Hamlet” written by William Shakespeare, Polonius is the royal chief counselor meaning that he occupies a very high position at the court in Elsinore. As chief counselor, he is the supreme administrator and is primarily responsible for the country's finances. He calls himself a "servant" (Act 2; Scene II) and is sometimes called upon as an important advisor by King Claudius, who considers him a "man of loyalty and honor" (2.2.139). His two children, Ophelia and Laertes, also enjoy good standing at court because of his high position.

Hamlet, on the other hand, considers him a "chatterer" and a "piteous, forward fool (3.4.234). Polonius is indeed arrogant and vain. For example, he considers his own judgment to be infallible: "Hath there been such a time - I'd fain know that  - That I have positively said 'Tis so', When it proved otherwise?" (2.2.163-165).

Polonius is a calculating character. He knows quite well that his position at court depends on the king's good will, so he is eager to get in good terms with him. In all his remarks to the royal family, he presents himself as a submissive, obedient, and faithful servant. For example, he courts Claudius with the remark: "Yes, be assured, best lord, I hold to my duty as my soul, first to my God, then to my gracious king" (2.2.46-50) and submissively pretends in front of him that he stopped the relationship between Ophelia and Hamlet only because Ophelia is not nearly good enough for his nephew Hamlet. However, it will soon become that he is only concerned about the honor of his own daughter.

It is hard to determine what a character like Polonius really thinks about the king, the queen, or Hamlet. He has perfected the role of the obedient and compliant servant so well that it is impossible to find out what he really thinks about them behind this facade. His character is revealed much more clearly and unambiguously when he talks to people to whom he is socially superior, for example, to members of his own family. Towards them he drops his flattering manner and reveals an authoritarian and manipulative personality.

The manipulative family man

As a father, Polonius is naturally the head of his small family and fills this position with devotion and enthusiasm. He makes no secret of the fact that he considers himself far wiser and more experienced than his two children, and seems to consider it his duty to assist them with advice in every situation.

When his son Laertes returns to Paris to study, he not only gives him his blessing, but also provides him a lot of advice (1.3.60-85). He just pretends that his son is leaving the family environment for the first time, although Laertes has already lived alone in France for some time.

Already at this point Polonius reveals a characteristic trait of his: he values his ow...

The text shown above is just an extract. Only members can read the full content.

Get access to the full Study Guide.

As a member of PrimeStudyGuides.com, you get access to all of the content.

Sign up now

Already a member? Log in