There are many parents who are too strict and do not let their children do things that might embarrass them. Other times a parent may use their child to do certain things in order to gain social prestige. Polonius demonstrates a similar type of behavior in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Polonius is “a domestic tyrant wreaking on his son and his daughter revenge for his own spoiled life” (Bloom 111) and “is an elderly and longwinded courtier and chief counselor” (Dominic 96) to the king. Polonius is in a high position in the Danish court, and he has a problem with talking too much. He is only concerned about his reputation, not Ophelia, “the young and innocent daughter of Polonius . . . (“Polonius” Benet). The main character, Hamlet, is the son of Queen Gertrude and King Hamlet of Denmark. King Hamlet has recently died, supposedly from natural causes. Hamlet despises the fact that his mother has remarried his uncle, now King Claudius, so soon after the death of King Hamlet. Later Hamlet sees the ghost of his father and King Hamlet tells him Claudius murdered him by putting poison in his ear. The ghost wants Hamlet to kill the new king, but to not harm his mother. Meanwhile, Hamlet is in love with Ophelia, but Polonius refuses to let her see him. Ophelia believes this obedience to her father has caused Hamlet’s madness. However, in order for Polonius to please Claudius, he uses her to figure out the cause of Hamlet’s abnormal behavior. After Polonius’ death, Ophelia dies, and her death was because of her father’s selfishness and poor decisions in doing all he could to satisfy Claudius.
One of the reasons Ophelia dies is because of her father’s controlling ways. Ophelia explains to Polonius that Hamlet is in love with her: “He hath, my lord, of late made many tenders of his affection to me” (1.3.100-101). Polonius is appalled and states, “Affection? Pooh! You speak like a green girl . . .” (1.3.102). Polionus’ quick judgment of their love for each other has caused him to speak this way. He claims that their love is unreal and he belittles her by saying she talks like she is immature and does not know anything. He states, “Think yourself a baby that you have ta’en these tenders for true pay which are not sterling” (1.3.106-108). Polonius tries to convince Ophelia not to accept love like any baby would, because babies are unaware of what kind of love they are being presented. Polonius is not interested in what Ophelia wants, “Tender yourself more dearly, or—not to crack the wind of the poor phrase, running it thus—you’ll tender me a fool” (1.3.108-110). He believes she should offer herself more costly to someone else because he does not want to be embarrassed by their relationship. Ophelia disagrees, but he threatens her by saying, “Have you so slander any moment leisure as to give words or talk with the Lord Hamlet. Look to’t, I charge you” (1.3.134-136). He forbids her from seeing Hamlet at all, and if she even speaks to him, Polonius will punish her. In Shakespeare A to Z, Charles Boyce states, “He bars Ophelia from any contact with Hamlet, presuming that the prince’s professions of love cannot be truthful . . .” (509). Polonius comes up with the conclusion that Hamlet’s feelings are wrong and that she cannot see him anymore. Ophelia’s obedience to Polonius’ strict ways makes her do anything that will better her father’s reputation.
After learning of Hamlet’s madness over Ophelia, Polonius uses her to secretly watch Hamlet’s behavior while gaining favor from the king. Claudius and Gertrude send Hamlet’s friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to determine the reason Hamlet’s acting so strange. Polonius concludes to Gertrude and Claudius that since Ophelia is not allowed to be with Hamlet anymore, their “noble son is mad. Mad call I it, for, to define true madness, what is’t but to be nothing else but mad” (2.2.92-94). Polonius cannot think of any other term to describe Hamlet’s behavior except that he is insane. “He goes on at length about what he thinks he knows about Hamlet’s love-madness” (“Polonius” Clicknotes). He gives them this long speech about Hamlet’s insanity and reads the prince’s love letters addressed to Ophelia so Polonius will receive praise from Claudius and Gertrude. “Polonius, whose routine it is to make intelligence reports on potential troublemakers, finds an easy clue to Hamlet’s ‘madness’ in Ophelia’s rejection of him” (Bevington). Polonius always has to sound smart in discussing the terrible things that happen to people, especially in figuring out that his daughter is the cause of Hamlet’s insanity. Claudius tells Polonius he is “a man faithful and honorable” (2.2.127). The king is very proud of Polonius’ efforts in bringing him the letters and notifying him of this problem, but he wants more evidence. Polonius decides to use his daughter for bait to fulfill his plans: “Read on this book, that show of such an exercise may color your loneliness” (3.1.44-46). Polonius does not even ask Ophelia to carry out this task; he just tells her to pretend reading a book, so Hamlet will not suspect she is there to see him. Perhaps Hamlet will come and talk with her while revealing the cause of his insanity through his actions. Polonius informs the king and queen that Hamlet hangs around the lobby and he will “loose [his] daughter to him” (2.2.159). He is going to let Ophelia meet Hamlet in the library while he and Claudius hide and watch Hamlet’s behavior. In Critical Essays on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ewbank believes that “Polonius turned her into an object, an instrument, by ‘loosing’ her to Hamlet in the nunnery scene . . .” (75). Polonius thinks that Ophelia is an item that can be used whenever it is necessary. First Polonius did not want his daughter to see Hamlet; now he is letting her see him while he and Claudius spy on both of them.
Ophelia’s feelings are hurt by Hamlet’s remarks because Polonius made her meet with him unwillingly. When Hamlet encounters Ophelia, he said he love her at one time and told her to go a nunnery. Hamlet also states, “If thou wilt needs marry, marry a fool, for wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them” (3.1.132-133). Hamlet no longer loves Ophelia and his harsh words hurt her emotionally. Ophelia believes she is “most deject and wretched” (3.1.46-47). First she was sad over her father not letting her see Hamlet and now she feels even more miserable because she reluctantly had to meet with Hamlet. After the scene with Ophelia and Hamlet, Claudius says to Polonius,
Love? His affections do not that way tend;
Nor what he spake, though it lacked form a little,
Was not like madness. There’s something in his soul
O’er which his melancholy sits on brood,…” (3.1.154-157).
Claudius is convinced that Hamlet is not mad over Ophelia, but feels there is something else that is troubling him. Polonius disagrees and feels Hamlet is mad over her, but tells Claudius to “do as [he] please” (3.1.172). Here again Polonius shows favor to him by doing what Claudius thinks is best. In Understanding Hamlet, Richard Corum believes “no one, including Ophelia, can find Polonius out because nothing indicates that he is doing anything other than serving the interests of the king” (4). Only Claudius and Gertrude are proud of his efforts because Polonius allowed them to learn about the love letters that only Ophelia was supposed to read, and he uses her to observe Hamlet. Polonius is responsible for allowing his daughter to hear cruel words from Hamlet and thrives only on satisfying the king.
Polonius’ sneaky ways has led him to his own death. Hamlet conducts a play called The Murder of Gonzago, which is about how his father was murdered. Since Claudius killed the former king, he is deeply offended and makes a scene at the play. Gertrude wants to speak with Hamlet to discuss the play’s meaning. Before Hamlet comes to speak to his mother, Polonius informs the Queen to “tell him his pranks have been too broad to bear with” (3.4.100). Polonius advises her to confront Hamlet about his behavior while he hides behind the curtain to listen. It appears that Polonius wants to continue observing him in order to gain more information regarding Hamlet’s madness. Gertrude begins to tell Hamlet of his actions, but he frightens her and Polonius yells in fear. Thinking it is Claudius, Hamlet stabs Polonius. Polonius’ impatient ways to understand Hamlet’s behavior costed him his own life, which later has an impact on Ophelia.
Gertrude is notified of Ophelia’s strange behavior after Polonius’ death. She finds Ophelia singing, “He is dead and gone, lady, he is dead and gone” (4.5.129-130). Ophelia’s madness has caused her to constantly sing over and over that Polonius is deceased. “After the death of Polonius, she loses her mind” (“Polonius” Benet). As a result of her father’s death, Ophelia goes insane because she was so used to being forced to do things that only pleased her father and now has no one to tell her what to do after his death. Ophelia states to her brother Laertes, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray you, love remember. And there is pansies; that’s for thoughts” (4.5.174-175). It appears that Ophelia has shown her craziness by giving meaning even to something as simple as a flower. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “when Ophelia in her madness begins to distribute flowers and herbs to the court, she initially assigns symbolic meanings to her gifts” (Persoon). Polonius’ authoritarian ways has caused her to act in a childish manner. Another sign of her craziness is when she hands out flowers to everyone and compares the flowers to her father’s death: “There’s a daisy. I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died” (4.5. 179-180). Ophelia has gone mad because of her father’s recent death and later her madness leads to her own death by drowning.
Polonius’ did not truly love his daughter and only used her for selfish reasons, which resulted in both of their deaths. Polonius was so self-centered that he made his only daughter do things she did not want to so Claudius would be proud of him. Polonius commanded her to stop seeing Hamlet because it might embarrass him in his high position. Then Polonius turned the situation around by making her visit with the prince so he and Claudius could observe the reason for Hamlet’s madness. In return, Ophelia is psychologically mistreated by Hamlet’s words. The only thing that Polonius wanted to do is determine the reasoning behind Hamlet’s lunacy, but he goes too far and gets murder by Hamlet while spying on him. Now that that she has been informed of her father’s murder, she has become “mad Ophelia with her flowers and song” (Guss) and dies inadvertently. Ophelia’s death occurred because of Polonius’ choices only
concerning the interests of himself and Claudius. After the death of Polonius and Ophelia, Hamlet fulfills his assignment of murdering Claudius. Unfortunately, Hamlet also dies from being poisoned during a sword fight planted by Claudius and Laertes. Some parents go too far by using their own children in trying to make themselves look good to others. As a result even death can intercede if parents go to the extremes.
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