Polonius A Senile Old Fool





"Oh, what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive!". This quote by
Sir Walter Scott has been heard around the world, translated into many languages, and repeated
to us by parents, teachers, and our peers. What does it truly mean? Humans create major and
possibly chaotic problems when trying to beguile others. This quote not only applies to one
person affecting another, but also how the actions of one person trying to deceive many people
through double-talk or hypocrisy lead to complex and sometimes unresolveable events. The
character Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet fits the description of one who tries to deceive others
by wearing different “masks”, double-talking, and practicing hypocrisy to gain the approval of
others..
It is safe to assume that since he is the King’s advisor, Polonius must act as a public
person to protect the King’s best interest. Therefore; on a basic literal level, it is justifiable for
Polonius to want to spy on everyone to protect the King. However; if his actions and speeches
are examined closer, it is evident that he is a limited and vain person who is overly concerned with
his appearance and wears different masks to tune up to different people. His first mask is the one
he puts on for Laertes and Ophelia before sending Laertes off to England. He wants Laertes and
Ophelia to think of him as a wise, moral, and respectable father as shown in the following lines:
“Give thy thoughts no tongue, nor be unproportioned thought his act.... Those
friends thou hast, and adoption tried, grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of
steel.....Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice. Take every man’s censure, but
reserve thy judgment... Never a borrower nor a lender be.... This above all: to thine
own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not be false to
any man. (Hamlet II, iii 65-86, Shakespeare)”
Polonius does an exceptional job of providing good morals for his son to live by, but then displays
his first act of hypocrisy by judging Hamlet in front of Ophelia just a few lines later by saying “Do
not believe his vows, for they are brokers, not of that dye which their investments show, but mere
implorators of unholy suits, breathing like sanctified and pious bawds the better to beguile” (II. iii
136-140). He later speaks with Reynaldo and asks him to spy on his son, while still assuming the
authoritative figure he displayed to Laertes and Ophelia. Polonius seems incapable of acting in an
honest manner. His actions are reminiscent of a hunter\'s job; using all his wit to uncover the
unwary prey in a roundabout way. He even uses hunters\' terminology. "Windlasses" (II. i. 72)
means an indirect approach in hunting. He talks of the "bait of falsehood" (II. i. 70), being
dishonest to the "prey", Laertes, and even to the people who are to help him catch the "prey", the
acquaintances. Polonius wants to catch "the carp of truth". This topic is echoed later on when
Hamlet calls Polonius a "fishmonger". His methods of finding out the truth suggest that Polonius
is not concerned about Laertes’ well-being; rather Polonius is worried how Laertes is making him
look. Polonius has an inclination toward cynicism and suspicion of other people. For Polonius,
acting rotten comes so naturally that he expects other people to also be like that. His tone
suggests that he is at ease and not at all sorry about using dishonest methods or doubting their
decency. In fact, his vanity makes him very proud of his crafty strategies.
Polonius puts on an entirely different mask for his superiors, including Hamlet. He plays
an ignorant and eulogistic character when he is speaking to Hamlet, which is entirely contrasting
to his authoritative character he portrayed to Laertes, Ophelia, and Reynaldo. He makes small
talk with Hamlet in Act II. sc. ii and keeps his comments and questions short and brief. It is ironic
that Polonius agrees with Hamlet when he says “ To be honest, as this world goes, is to be one
man picked out of ten thousand” (II. ii. 194-195), when Polonius is one of the play’s most
dishonest characters. Polonius also ingratiates Hamlet later in Act II. sc. ii by agreeing with
Hamlet’s comment to the first player, “The mobled queen?”.
Polonius’ third mask is the one he shows to the King and Queen. He decides to tell
Gertrude and Claudius that he has discovered