It seems that only in performance can Polonius be pinned-down. Each reader, each critic, providing his or her own intonation finds him in his principle speeches wise and capable, or superannuated with hints of a faded competence, silly and buffoonish, self-absorbed and self-serving, revealing the politician par excellence, or displaying varying degrees of these and other traits as occasion tests him. He is capable of many low thoughts, as for example when he believes that Hamlet will ruin his daughter by getting her virginity cheaply; and yet he uses her as bait to prove his point about Hamlet; he is certainly verbose at times; his advice to his son is full of worldly advice but not much having to do with benevolence or humanity. His recommendations to Reynaldo about how to spy on Laertes expose his devious and unworthy side, and his easy acceptance of a little whoring by his son displays his moral limitation. He is proud of his service to the king and queen, and he rejoices pompously at being the one able to solve the mystery of Hamlet's madness. He is at his most officious when he instructs the queen about how to deport herself with Hamlet in her closet scene. He eagerly plays the spy. On the other hand, his sympathy for Hamlet's suffering for love is one of those moments of insight that Shakespeare allows almost every character to exhibit—the humanity of the old man remembering that he too once loved someone to distraction. Performances vary considerably. One of the most benevolent and personable Poloniuses, played with dignity by Roscoe Lee Browne (Hallmark Home Entertainment DVD, 2000, directed by Scott Campbell), avoided through his demeanor, aided by the absence of the most egregious lines, Polonius’s most obvious personality flaws. The Kozintsev Hamlet, with its strong political subtext, displayed another off-beat Polonius, a staid and confident courtier, knowledgeable about how to manipulate the system, so sure of himself he did not need to browbeat his daughter to attain her agreement to avoid Hamlet. Then there is Branagh's Polonius (1996) who is the slimiest in memory, not at all a figure of fun, with the prostitute he entertains in his bed and his vicious attack on Ophelia to get her to agree not to see Hamlet. The same diversity to be found in performance can be noted in the critical comments.
Taverner (1569, pp. 53 - 53v): <p. 53> “Crambe bis posita mors est. Crambe twise sod is death.This Crambe is a certaine kinde of wortes [. . .]. And we call Radishe. Now this Crambe was in olde time much </p. 53> <p. 53v> used in feasts and bankettes, but if it were twise sod, it was so lothed and abhorred, that the Greekes made a Prouerbe on it. For as often as they would signifie a thinge againe, and againe repeted not without tediousnes and greuaunce, they saide forthwith in their langage, Crambe twice serued is death.” </p. 53v> Ed. note: Corambis, Polonius's name in Q1, may be related to the metaphoric meaning of Crambe bis.
Holland (1603, p. 382), in his summary of Plutarch’s chapter “Whether an aged man ought to manage publicke affaires” (383-401), cautions aged counsellors to guard against “light vanitie, nor proove the cause of some great mischiefe, meddling as they do in that which they had not wel comprehended before.”
Peacham (1627) advises William Howard on his behavior when he goes to university: choice of friends in study, choice of companions, moderation, study habits, &c. Nothing about clothing, borrowing, lending, and the like.
Gildon (1710, p. 398) approves of Polonius's advice: “to his Son p. 2380. and that of the same to his Daughter p. 2382, Ay Springes to catch Woodcocks, &c. If the young Ladies wou'd Study these Pages they wou'd Guard their Vertues and Honors better, than many of them do.” Ed. note: The page numbers refer to the rowe 1709, ed. for which Gildon provided an additional volume of poems and commentary.
Thirlby ([mtby2] 1723-) suggests that the king refers to Polonius’ aid in his election as king in 227-9.
Pope ([pope1] 1723) marks Polonius’s speech from 524b-534 with inverted comma meaning a shining passage; thus, he thinks Polonius’s words are wise or beautiful or otherwise noteworthy.
Theobald ([theo1] 1733) solves the problem of the meaning of there in line 522: “Laertes taxes himself for staying too long: but seeing his father’s approach, he is willing to stay for a second blessing, and kneels down to that end: Polonius accordingly lays his hand on his head, and gives him a second blessing. The manner, in which a comic actor behav’d on this occasion, was sure to raise a laugh of pleasure in the audience: and the oldest quarto’s, in the pointing, are a confirmation, that thus the poet intended it, and thus the stage express’d it.” See also CN 548.
Warburton (apud ed. 1733): Re Polonius’s news to the king and queen in 2.2 starting at 1112: “There seem to me in this Speech most remarkable Strokes of Humour. I never read it without Astonishment at the Author's admirable Art of preserving the Unity of Character. It is so just a Satire on impertinent Oratory, (especially, of that then in Vogue) which was of the formal Cut, and proceeded by Definition, Division, and Subdivision, that I think, every Body must be charm'd with it. Then as to the Jingles, and the Play on Words, let us but look into the Sermons of Dr. Donne, (the wittiest Man of that Age,) and we shall find them full of this Vein: only, there they are to be admired, here to be laugh’d at. Then, with what Art is Polonius made to pride himself in his Wit: A foolish Figure — But, farewel it.
“Again, how finely is he sneering the formal Oratory in Fashion, when he makes this reflection on Hamlet's Raving [quotes 'if this be madness' TLN 1243] As if Method in a Discourse (which the Wits of that Age thought the most essential part of good Writing;) would make Amends for the Madness of it. This in the mouth of Polonius is exceeding satirical. Tho' it was Madness, yet he could comfort himself with the Reflection that at least it was Method.”
Hill (1735, pp. 1-2): <p. 1> “Polonius, according to Shakespeare, is a Man of a most excellent Understanding; and great Knowledge of the World, whose Ridicule arises not from any radical Folly in the old Gentleman’s Composition, but a certain Affectation of Formality and Method, mix’d with a smattering of the Wit of that Age (which consisted in playing upon Words) which being grown up with him, is incorporated (if I may venture the Expression) with all his Words and Actions.
“That this is the true Character of Polonius, the doubtful Reader may be satisfied, if he will give himself the Trouble to peruse the Scenes between Polonius, Laertes, and Ophelia, and the first Scene in the second Act between Polonius and Reynoldo. To save him Part of the Trouble, I shall make bold to borrow a Couple of Speeches, for the immediate Confirmation of this Character given of Polonius, which will both establish his good Sense and Knowledge of the World, and his Affectation of Formality and Method.
[quotes 533-46, advice to Laertes] “No Man that was really a Fool could ever make such a Speech, which would become the Mouth of the wisest and most experienced.
[quotes 1113-32, introductory remarks before revealing his great news about Hamlet] “Here is visible Affectation of Formality and Method, with that particular sort of Wit above mentioned, that makes the old Man appear ridiculous, at the same time that what he says has all the Probability in the World of being the Truth. If we examine the Speeches of Polonius throughout the whole Play, we shall find them reducible to this determinate Character, and to no other Species of Folly.
“How does Polonius appear to an Audience at present? He never looks, or speaks, but the Fool stares out of his Eyes, and is marked in the Tone of his Voice. Even Words that have the strongest Sense, as well as Beauty of Sentiment and Expression, lose their original Stamp and Dignity, as the Character is now represented, and are converted into the Seeming of Folly.
“A few Quotations, with the Reader’s Recollection in what manner the Speeches are deliver’d by Mr. Griffin and Mr Hippisley (who perform this Role at the two Theatres Royal) will illustrate the Truth.
[Quotes 240-1 as ‘He has, my Lord, by Wearisom Petition, / Wrung from me my Slow Leave’] “In the very first Speech which Polonius makes, where, I defy the most penetrating, to find either a Character of Folly, or any Stamp of particular Humour; or, in short, any thing but a Concern which the old Gentleman expresses with great Beauty of Language, and proper Seriousness, at his Son’s going to travel, and leaving him, our improving Actors present us with the Image of an Old Buffoon.
“Here is the most simple, plain, unstudy’d, unaffected Reply that cou’d be given: Yet, how is this spoke, and acted? The Eyes are turn’d obliquely, and drest up in a foolish Leer at the King; the Words intermittently drawl’d out, with a very strong Emphasis, not to express a Father’s Concern, which would be right, but something ridiculous to excite Laughter, tho’ neither the Words nor the Sense, have any Comick Vein in them; the Voice ton’d like the Squeak of a Bag-pipe, and the whole Attitude suited to this false Notion of his Character!
“In the Scene between him and his Daughter, where he questions her about Hamlet’s Love, he fares no better—You see the Figure and the Manner of an Ideot, join’d to the Prudence of a Parent giving Advice to his Daughter how to receive Addresses of a presumptive Heir of a Crown; most unnatural Connection! which Shakespeare never thought of. The only Vein of Humour discoverable in the Scene, is, a little playing on the word Tenders, a Part of his natural Character.
[Quotes 571-75] “Immediately after— [567-8] Every Spectator of Hamlet will easily recollect, what a Horse-laugh the manner of repeating these two Lines never fails to occasion. Examine the Sense and the Language, and you’ll sooner find Weight and Authority of a Father reproving an inexperienc’d Child, who does not know in what Light she ought to consider both Hamlet and his Love, and acquainting her with how she ought to behave for the future, than any Drollery, or Folly. Again, [quotes 581-93] What can be more beautiful, as well as serious, than this Sentiment! What render’d so light and ridiculous, by the manner of speaking it at present! </p. 1><p. 2>
“In the first Scene of the second Act, where Ophelia gives Polonius an Acount of Hamlet’s Disorder, every Reflection the old Man makes, is of the serious kind, and does not give the Actor the least Cue for Mirth or Folly; yet in the representation we see a strong Cast of both, without a Shadow of that Gravity, his uncertain Conjectures and Reflections upon the Nature of Passion he imagines the Prince possesseth with, should naturally give him.
“Those who have seen Hamlet, will easily recollect the figure Polonius makes in this Scene, and the Tone of Voice with which he utters .
“And in the Scene where Polonius comes to Hamlet with a Message from the Queen, tho’, ‘tis evident, Polonius only flatters Hamlet’s supposed Lunacy, and Hamlet himself tells us so [2255-6].
“Yet, from the manner this is acted, the Audience is taught to believe, that Polonius, in pure Simplicity of Sight, sees the Cloud in three different Shapes that Hamlet gives it.
“It wou’d be endless to carry Shakespeare’s Polonius along with the Modern one throughout the whole Play, in this manner. Enough has been quoted, to shew the judicious Reader how much this Character is falsfy’d, and what an intrusion of Foreign false Humour it labours under!
“If it be said, it is more entertaining now than it wou’d be were represented in its true Humour, then the Consequence will be, that Actors are better judges of Characters than the Poets who drew them, and ev’ry character will be in their Power to represent as they please, which wou’d pour a torrent of Corruption on Dramatick Performances.
“It will avail them very little, as to the Force of Argument, to say, the modern Polonius never fails to excite Laughter, since neither the Poet, nor the Actor, shou’d strive to please the Quality of what Shakespeare calls BARREN SPECTATORS, by making the JUDICIOUS GRIEVE, the Censure of WHICH ONE, (as the motto expresses it) must out-weight a whole Theater of others.
“I have already said, that this false Edition of Polonius is the Error of Time, and no wise chargeable on the present Representers, Mr. Griffin and Mr. Hippisley, who, bating some new Exuberances, which I shall, in the Course of this Work, lop off, are the very best Comick performers that we have, and that the truest Notions of the Vis Comica, which consists in bringing out the express Humour of particular Character, the idea of which lies increate in the Sense of the Words, ‘till call’d forth by the penetrating Genius of the Actor, it receives Life and Motion, to the delight of the judicious Spectator, who is ever ravished with true Imagery and faithful Portraiture.
But, to shew that it is impossible that Polonius could ever have been designed, by Shakespeare, the Fool and the Ideot he appears now, we find him not only intrusted, by the King, with an Affair of last Consequence to him, (which no wise Prince wou’d ever commit to the Care of a Fool) but that in his younger Days he had acquired the Reputation of being cunning and politick— [1185-6].
“‘Tis true, these are but the Braggings of an old Man, and he was out in his Judgment in this Case; but he is not the first Politician, with a very good Head, that has been mistaken. But, without this additional Proof, the Speeches quoted are sufficient to exclude Folly from his Composition.
“One great Cause of the Corruption of this Character of Polonius, I take to lie in the obsolete Language, which being very different from the Phraseology of our Days, the injudicious Spectator takes the Expressions to be what the French call Recherchees, chosen on purpose to create Laughter: As for example—[567-8].
“The sense of which being only, You speak like a raw Girl, unacquainted with such Matters, does not create any Laughter at all in this modern Garb, nor with the Judicious in its antique one. But by the Help of the Figure Polonius makes, and for want of considering the Ideom of those Times, it acquires, in the Opinion of many, a Comick Turn, in spite of the serious and moral Sense it contains. And so of the rest.
“The Compass of a Half-sheet will not allow me to give any further Reasons for the Recovery of Polonius’s true Character. Those that come to Plays merely to laugh, tho’ at the Expense of Reason, will relish Polonius as he is now. Those who reflect on Propriety of Character, Truth of Circumstances, and Probability of Fable, cannot bear the inconsistent, ridiculous, and foolish Buffoon, mix’d so preposterously with the Man of Sense.
“As this is not the only Character that has suffer’d as extraordinary a Metamorphosis, and others still may, I leave it to every Reader’s Reflection, how radically this corruption affects the Stage.“
Popple see Vickers 3: 22-28: he may have written the article credited above to Hill.
Stubbs (1736, pp. 18, 20, 26, 34): <p. 18>“It is evident by the whole Tenour of Polonius’s behaviour in this Play, that he is intended to represent some Buffoonish Statesman, not too much fraught with Honesty. Whether any particular Person’s Character was herein aim’d at, I shall not determine, because it is not to the Purpose; for whoever reads our Author’s Plays, will find that in all of them, (even the most serious ones) he has some regard for the meanest Part of his Audience, and perhaps too, for that Taste for low Jokes and Punns, which prevailed in his Time among the better Sort. [This comment goes on to discuss tragic decorum, but since that is another topic, I will copy that there and then return to Polonius] .... It is certain, that except it be in playing upon the Word Tender, p. 244. [theo1, TLN 572-5] (of which too he is sensible himself,) our old Statesman behaves suitably to his Dignity, and acts fully up to his Paternal Character; so here we shal not tax him.” </p. 18> [He goes on to discuss Laertes and Ophelia].
<p. 20> Polonius and Laertes Behaviour to each other, is exceedingly natural; and I agree with Mr. Theobald’s Emendation as to” the blessing: see CN 522. </p. 20>
<p. 26>“Polonius’s Discourse to Reynaldo is of a good moral Tenour, and thus far it is useful to the Audience. His forgetting what he was saying . . . as is usual with old Men, is extremely natural, and much in Character for him.” </p. 26> Ed. note: Stubbs doesn’t like buffoonery, but the forgetfulness that is natural to old men is acceptable.
<p. 34> “Polonius’s Character, is admirably well kept up in that Scene, where he pretends to have discovered the Cause of the Prince’s Madness [TLN 1113-80], and would much deserve Applause, were such a Character allowable in such a piece as this.” <p. /34>
Upton (1746, pp. 341-2) <p. 341> considers TLN 917-8 (through go] to be a “trochaic tetrameter catalectic of six feet, and closing with a trochee and a semiped . . . .
<p. /341> <p. 342>
“This dancing measure is very proper to the character of Polonius, a droll humorous old courtier; and the mixture of the trochaic has no bad effect. </p. 342>
Warburton ([warb] ed. 1747): re TLN 1016-17: “i.e., This must be made known to the King, for (being kept secret) the hiding Hamlet’s love might occasion more mischief to us from him and the Queen, than the uttering or revealing of it will occasion hate and resentment from Hamlet. The poet’s ill and obscure expression seems to have been caused by his affectation of concluding the scene with a couplet.” Ed. note: He doesn’t recognize the possibility that Polonius’ convolutions could be the point.
Warburton ([warb] ed. 1747): “The strokes of humour in this speech [1113 ff] are admirable. Polonius's character is that of a weak, pedant, minister of state. His declamation is a fine satire on the impertinent oratory then in vogue, which placed reason in the formality of method, and wit in the gingle and play of words. With what art is he made to pride himself in his wit : That he is mad, 'tis true; 'tis true, 'tis pity; And pity 'tis, 'tis true; A foolish figure; But farewel it. — And how exquisitely does the poet ridicule the reasoning in fashion, where he makes Polonius remark on Hamlet 's madness; Though this be madness, yet there's method in't:
“As if method, which the wits of that age thought the most essential quality of a good discourse, would make amends for the madness. It was madness indeed, yet Polonius could comfort himself with this reflexion, that at least it was method. It is certain Shakespear excels in nothing more than in the preservation of his characters; To this life and variety of character (says our great poet in his admirable preface to Shakespear) we must add the wonderful preservation of it. We have said what is the character of Polonius ; and it is allowed on all hands to be drawn with wonderful life and spirit, yet the unity of it has been thought by some to be grosly violated in the excellent Precepts and Instructions which Shakespear makes his statesman give to his son and servant in the middle of the first, and beginning of the second act. But I will venture to say, these criticks have not entered into the poet's art and address in this particular. He had a mind to ornament his scenes with those fine lessons of social life; but his Polonius was too weak to be the author of them, tho' he was pedant enough to have met with them in his reading, and fop enough to get them by heart and retail them for his own. And this the poet has finely shewn us was the case, where, in the middle of Polonius 's instructions to his servant, he makes him, tho' without having received any interruption, forget his lesson, and say, And then, Sir, does he this; He does —what was I about to say? I was about to say something — where did I leave?— The servant replies, At, closes in the consequence. This sets Polonius right, and he goes on, At, closes in the consequence — Ay marry, He closes thus; — I know the gentleman, &c. which shews they were words got by heart which he was repeating. Otherwise closes in the consequence, which conveys no particular idea of the subject he was upon, could never have made him recollect where he broke off. This is an extraordinary instance of the poet's art, and attention to the preservation of Character.”
Warburton ([warb] ed. 1747) re 1175-80: “The ridicule of this character is here admirably sustained. He would not only be thought to have discovered this intrigue by his own sagacity, but to have remarked all the stages of Hamlet's disorder, from his sadness to his raving, as regularly as his physician could have done; when all the while the madness was only feigned. The humour of this is exquisite from a man who tells us, with a confidence peculiar to small politicians, that he could find ‘Where truth was hid, though it were hid indeed Within the centre.’”
Anon. (ms notes in Folger copy F2 no. 27, p. 274, after 1755 [mF2FL27]): F2, to advice to Laertes: “Pol. was a solemn foppish sensible Lord, [and] ye present players show forth their own folly not his in turning him into almost a dribbler. can a fool give such advice as P. to his Son, [and] pray observe ye very next scene. The care he shows for his Daughter’s honour in wch. he evincess a very great knowledge of Mankind. Shakespear never lets one he intends to talk and [behave an] ass. Since he mentions Garrick’s Hamlet in another note, his notes were written after 1755.
Johnson ([john1], ed. 1765) re TLN 1012-15: “This is not the remark of a weak man. The vice of age is too much suspicion. Men long accustomed to the wiles of life cast commonly beyond themselves, let their cunning go further than reason can attend it. This is always the fault of a little mind, made artful by long commerce with the world.”
Johnson ([john1] ed. 1765) comments on and disagrees with Warburton’s analysis for TLN 1113 ff. “This account of the character of Polonius though it sufficiently reconciles the seeming inconsistency of so much wisdom with so much folly, does not perhaps correspond exactly to the ideas of our authour. The commentator makes the character of Polonius, a character only of manners, discriminated by properties superficial, accidental, and acquired. The poet intended a nobler delineation of a mixed character of manners and of nature. Polonius is a man bred in courts, exercised in business, stored with observation, confident of his knowledge, proud of his eloquence, and declining into dotage. His mode of oratory is truly represented as designed to ridicule the practice of those times, of prefaces that made no introduction, and of method that embarrassed rather than explained. This part of his character is accidental, the rest is natural. Such a man is positive and confident, because he knows that his mind was once strong, and knows not that it is become weak. Such a man excels in general principles, but fails in the particular application. He is knowing in retrospect, and ignorant in foresight. While he depends upon his memory, and can draw from his repositories of knowledge, he utters weighty sentences, and gives useful counsel; but as the mind in its enfeebled state cannot be kept long busy and intent, the old man is subject to sudden dereliction of his faculties, he loses the order of his ideas, and entangles himself in his own thoughts, till he recovers the leading principle, and falls again into his former train. This idea of dotage encroaching upon wisdom, will solve all the phaenomena of the character of Polonius..”
Gentleman (1770, 1: 35): “Polonius is drawn with some tint of the whimsical, yet I cannot suppose him meant for that laughing-stock, that buffoon of Tragedy, he is generally represented; wherefore I must be bold to assert, that Mr. Macklin, who, while his capabilities lasted, should never have been separated from the stage, was far the best of many I have seen; he shewed oddity, grafted upon the man of sense, and, as I remember, retained most of that scene at the beginning of the second act, which good sense and Shakespeare’s friends must lament the general omission of. —Mr. Shuter, whom nature conceived and brought forth in a fit of laughter, may mean extremely well, but, in this character, his literally happy countenance plays rather against him. Mr. Taswell and Mr. Arthur steered a medium course, which, if it did not reach capital propriety, yet deserved considerable praise.”
Gentleman ([gent] ed. 1773, p. 17 and ed. 1774, p. 154) re TLN 553, in a sentence that includes Laertes and Ophelia) says, “Polonius, in performance, should maintain a quaint, self-important shrewdness of expression, but studiously avoid all low comedy tricks.”
Capell ([capn] re TLN 523-545: these few precepts, &c] “It has been observ’d, (but where, is not remember’d at present) that the ‘precepts’ are much too good for the speaker; and that we have no other way of making them consistent with character, but to imagine them things he has con’d, and comes prepar’d with to make a figure at parting: and the observation is not ill-grounded; for the moment he’s at the end of his lesson, we are regal’d with a style very different, and flowers of speech in his way; of which ‘invests you’ is one....” [see TLN 548]
Anon. ([theatre], St. James's Chronicle [SJC], or, British Evening-Post, 2437 [Thurs. Oct. 17 - Sat. Oct. 19, 1776]) in a review of Mr. Lewis’s performance of Hamlet at Drury Lane, discusses Polonius slightly: “The Part of Polonius has always been misunderstood, and should never be given to such men as [the actor] Quick. Polonius is not a Buffoon, but a wise though witty Counsellor. We have often wondered that Mr. Garrick, whose Conceptions of Shakespeare’s Characters were generally clear, should have so long misunderstood and abused this old Man.”
Anon. ([Caveat] contra Anon. [Theatre], SJC, no, 2438 [Oct. 19-22, 1776, p. , re 1119-32]): “That Polonius is sometimes witty, and sometimes wise, I am not concerned to deny, but when Theatre [Anon. (St. James’s Chronicle, no. 2437 (Oct. 17-19, 1776, p. )] added that he was not a Buffoon, I suppose the Critic had forgot [quotes 1119-32].
“If Mr. Quick cannot do Justice to such Wit as this, I know not the Actor who can. Surely after such a speech, no Critic but your’s, Mr. Baldwin, would be surprised to hear Hamlet call this sage Counsellor ‘a capital Calf [1960-1]—a rash intruding Fool —a foolish prating Knave’ .”
Anon. (contra Anon. [Theatre], SJC, no. 2439 [Oct. 21-24, 1776, p. ): most disagrees with the reviewer about Polonius, who, he says, “is a trifling silly Fellow, with a good Memory; one who sometimes luckily applies a moral Axiom, and happily throws out occasionally an Expression of Vivacity which borders upon Wit. Such Characters we meet with every Day. Men who with great Weakness and Absurdity betray some Glimmerings of Sense and Meaning; but Shakespeare has drawn him what the Audience have ever thought him to be for these hundred and seventy Years, an officious, prating, affected and pedantick Statesman. Hamlet, who is in Love with his Daughter Ophelia, treats him constantly with the utmost Contempt. Why need I produce any Proof? ‘These tedious old Fools , ‘Follow that Lord , he says to the Players, ‘and look you mock him not.’ [1584-5] Polonius was so offensible an Object of Ridicule, that he was forced to warn the Actor against the Mimickry so incidental to his Profession; but what should put an End to all Doubts about this Character, is what Hamlet says after he has killed him, when nobody is present but the Queen [quotes 2580-2, “This Counsellor . . . Knave”].
Griffith (1777, 2:281, 285, 287): <p. 281>“Polonius, on his son’s going to travel, gives him admirable rules and instructions for his conduct in life [523-45]. In the continuation of this Scene [554-601], Polonius renews the same topic with his daughter, that her brother had begun with her in the former, which is urged with higher authority, and enforced by additional arguments.” </p. 281> <p. 285> “ . . . [T]hough [Polonius] requires [Reynaldo] to sift narrowly the manner of life, company, and conversation of Laertes, yet he does it with so becoming a tenderness and paternal respect to the character of the young man, as is extremely interesting and engaging.” </p. 285> <p. 287> “Upon this reflection [the last lines of 2.1, TLN 1012-5], Dr. Johnson says, ‘This is not the remark of a weak man.’ It is not, indeed; but why should Polonius be deemed so? He certainly speaks very good sense throughout, though with the natural and respectable mixture of the old man in it; which, methinks, as Addison says of Cornaro’s † stile, is an improvement to it. As to the manner in which he describes Hamlet’s madness, in [2.2]. following, I take it to be only designed by Shakespeare in ridicule of the old pedantic mode of definitions, or quaint distinctions, in logic and philosophy; the categories, predicaments, and predicables of the Schools, used in those times. There are many instances of the same oblique strictures, upon other subjects, in our Author: I have therefore, ever thought this character mistaken, and, consequently, misrepresented upon the stage, by its being generally given to a comic actor.”
<n†> He wrote a treatise on health and long life, at fourscore, commended in the Spectator, No. 195.” </n†>
Richardson (1784, rpt. 1812, pp. 424-5): <p.424 > “Even his display of character has sometimes been injured in its </p. 424> <p. 425> effect, by this undeviating attachment to real appearance: and though, like Polonius, statesmen and courtiers may, on various occasions, be very wise and very foolish; yet whatsoever indulgence may be shewn to the statesmen and courtiers of real life, those of the drama must be of an uniform and consistent conduct.” </p. 425> Richardson is asserting that Sh. adheres too much to realism (what Richardson calls nature) and thus injures the unity of passion essential to tragedy.
Davies (1784, 3:37-42): Polonius is neither wise nor good—always played by a clown. <p.37> “In the delineations of Polonius’s character, two great writers, Dr. Warburton and Dr. Johnson, differ widely. The first makes him a weak man and a pedantic statesman. The other places him in a much superior rank: with him, Polonius is a man who has been bred in courts, exercised in business, stored with observations, confident of his knowledge, proud of his eloquence, but declining into dotage; in short, it is by the advance of age alone that Dr. Johnson solves the seeming inconsistency in the conduct of Polonius. The whole argument is elaborately written; but I cannot submit to that decision, which pronounces that this statesman was ever strong in intellect or eloquent in discourse. There is but one passage in the play which favours the supposed dereliction of this man’s faculties; and that is, in the instruction he gives his servant, in the 1st scene of the 2d act, relating to his observations of his son’s conduct; but, in the recapitulation of </p.37> <p.38> precepts, or maxims, independent of each other, and where there is no concatenation of reasoning, a very young, as well as an old man may easily suffer a lapse of memory. In all other situations of the character, he is ever ready and furnished with such materials as are suited to his incapacity and presumption. His logic and rhetoric, to prove that Hamlet is in love with his daughter, are sufficiently flowing, and, though weak and absurd, betray no declension of his faculties. Such prowess of mind as Polonius ever had he seems to enjoy with vigour; and can boast, with Charon, the cruda viridisque senectus.—While the body remains unhurt, by disease or outward accident, the mind, by being kept in continual exercise, stretches its faculties, and improves more and more. I could produce instances in Tully and Bacon; and, with still more propriety, in Sophocles and Bishop Hoadley. But why need I go farther than Dr. Johnson himself? He is advanced some years above the </p. 38> <p. 39> age of seventy, without the least symptom of intellectual decay. Is not his last work, of the Critical and Biographical Prefaces, equal to any book he hath written?
But indeed there are abundant instances of the radical weakness of this character disseminated throughout the play. Hamlet, notwithstanding he love his daughter, Ophelia, wherever he meets him, turns him into ridicule, and never speaks of him, when absent, but with scorn and contempt. Hamlet is thirty years old; he could not but know if Polonius ever had been wise; and would not meanly take advantage of doting age to hold him up to laughter. When the Prince dismisses the Players, he takes the manager aside; he bids him follow Polonius, and take care he does not mock him. To ridicule the infirmities of age was not the Player’s business; but the evident absurdity and folly of the man justified the caution. To conclude: when Hamlet drags the dead body of this wretched politician from </p.39 > <p. 40> his hiding place, he sums up his character in very sarcastical terms: ‘—Indeed this counsellor Is now most still, most secret, and most grave. Who was, in life, a foolish prating knave.’
“This he says, in the presence of the Queen, after he had confessed that his madness was assumed. Polonius is in no respect, that I know of, to be esteemed. He is more obsequious and officious than he ought to be; a conduct which borders on knavery.
“Mirabel’s character of Witwou’d, in the Way of the World, may help us to solve the difficulties which arise from some pertinent observations in the old statesman: ‘He is a fool with a good memory; but, that failing, his folly is betrayed by not having recourse to his commonplace book.’ Every man must recollect amongst his acquaintance, some very silly people, who surprise their hearers by throwing out remarks above their usual </p.40 > <p.41 > of converse. To this tribe of men we may apply a line of Mr. Pope: ‘The fool lies hid in inconsistencies.”
“The constant practice of the stage, from the revival of Hamlet, soon after the Restoration, to this day, may perhaps contribute to justify my opinion of this character. Polonius was always acted by what is termed a low comedian: By Lowell,. Nokes, and Cross, in former times; who were succeeded by Griffin, Hippisley, Taswell, and Shuter; and these again by Wilson, Baddeley, and Edwin, in the present times.
“About five and twenty years since, Mr. Garrick had formed a notion, that the character of Polonius had been mistaken and misrepresented by the players, and that he was not designed by the author to excite laughter and be an object of ridicule. He imagined, I suppose, with his friend, Dr. Johnson, that his false reasoning and false wit were mere accidents in character; and that his leading feature was dotage encroaching upon wisdom, which, </p. 41> <p. 42> by the bye, is no object of theatrical satire, And far from being, what is averred by the great commentator, a noble design in the author. Full of this opinion, Mr. Garrick persuaded Woodward, on his benefit-night, to put himself in the part of Polonius. And what was the consequence?—The character, divested of his ridiculous vivacity, appeared to the audience flat and insipid. His dress was very different from what the part generally wore; the habit was grave and rich, cloth of scarlet and gold. Whether this was in imitation of some statesman of the times I will not be positive, though I have heard it so asserted. So little was the audience pleased with Woodward, or Woodward with himself, that he never after attempted Polonius.” </42>
Ed. note: Davies’s characterization continues within the context of individual lines and scenes.
Mason (1785, p. 380): “Nothing can be more just, judicious and masterly, than Johnson’s delineation of the character of Polonius in his note on this passage [1113 ff]; and I cannot read it without heartily regretting that he did not exert his great abilities and discriminating powers, in delineating the strange, inconsistent, and indecisive character of Hamlet, to which I confess myself unequal.”
Steevens ([v1793] ed. 1793), re Mary well said, very well said [TLN 896-7]: “This also, the weak and tedious Shallow says to Bardolph, in [2H4, 3.2.109 (1643-4)]: ‘It is well said, sir; and it is well said indeed too.’ ”
Goethe (1795, p. 184) on Polonius: “This character was Serlo’s creation: <5:6:184> “I promise you,” he said, “this time to come up with a really worthy figure. I will convey his calm assurance, his insaneness and his thoughtfulness, agreeableness as well as tactlessness, free-spirited and yet eavesdropping, a rogue at heart who pretends to be truthful, each of these facets in its place. I will present a graybeard who is honest, long-suffering and timeserving, someone who is half a villain but also the perfect courtier: and for this I will make use of the few indications the author has given us. I will talk like a book when I am prepared, and like a fool when I am in a good mood. I will be insipid enough to parrot what others say, and yet refined enough not to show that I know when they are making a fool of me. I have rarely played a part with such anticipation and malicious enjoyment.” </p. 184>
Pye (1807, pp. 316-17): <p. 316>“The observations of Dr. Johnson on the character of Polonius, and M. Mason’s </p. 316><p. 317> just and modest praises of them are equally honourable to them both.” </p. 317>
Hazlitt (1817, pp. 112-13) <p. 112> “Polonius is a perfect character of its kind; nor is there any foundation for the objections which have been made to the consistency of this part. It is said that he acts very foolishly and talks very sensibly. There is no inconsistency in that. Again that he talks wisely at one time and foolishly at another; that his advice to Laertes is very sensible, and his advice to the King and Queen on the subject of Hamlet’s madness very ridiculous. But he gives the one as a father, and is sincere in it; he gives the other as a mere courtier, a busy-body, and is accordingly officious, garrulous, and impertinent.
Shakspear has been accused of inconsistency in this and other characters, only because he has kept up the distinction which there is in nature, between the understandings and the moral habits of men, between the absurdity of their ideas and the absurdity of their motives.
Polonius is not a fool, but he makes himself so. His folly, whether in his actions or </p. 112> <p. 113> speeches, comes under the head of impropriety of intension.” </p. 113>
Caldecott ([cald1] ed. 1819, act 2, end note 14): “Because Pope, speaking of Shakespeare, had said what is generally true, that ‘to the life and variety of his characters we must add the wonderful preservation of them,’ Warburton must make it out, Reed's edit. [v1785, 13:110] that it is so in this instance; and, if you will take his word for it, you may believe it to be so here. But the idle suggestions that he makes, though rejected by Dr. Johnson, seem to have led the Doctor to take up the point; and he has certainly played the advocate with talent, and some plausibility: and, if not more convincing than his predecessor, at least entitles himself to some attention and respect. Nothing can be more easily conceivable or intelligible that the idea of dotage encroaching upon wisdom: but the question is, the application of this maxim to the person and character of Polonius. To be extinguished, talent or faculty must first have existence: to be impaired, it must have had something like integrity. Now we have nothing in this drama that directly goes to establish the fact of his having at any time a clear and contrary, an opposite bearing; for the very circumstance of quality relied upon in this view, appears to us to be one of those that most strongly indicates imbecillity of mind: viz. having the memory stored with sage rules and maxims, fit for every turn and occasion, without the faculty of making application or effective use of them upon any. Warburton, though it is ill adapted to his purpose in this place, pronounces him "weak, a pedant, and a fop;" and, presently afterwards, "a ridiculous character, and acting as a small politician:" and Hamlet, repeatedly branding him with folly, is in , made to characterize him as one. "Who was in life (i. e. while living) a foolish prating knave."
“The poet has not here made false (i. e. tedious and encumbered) modes of reasoning, and false wit, ("formality of method and the gingle and play of words," the idols of a pedantic age) ridiculous, without uniformly subjecting the character itself, which he makes the vehicle of this purpose, to the same imputation and censure: not can any facts be pointed out sufficient to remove the strong impressions left of the natural imbecillity of his mind: and without these, the argument of Dr. Johnson proceeds upon an assumption altogether unfounded, and contradicted as well by his predecessor and associate as by his author. Had he considered Polonius as really intelligent, he would not, in the close of the foregoing scene, have pointed out a "remark of his as not being that of a weak man." Throughout this detail, as in his general conduct, unmixt folly of dotage is visible at every turn: but the lesson of life given to Laertes is a perfect whole, delivered with all the closeness and gravity of a philosophic discourse: Plenius et melius Chrysippo et Crantore: and had it been dictated by a mind any way enfeebled, at some point or other we should, as here, have seen "wisdom," according to Dr. Johnson, "encroached upon by dotage." But what he offers is a mere advocating, is what may be said, rather than what either ought to be said, or in fact exists; it is prize-fighting, and nothing like a search after truth. For, when elaborate discussion has been employed to give a sense not obvious but different from the generally received meaning, if that interpretation does not leave its impression long upon any plain mind, the presumption is that it cannot be sound. See note 71.
“This species of criticism, of which the forgotten commentaries of Warburton afford more apt and tiresome examples, reminds is of the ingenious confession, recorded by the late Mr. Cumberland, his grandson, of the great hero of this school, Bentley, respecting the use he made of the great writers of antiquity. His favourite daughter Joanna, the Phoebe of Byron's charming pastoral, and wife of Cumberland, bishop of Kilmore, lamenting to him that he had employed so much of his time on criticism, he acknowledged the justice of the remark, and remained for a time thoughtful and seemingly embarrassed by it: at last, recollecting himself, he said, ‘Child, I am sensible I have not always turned my talents to the use for which they were given to me; but the wit and genius of those old heathens beguiled me: and, as I despaired of raising myself up to their standard upon fair ground, I thought the only chance I had of looking over their heads, was to get upon their shoulders.’ Memoirs, 4to, 1806, p. 14.”
Coleridge (1819 ms. notes in an Ayscough ed. [ays3], transcribed by Foakes, 1987, 5.2: 300): “In all things dependent on or rather made up of fine Address, the manner is no more or otherwise rememberable than the light motions, steps, and gestures of Youth and Health.— But this is almost every thing— no wonder therefore, if that which can be put down by rule in the memory should appear mere poring, maudlin-eyed Cunning, slyness blinking thro' the watry eye of superannuation. So in this admirable Scene. Polonius, who is throughout Skeleton of his own former Skill and State-craft, hunts the trail of policy at a dead scent, supplied by the weak fever-smell in his own nostrils.—”
Coleridge, (1819 ms. notes in an Ayscough ed. Ayscough [ays3] re 583: “I do not, however, deny that a good actor might by employing the last mentioned, viz. the retardation or solemn knowing drawl, supply the missing spondee with good effect. But I do not believe that in this or the foregoing speeches Shakespear meant to bring out the senility or weakness of Polonius’s mind. In the great ever-recurring dangers and duties of life, when to distinguish the fit objects for the application of the maxims collected by the experience of a long life requires no fineness of tact, as in the admonitions to his son and daughter. Polonius is always made respectable. But if the actor were capable of catching these shades in the character, the Pit and Gallery would be malcontent.”
Caldecott ([cald1] ed. 1819), re TLN 546/ 934-40: “These golden precepts, suited indeed to the occasion, and the rank of the person that delivers them, very ill accord with the character he supports, and the measure of intellect allotted to him in almost every other part of this play; in which he appears to be, as Hamlet [2.2, 3.2, and 3.4] describes him, a ‘tedious old fool,’ ‘a wretched rash fool,’ ‘a foolish prating knave.’ At the same time, that in this view we insist upon his tiresome expostulation with the king and queen in [2.2], we must also observe that our author puts into his mouth, in his conversation with Reynaldo, [2.1], the very words of Shallow to Bardolph, ‘Well said, and it is well said, &c.’ [2H4 3.2.]. See also the note at the end of the fragment of the play in [2.2.] Haml.”
Caldecott ([cald1] ed. 1819) re Your party in converse—man and country] “This ‘filed phrase’ or curiosity of language, as well as his method and tiresome deduction, is as much a part of the folly of this antiquated and pursuing courtier, as the higher colouring of the same absurdity is of the court waterfly, Osric.”
Coleridge (ms. notes, 1819, in ed. 1807), re 583 blazes; “I do not, however, deny that a good actor might by employing the last mentioned, viz. the retardation or solemn knowing drawl, supply the missing spondee with good effect. But I do not believe that in this or the foregoing speeches Shakespear meant to bring out the senility or weakness of Polonius’s mind. In the great ever-recurring dangers and duties of life, when to distinguish the fit objects for the application of the maxims collected by the experience of a long life requires no fineness of tact, as in the admonitions to his son and daughter. Polonius is always made respectable. But if the actor were capable of catching these shades in the character, the Pit and Gallery would be malcontent.”
Ed. note: This note is similar to a comment in “Progress of the Drama” in Remains:
Coleridge (Table Talk, 24 June 1827, apud Williamson, p. 36 ): “A maxim is a conclusion upon observations of matters of fact and is merely retrospective; an Idea, or, if you like, a Principle, carries knowledge within itself and is prospective. Polonius is a man of maxims. While he is descanting on matters of past experience, as in that excellent speech to Laertes before he sets it in his travels, he is admirable, but when he comes to advise or project, he is a mere dotard. You see, Hamlet, as the man of ideas, despises him.
“A man of maxims only is like a Cyclops with one eye and that eye placed in the back of his head.”
Coleridge (1836, 2: 78-9): <p. 78> “And so it is in Polonius, who is the personified memory of wisdom no longer actually possessed. This admirable character is always misrepresented on the stage. Shakespeare never intended to exhibit him as a buffoon; for although it was natural that Hamlet, —a young man of fire and genius, detesting formality, and disliking Polonius on political grounds, as imagining that he had assisted his uncle in his usurpation,—should express himself satirically,—yet this must not be taken as exactly the poet’s conception of him. In Polonius a certain induration of character had </p.78 ><p.79> arisen from long habits of business; but take his advice to Laertes, and Ophelia’s reverence for his memory, and we shall see that he was meant to be represented as a statesman somewhat past his faculties,—his recollections of life all full of wisdom, and showing a knowledge of human nature, whilst what immediately take s place before him, and escapes from him, is indicative of weakness. </p.79 >
Lewes (ms. notes in ed. 1832): “ ‘The repose & serenity of the old gentleman, his emptiness & his significance, his exterior gracefulness & interior meanness, his frankness & sycophancy, his sincere roguery & deceitful truth. I will introduce with all due elegance in their fit proportions. This respectable, grey-haired, enduring, time-serving half-knave. I will represent in the most courtly style; the occasional roughness & coarseness of our author’s strokes will further me here. I will speak like a book when I am prepared beforehand: & like an ass, when I utter the overflowings of my heart. I will be insipid & absurd enough to chime in with every one, & acute enough never to observe when people make a mock of me.’ Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister.—spoken by an actor—
“The exquisite reasons for supposing Hamlet to have been fair-haired & blue-eyed stated in the same work.”
MacDonell (1843, p.24) re 523-45: “ . . . the advice which [Polonius] gives to his son in going upon his travels, is . . . replete with wisdom embodying maxims, worthy to be cherished, by every young man entering upon the great theatre of life, but notwithstanding this parental affection, tempered seemingly with a judgment, that implies much experience and knowledge of the world, the debasement of mind, which is associated with the general character of Polonius, leads us to consider these precepts offered by him to his children, merely as the offspring of a sordid and selfish feeling, adopted with the view of promoting the interest of himself and family, for, involved as he was in the base intrigues of a licentious court, his heart must have never felt the influence of sentiments, imbued with so much excellence.”
Hunter (1845, 2:219-20), re 523-45: <p. 219>“Polonius is the dull prosing politician of the time. There is probably much personal satire in the character. It was the practice of those politicians to deliver maxims to their children to be their guide in life. Thus Lord Burghley left ten admirable precepts of worldly prudence to his son Robert, afterwards Earl of Salisbury, which may be read in the Desiderata Curiosa; and in The Harleian Miscellany is a letter from Sir Henry Sydney to Philip his son, containing divers lessons of prudence delivered in didactic for,. So also the Earl of Northumberland in the paper to which we have already referred.
“That there was some individual nobleman more particularly pointed at in the character of Polonius I can entertain no doubt, nor that some attentive observer of the men of </p. 219><p. 220> those times will one day trace the Poet home. Could it be the Lord Chamberlain? Prynne alludes to the practice of bringing living noblemen upon the stage, and names particularly the Lord Admiral, the Lord Treasurer, and Count Gondomer, as persons with whom the stage had made free.” </p. 220>
Hudson (1848, 2.114-24), within his section on Hamlet, explains Hamlet’s antipathy to Polonius: <p. 114> “The Lord Chamberlain, as a skilful but unprincipled tool of sovereignty, reckless whom, and caring only for what, he serves, Hamlet regards with the contempt which a man of noble qualities naturally feels for a man of merely useful qualities” (2.105). Hudson claims that Pol is Hamlet’s “antithesis” </p. 114><p. 115 >. He is “the type of a politician in his dotage” whose soul has ossified; his one method is intrigue </p. 115> <p.116-17> “all his follies and blunders arise from his [acting] the politician where he is especially required to be a man.” He is thus a caricature, but a true-to-life one. He is a machine whose one motive is advancing himself through using others, whom he also views as machines </p. 116-17). <p. 117> He is successful at his art and therefore conceited He is a conceited old pedant, because he knows maxims out of books but does not know how to read human nature through them as spectacles </p. 117>. <p. 118> Of course, he cannot know Hamlet, who operates on principles of heart, mind and soul, not just calculation. He judges Hamlet as unable to gain anything material from Ophelia, and thus he can only want to use her. He judges his daughter as likely to fall victim because he cannot see her inner strength. “his premises are seldom right and his inferences seldom wrong.” </p. 118> <p. 119> He does not see her heavenly attributes because he is himself “a selfish, heartless, soulless man!” </p.119>.
Hudson on Polonius’s maxims (2. 117, 119-120): I put into the TLN doc. 523, 543. Re the last, Hudson <p. 120> disagrees with some who have suggested that Polonius, “unwittingly drops a better sentiment than he is aware of” because, Hudson thinks, Polonius never does forget himself; “indeed, [his] chief misery and meanness is that [he] seldom think[s] of any thing but [himself]” </120>.
<p. 121> He is free from vice because that is the best way to succeed. </p. 121> <p. 122> “Polonius, indeed, is free alike from principle and from passion . . . .” </p. 122>
On the instructions to Reynaldo, see TLN 892-5
<p. 124> “There is one relation, however, in which, from whatsoever motives, Polonius wishes to do his entire duty. He sincerely aims and endeavors to be a good father, and evidently has the welfare, or rather, the interest of his children truly at heart. But here, as elsewhere, the politician is visibly uppermost, perverting his endeavors and thwarting his aims. . . </124>.
Ramsay (1856, pp. 121-3): <p. 121>“ Some critics (Tieck among the number) have fancied Polonius to be Shakspere’s representation of an able and experienced statesman; others, on the contrary, suppose him to be one in whom the body has outlived the mind, or perhaps, to speak more accurately, his memory has outlived the reason. . . . Polonius is a maxim-monger, and the universal character of his maxims is selfishness . . . his precepts are exactly those of Lord Chesterfield and of Rochefoucault . . . . </p. 121> <p. 122 > [He sends Laertes to Paris for a life of dissipation, as if this were the appropriate education of a gentleman, and then spies on him]. Mark, too, his metaphors, all taken from money matters, his words with nothing in them, his circuitous craftiness, his inflated self-importance, his ignorance of his own ignorance, and of everything at all above himself, his positiveness, and his repeated assertions that all opinions but his own are ipse dixitisms; his perpetual and ill-timed boastings of his superior acuteness and knowledge of the world, . . . his suspicious disposition; his fondness for petty intrigue, without which he can do nothing, and with which he goes blundering on, until he is killed in a closet intrigue at last .. . . [t]he old expediency statesman almost moves [Hamlet] to ‘That scorn which wisdom holds unlawful ever.’ </p. 122> <p. 123> Polonius, on the other hand, with admirable self-complacency—Polonius the philosopher of maxims—consoles himself with the notion that Hamlet, the philosopher of ideas, is mad. Shakspere thus agrees with Cervantes in making the philosopher of the Pure Reason misunderstood, or rather not understood at all, by the man of Understanding. . . .his maxims, disjointed from the character itself, are so often quoted with approbation, as the veritable wisdom which Shakspere was commissioned to preach to his fellow-men, as if Shakspere had been a mere precept and menti-facturer, teaching no higher philosophy than the way to be ‘healthy, wealthy, and wise,’ and to pass through the world with some five or six ‘golden rules,’ suitable to all occasions, and sufficient for all purposes. [Continues with Laertes] </p. 123>
Hudson ([hud1] ed. 1856, 10: 189), after quoting extensively from Johnson’s analysis of Polonius [starting on 188 and continuing on 189], adds: <p. 189> In all this Polonius is the exact antithesis of Hamlet, though Hamlet doubtless includes him, as the heavens do the earth. A man of one method, that of intrigue; with his fingers ever itching to pull the wires of some intricate plot; and without any sense or perception of times and occasions; he is called to act in a matter where such arts and methods are peculiarly unfitting, and therefore only succeeds in over-reaching himself. Thus in him we have the type of the superannuated politician, and all his follies and blunders spring from undertaking to act the politician where he is most especially required to be a man. From books, too, he has gleaned maxims, but not gained development; sought to equip, not feed, his mind out of the,: he has therefore made books his idols, and books have made him pedantic.
“To such a mind, or rather half-mind, the character of Hamlet must needs be a profound enigma. It takes a whole man to know such a being as Hamlet; and Polonius is but the attic story of a man! As in his mind the calculative faculties have eaten out the perceptive, of course his inferences are seldom wrong, his premises seldom right. Assuming Hamlet to be thus and so, he reasons and acts most admirably in regards to him; but the fact is, he cannot see Hamlet; has no eye for the true premises of the case; and, being wrong in these, his very correctness of logic makes him but the more ridiculous. His method of coming at the meaning of men, is by reading them backwards; and this method, used upon such a character as Hamlet, can but betray the user’s infirmity. . . .
[Hudson continues on TLN 892, on the Reynaldo scene, then moves on to Polonius and Hamlet.]
“In the Prince, however, he finds an impracticable sub- </p. 189><p. 190> ject; here all his strategy is nonplussed and himself caught in the trap he sets to catch the truth. . . . Once the honoured minister of his royal father, now the despised tool of that father’s murderer, Hamlet sees in him only the crooked, supple time-server; and the ease with which he baffles and plagues the old fox shows how much craftier one can be who scorns craft, than one who courts it. </p. 190>
Ed. note: Hudson assumes Polonius was a counselor of the old king, but this is by no means certain. I am not sure how a production could convey that idea. On the other hand, the contrary idea—that Polonius was always attached to Claudius’s entourage—seems to be indicated by Polonius's question in TLN 1183-5, "Hath there been . . . otherwise?"
Hudson ([hud1] ed. 1856, 10: 190): <p. 190>“Habits of intrigue having extinguished in Polonius the powers of honest insight and special discernment, he therefore perceives not the unfitness of his old methods to the new exigency; while at the same time his faith in the craft, hitherto found so successful, stuffs him with overweening assurance. Hence, also, that singular but most characteristic specimen of grannyism, namely, his pedantic and impertinent dallying with artful turns of thought and speech amidst serious business . . . .” </p. 190>
Lloyd (1858, pp. [9-10]:<p. 9> After discussing the national tendency to generalize and philosophize, with a digression about Germany (see Hamlet records), continues with Polonius: “But this tendency [to generalize] which is profound philosophy in Hamlet is exhibited in its dotage in Polonius—a tedious old fool, doubtless, as the prince splenetically calls him, and yet were it not for the ridiculousness of this character we might more easily have erred in rating too severely those weakness of Hamlet that are upon the verge of ridiculousness. The parroted precepts of Polonius, strung together with no leading principle, which are so much a matter of rote that he regains the thread of his discourse like an actor by a friendly cue, bring out the freshly welling originality of the diverging rather than desultory reflections that carry Hamlet from time to time away from his theme. So the backstairs, eaves-dropping politics that he professes, and the gross mistakes he makes in practical judgment as to the designs of Hamlet on Ophelia, and then as to the cause and nature of his madness are </p. 9><p. 10> such marked types of the faults and blunders that most beset the speculative when they make their sagacity a ground for interference in business that is beyond them, as to reflect back some glory on the better essays of the less experienced but far more able, as well as more intellectual, Prince of Denmark. Hence the use and the effectiveness of such a scene as that between Polonius and Reynaldo, with the instructions for roundabout enquiry as to the proceedings of Laertes, in a style that it is obvious would have any other tendency than either to elicit truth or benefit the character of the person so equivocally cared for. Compared with this, the scheme of Hamlet to entrap the conscience of the king into self-betrayal by the play, is wisdom, is simplicity itself, and we are prepared to appreciate his penetration in fathoming at once the insidious questioning of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.” </p. 10>
Clarke (1863, pp. 77-80) <p. 77> sees in Polonius a perfect mix of wise man and garrulous old imbecile. He has real wisdom but his experience as a courtier leads him to convert it to guile and stratagem. He seems to have “a positive horror of simple and sincere action . . . ” His advice to Laertes is as good as an essay by Bacon. </p. 77> <p. 78> In trying to uncover Laertes’s behavior he encourage Reynaldo to lie about Laertes’s conduct “at home, in order that he may induce his French associates to betray any irregularities that he may have committed in their company.” Clarke especially admires the moment when Polonius forgets what he was saying. </p. 78><p. 79> With Ophelia, Polonius, as a “practised courtier,” accuses himself of over-zealousness. And yet before the king and queen he prides himself on his controlling Ophelia: “How accurately does all this shuffling and moral imbecility square with the temporising courtier!” He’s willing to use Ophelia to spy on Hamlet. </p. 79> <p. 80>
“And then the genuine nature of the honourable man stares out of the artificial man of society” [quotes 1697-1700, we . . . himselfe]. His willingness “to act the eaves-dropper to the king” makes his defects of character all the more telling since “by nature, Polonius possessed an instinct of honour and self-respect, which a course of unworthy pliancy and intrigue (perhaps almost inseparable from his office) had soiled and tainted.” </p. 80>
French (1869, pp. 301- 6, apud Furness, ed. 1877, 2: 238-40] tries to establish connections among the play’s characters and court figures of around that time. Polonius he connects to the Lord High Treasurer, Sir William Cecil, Lord Burleigh; Laertes to Burleigh’s second son, Robert Cecil; and Ophelia to Anne Cecil. The father of the latter and the father of Sir Philip Sydney proposed marriage between their children, but she married (unhappily) Edward de Vere, the seventeenth Earl of Oxford. Burleigh gave his son Robert 10 precepts to follow, some of which match those of Polonius to Laertes.
Moberly ([rug1] ed. 1870): “From this high estimate of Polonius, it would seem that Claudius was under some deep obligation to him; probably for securing his election to the throne instead of Hamlet. See also , where Polonius is called ‘the father of good news.’”
Hudson ([hud2] ed. 1872): re TLN 955 "bait . . .carp of truth": “The shrewd old wire-puller is fond of angling arts.”
Marshall (1875, p. 32): “ . . . we know that in the character of Polonius, Shakespeare laid the irreverent cudgel of his satire on the sacred back of no less a personage than Lord Burleigh.” p. 35, Marshall is another who assumes Polonius was “one of [Hamlet’s] father’s old servants.”
Marshall (1875, p. 47): “Polonius, by the way, had probably no suspicion of foul play in the case of the elder Hamlet’s death; while, as to Gertrude’s speedy marriage with her brother-in-law, the political reasons alleged for it would have been quite sufficient excuse, in the old courtier’s eyes, for the indecent haste, or the disregard of consanguinity manifested in such a marriage; even supposing that, in his eyes, the King could do no wrong.”
Bulloch (1878, p. 220): [quotes 535-9] “This part of the advice given by Polonius to Laertes on his leaving home, contains some very sensible remarks by the lord chamberlain; weak, foolish and egotistical as he turns out in the progress of the play.”
Hudson ([hud3] ed. 1881), re 544-5: “This is regarded by many as a very high strain of morality. I cannot see it so, though, to be sure, it is as high as Polonius can go: it is the height of worldly wisdom,—a rule of being wisely selfish. In the same sense, ‘honesty is the best policy’ but no truly honest man ever acts on that principle. A passion for rectitude is the only thing that will serve, It is indeed true that we have duties, indispensable duties, to ourselves; that a man ought to be wise for himself. But that the being wise for one’s self is the first and highest duty, I do not believe, And the man who makes that the first principle of morality never will and never can be truly wise for himself Such, however, is the first principle of Polonius’s morality; and it is in perfect keeping with the whole of his thoroughly selfish and sinister mind. But he just loses himself by acting upon it. Aiming first of all to be true to himself, he has been utterly false to himself and to his family. Faith, or allegiance, to stand secure, must needs fasten upon something out of and above self. If Polonius had said, ‘Be true to God, to your country, or to your kind, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false unto thyself,’ he would have uttered a just and noble thing; but then it would have been quite out of character, and in discord with the whole tenour of his speech. And the old wire-puller, with his double-refined ethics of selfishness, has nothing venerable above him; while the baseness of Laertes seems to me the legitimate outcome of such moral teaching as these entertained so pithily in his father’s benediction.”
Nicholson (1882, p. 58): “Polonius, I am aware, has on the stage been made a third fool, but omitting much that might be urged against this view, it will be sufficient to say that the experienced but latterly somewhat senile old man, is not to be judged according to Hamlet’s prejudiced judgment. The ambitious Prince had felt from the first that Polonius and Gertrude had been gained over, and were main agents in the plotting which dispossessed him, and his glimpse of the over-hearers of his interview with Ophelia had told him that she was acting and had acted under the influence of his enemies and of her father.”
Gervinus (1883, pp. 558-9): <p. 558>“Of Hamlet’s father we hear those proud often-quoted words, the most splendid epithet of a great man:— ‘He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again.’ What a contrast to this is Polonius! The exact design of this contrast can never have been perceived by those who endeavoured to place this character in a favourable light, an endeavour which is not worth refutation. If Polonius’ bad and ridiculous qualities had been even partially concealed by his good ones, why should Hamlet enjoin the players, when he commits them to him, the father of his beloved, to ‘mock him not?’ . Why should he say, in the presence of his daughter, that her father is a fool? . Why should he call him a tedious old fool? . Why, moreover, should he say over his corpse, that he was ‘in all his life a foolish prating knave?’ . We see him commit no especial acts of knavery, but we see him in a service and employ by no means over-honourable; he has an unwearied predilection for crooked ways, for aside-thrusts, and for eavesdropping, and at length he falls a sacrifice to them; he meddles with everything and gain a scent of his son’s doings and actings even in Paris, not so careful for the virtue as for the outward behaviour of his children, neither of whom he trusts. The man hunts out everything, and binds himself, ‘if circumstances lead him,’ to find where truth is hid, ‘though it were hid indeed within the centre’ [1188-90]; but he has never surmised the transactions at the </p. 558><p. 559> death of old Hamlet and the marriage of the widow; or, if he has, like a genuine courtier he has had neither feeling nor opinion on the matter. It is just such company as this that a king like Claudius requires; upon state affairs he asks him nothing, but he hears him greedily on domestic matters, willingly accepts his empty eloquence, and excuses his confidence of opinion. Arrived at a ripe age, this schooled courtier lack not experience and observation, which he has carefully gathered and loquaciously gives forth; the self-conceit of emptiness is apparent in him, and with the same self-sufficiency he gives good precepts to his son, a lesson on human nature to his servant, and counsels to his king. In his fancied craftiness he considers himself a man of wisdom and great circumspection, and he builds with confidence upon the infallibility of his head. We all know the insolence of the self-complacent positive man, who, even in the face of events which give the lie to his prophecies, declares that he had anticipated everything as it has come to pass; we all know the fool with a good memory for wise sayings; and the eloquent man who speaks with greater wisdom that he possesses, until unawares he betrays more of his folly and ignorance than h wished. Such a man is Polonius. It costs him nothing to tell the lie that will reflect on himself the acuteness of having perceived Hamlet’s love for Ophelia before he was told of it [1161-3]. He then accurately sees through the gradual progress of the madness of Hamlet [1176-9], who is perfectly in his senses. He wishes to understand everything, to be acquainted with everything, to have been everything: a clever actor —a designation which suggests reflections similar to those of Hamlet; a madman suffering like Hamlet, ‘much extremity for love’ , from which we may gather the fact that he was an old sinner. He seeks to stand well with all, for, however positive he may be, he yields equally readily to the opinions of others; and if people ridicule him, he affects, says Goethe, not to observe it; one would rather believe that for the most part he actually does not observe it. In this manner he gets on with every one except Hamlet; in the presence of this deeper nature, which lies quite beyond his reach, he is helpless; the simpleton then always comes to light, although he esteems the prince to be a madman. Hamlet also is just as little able to accommodate himself to him. He hates too thoroughly the shallowness and falsehood of the character to attempt to conceal his aversion, even where the most ordinary consideration </p. 559> <p.560> would have demanded it from the lover of Ophelia towards the daughter of the father, or towards the father of the daughter. And this is the man to avenge whose death Laertes hazards ‘both the worlds’ , while Hamlet forgets the idea who rises from the grave for his admonition.”</p. 560>
MacDonald ([macd] ed. 1885), re 523-45: “As many of Polonius’ aphorismic utterances as are given in the 1st Quarto have there inverted commas; but whether intended as gleanings from books or as fruits of experience, the light they throw on the character of him who speaks them is the same: they show it altogether selfish. He is a man of the world, wise in his generation, his principles the best of their bad sort. Of these his son is a fit recipient and retailer, passing on to his sister their father’s grand doctrine of self-protection. But, wise in maxim, Polonius is foolish in practice—not from senility, but from vanity.”
MacDonald ([ed. 1885): “Polonius is a man of faculty. His courtier-life, his self-seeking, his vanity, have made and make him the fool he is.”*check this one: 1885 macd
MacDonald (macd] ed. 1885, p. 62) describes Polonius as “selfish, prating”
*I need to capture what cam3a says about his status as Principle Secretary of State. See my little note on Polonius.
*Capture what Dowden has on Polonius: Here it is apud rlf1 524
Dowden ([ard1], ed. 1899), re 523-45: “The advice of Polonius is a cento of quotations from Lyly’s Euphues. Its significance must be looked for less in the matter than in the sententious manner. Polonius has been wise with the little wisdom of worldly prudence. He has been a master of indirect means of getting at the truth, ‘windlaces and assays of bias.’ In the shallow lore of life he has been learned. Of true wisdom he has never had a gleam. And what Shakespeare wishes to signify in this speech is that wisdom of Polonius’ kind consists of a set of maxims; all such wisdom might be set down for the head-lines of copy-books. That is to say, his wisdom is not the outflow of a rich or deep nature, but the little, accumulated hoard of a long and superficial experience. This is what the sententious manner signifies. And very rightly has been into Polonius’ mouth the noble lines, [quotes 543-5, ‘To thine own self . . . man”]. Yes; Polonius has got one great truth among his copy-book maxims, but it comes in as a little bit of hard, unvital wisdom like the rest. ‘Dress well, don’t lend or borrow money; to thine own self be true.’”
Shiga (1912, trans. 2004 by Ashizu, p. 172): “Polonius is always so sure, without any real evidence, that his experience equips him to judge everything, and then he jumps to some hasty, self-satisfied conclusion. Yet he isn't really so shrewd. . . . ”
Granville-Barker (1930, rpt. 1946, 1: 204-7): <p. 204> “We can, I think, see Shakespeare changing his mind a little about Polonius. In his first [extended] scene . . . he is far from being a 'tedious old fool.' His </p. 204> <p. 205> injunctions to Laertes and Ophelia are clear and terse, and contain sound worldly wisdom. The change comes with the charge to Reynaldo; and hence, perhaps, the seemingly undue length allowed to that minor matter; our first impressions of the character must be corrected. . . . He is not wholly and obviously a fool, nor externally ridiculous at all. He can occupy his high place with dignity enough—only now and then calling pomposity to his aid—so long as everybody else will keep theirs. He is for order and degree, whether he must be telling his own daughter that 'Lord Hamlet is a prince, out of thy star; This must not be [1170-1]. . . . ' or simply in using the Players 'according to their desert' . He is loyal to the powers that be: 'Assure you, my good liege, I hold my duty as I hold my soul, Both to my God and to my gracious king . . . ' [1067-9].” Granville-Barker assumes that Polonius continues in his old place held under the previous king. “Nor is he the man to have been pained by his 'dear majesty'  the Queen's 'o'er-hasty marriage' .
“He is kindly; his manner to his retainer . . . is most affable. As a man of the world he will not idealize his fellow-creatures; and at Ophelia's defense of Hamlet [quotes 576-7] he scoffs. Yet he is tolerant, as a man of the world must be; and </p. 205> <p. 206> when it appears that he was wrong— he ungrudgingly admits it—[in] a perfunctory 'I feared he did but trifle, and meant to wrack thee' [1010-11]. Nor do we gather that he will be gravely displeased if Reynaldo does discover Laertes to have been 'drinking, fencing, swearing, quarreling, Drabbing . . . .' [917-18] as long as no great scandal results.
“Of the same pattern as this spying upon Laertes is his 'loosing' of Ophelia, decoylike to Hamlet . . . His intentions are excellent. . . . 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 . . . the sight of her, docile in guile, should prompt the incongruous platitude: [quotes 1697-1700: 'We are oft to blame . . . devil himself'] and as like him that, [afterwards] he ignores [Ophelia's] distress.
“He is old, of course, and in such a shallow nature, feelings desiccate with age, . . . He does not . . . </p. 206> <p. 207> find even the sight of mimic suffering to his taste [quotes 1560-1] . . . .
“ . . . Were life, in sum, simply the sort of clever game he thinks it, he would then be the man he so complacently feels himself to be, the tried and wise 'assistant for a state . . . . But Shakespeare shows us, by a very different light, a very different picture; of a silly old gentleman, pettily maneuvering among passions 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. For an elegy: 'Thou find'st to be too busy is some danger' . And as if to mark his pitiful futility his corpse is let lie there, eavesdropping still, while the revealing quarrel rages between mother and son. Then it is lugged away, like so much carrion.
“It is a nicely mischievous touch that at the University he 'did enact'—of all possible parts—Julius Caesar.” </p. 207>
Farjeon (1931, rpt. 1949, p. 154) thought that Mr. Herbert Waring (in a production starring Herbert Tearle) played Polonius all wrong, “for dignity and not at all for humour, which is, I think, a mistake; for Polonius is connected, if distantly, with Pandarus and Justice Shallow.”
Wilson ([cam3] ed. 1934, p. 155; apud Mercer, p. 158): “every precept is hedged with caution and pointed with self interest.”
Schücking (1937, pp. 30, 81) <p. 30> does not think that Polonius’s wit fits his character. He “uses turns of speech for too witty for him. </p.30><p.81> He cites as examples the aphorisms in 1.3. </p.81>
Schücking (1937, p. 50): “The comedy of this character is inherent in every word he uses.”1
<n.1> <p.50> “It is clearly intentional, for instance, when Polonius employs the word ‘perpend’ , which no one else in Shakespeare uses, in the intransitive sense, except the clowns.” </p.50> </n.1>
Rylands ([cln2] ed. 1947, p. 7) calls him the “Prime Minister,” but describes him in the dp as Wilson does, “Principal Secretary of State.”
Lily Campbell (1948) says, apud E. C. Wilson (1973, p. 178, n. 8), “ Polonius is little more than 'the faithful ears and prompt reporter of a tyrant' . . . . ” Wilson disagrees: “She and others deny Polonius enough dignity to give him any tragic stature and to preserve his comic and ironic impact that must hinge on presented contrasts between actualities and appearances.”
van Lennep, C. (1950, p. 19): Polonius, [Ophelia's] mundane father, apprised of the growing intimacy between the young people, eyes handsome Hamlet askance, suspects he is a snare and determines to safeguard Ophelia's honour, which runs no risk. A rake in his youth, now old, worldly-wise and cynical, he is plagued by fears that are baseless, yet will not be allayed. For he cannot believe that Hamlet means to marry Ophelia, that is to say, beneath him, he himself would never have married out of his sphere; measuring others by his own little yardstick, . . . . [he] forbids her to see Hamlet."
Joseph (1953, p. 78): “ . . . Emotion rules in our reaction to this counsellor; and all who are opposed to Hamlet, even from mistaken motives, draw our disapproval. Moreover, Shakespeare has given Polonius many unlikeable characteristics to set against his firm, unfortunate fidelity. He is too certain of his won cunning, too sure that years of worldly intrigue have tempered him to a formidable man of affairs. He patronizes his son and daughter, as he patronizes his prince, and all the time he prides himself upon his foresight and competence at intrigue, We moderns have probably been unduly swayed against him by the modern unpopularity of some of his opinions, where Elizabethans would have found them commonplace and laudable. A father, then, was not considered a tyrant for treating his children as subjects. Nor would it be entirely correct to disdain him for his wariness: irritating, his good opinion of himself may be, but there is nothing of the diabolic politician in his vaunt to Reynaldo [quotes 956-8] "And thus do we of wisdom and of reach, With windlasses, and with assays of bias, by indirections find directions out.' ”
Evans (ShSur 20 , p.136) describes Peter Hall’s production of Hamlet: “The production achieves its unity from the center. Polonius is a shrewd, sniffingly suspicious politician nearing the end of his corridor of power...The play can accommodate this particularity of interpretation which is given a final cogency by its Claudius (political power unmatched by moral strength), and its Gertrude (sexual potency unmatched by intelligence).”
Kaula (ShSur 24 , p. 74) writes that Polonius is very much like a politician described in Sparing Discoveries as being “obsessed with plots and stratagems and forever meddling in affairs irrelevant to their calling.”
E. C. Wilson (1973, pp. 135-6): <p. 135> Shortly [after Laertes cuts short Ophelia's advice to him] Polonius is giving his famous advice to his advising son and counseling his daughter as a circumspect father might.
"All of us laugh at Polonius as a figure of high comedy, yet harmoniously a part of a high tragedy." Wilson accepts Samuel Johnson's description: "dotage encroaching upon wisdom," [cited from Furness 1:136], and he summarizes the source of the amusement: "That dotage amuses us in his fondness for lecturing and giving advice, </p. 135> <p. 136> however sound, to his meandering young, to his losing the line of his thought in converse with Reynaldo and over-elaborating it in speech with his king and queen; in his swallowing of Hamlet's 'mad' talk (if, perhaps, with an intent to humor his seemingly insane prince); and in his tenacious pursuit of his idee fixe that spurned love lies behind Hamlet's apparent madness. . . .
His accidental death is the play's "crisis." "We obscure the rounded role of Polonius in a uniquely complicated drama if we dismiss him as no more than a 'foolish, prating knave' .
"Polonius has a minor tragic dimension as well as a major comic. . . ." We must not see him as Hamlet, with his limited view, does, or we lose the complexity of his character. . . . [His] prohibitions to Ophelia are indeed disastrous, timed ironically as they are, yet they are made by a loving </p. 136> <p. 137> father . . . . A rounded view of Polonius recognizes in him a pre-eminently comic figure depicted with enough dignity to fix him firmly in the tragic involvement . . . ."
Barton ([pen2] ed. 1980, p. 39), in her introduction, describes Polonius as an “intrusive but scarcely vicious meddler. [. . . ]”
Wright (1981, p. 176): “Polonius’ fondness for hendiadys appears most prominently in the scene where he shows Reynaldo how to elicit information about Laertes in Paris [898-960]. The technique he recommends embraces ‘encompassment and drift of question’ —perhaps two techniques, but not really parallel. Reynaldo’s ‘forgeries’ about Laertes are to include only ‘such wanton, wild, and usual slips’ (we should ordinarily expect usual to appear before the other two adjectives and to modify the compound substantive they compose with the noun—i.e., such usual extravagances) “As are companions noted and most known’—that is, recognized as especially familiar—‘To youth and liberty’ [913-15]—that is, to youth when it is at liberty, or to youthful license. ‘And thus do we of wisdom and of reach’ — that is, ‘of far-reaching wisdom (Harrison), or wise enough to see far, though reach and wisdom may be two distinct faculties—gain our devious ends. This advisory lecture Polonius calls ‘lecture and advice’ , and when Ophelia tells him of Hamlet’s strange conduct, he says, ‘I am sorry that with better heed and judgment’ —that is, with the kind of close attention that would have permitted me to discern the truth—‘I had not quoted him.’
Jenkins [ard2] (ed. 1982, pp. 421-2, on the Dramatis Personae) discusses the meanings of the Q1 variant, Corambis, denies that Burghley could be the model for the role, preferring Gollancz's theory that the Polish bishop Goslicius is a source for a loquacious counselor. Jenkins notes that none of the theories about the character's name “accounts for the curious fact that the same play has a character named Polonius and a campaign against the Polack.” [See Kliman's further discussion in “Three Notes on Polonius: Position, Residence and Name.” Shakespeare Bulletin 20.2 (Spring 2002): 5-7 and on hamletworks.org.
Hibbard ([oxf4] ed. 1987, pp. 74-75) < p. 74> speculates that if Hamlet were performed in Oxford before the publication of Q1 (as the TP states), the names Polonius and Reynaldo would have been unwise because both would have been too close to names associated with the university: Polenius (Latin for Pullen) founded the university in 1147 and had been written about admiringly by Samuel Lewkenor, </ p. 74> < p. 75> published in 1600. Reynaldo. is close to the name of anti-theater polemicist, John Rainolds/ Reynolds, President of Oxford’s Corpus Christi College. “In these circumstances, the juxtaposition of Polonius and Reynoldo might well have been interpreted as a slighting reference on the University, and so have caused trouble for the players . [. . . ].” </ p. 75>
Hibbard ([oxf4] ed. 1987) CN 554: "It is typical of Polonius's attitude to Ophelia that, having heard her assure Laertes she will keep his advice secret, he should ask her what that advice was."
Mercer (1987, pp. 158): <p. 158> “Polonius' 'few precepts' turn out to be some twenty lines of prepacked moral maxims that push the scene decisively to comic satire; toward a relentless parody of all such earnest parental advice.” However, they do not merit contempt: they are “by no means absurd. </p. 158> <p. 159> [Polonius'] . . . worldly wisdom is not irrelevant, however much it may fail to be truly wise.”
As for Polonius' advice to his daughter, “it is not a position remarkable for its idealism, but neither is it unreasonable or indeed uncommon. Before we read it as evidence of a seedy cynicism, . . . . we should note not only that Polonius is later full of apology for his misjudgement,” but also we should note the gradual path he travels from suggestion to downright prohibition against her seeing Hamlet.</p. 159>
Mercer (1987, p. 160): Polonius “in some ways, is more like an aged comic reduction of Hamlet himself, just as his son is yet another mirror for a part of that reality. He has the same fascination with words, the same passion for the theatre. Perhaps he is a warning of what an excess of those enthusiasms can bring you to—all art and little matter indeed.”
Crystal (2008, p. 121), as part of his discussion of content words per line, shows that Sh. characterizes Polonius through speech. His line “What ist but to be nothing els but mad” , “for example, is semantically 'short,' with only one content word [mad] out of ten. And the Queen notices [TLN 1123].”
Bate (2008, pp. 351-2), <p. 351> considering Shakespeare's older characters: “Old Polonius, giving paternal advice to Laertes before his departure for Paris, voices 'wise saws and modern instances' in the manner of the Justice, but he soon veers into pantaloonish pomposity. What </p. 351> <p. 352> is more, he is in truth a scurvy politician, who does not practice the integrity that he preaches. In the commedia dell'arte Pantaloon was often the father, the guardian or elderly suitor of the heroine, and the frequent butt of the Clown's jokes.” That's Hamlet, taking on the role of clown; see Hamlet doc. </p. 352>