A Hamlet timeline – chronicle of events
Setting the Timeline – considerations
Claudius – planning my foul murder
King Hamlet's funeral – where was Hamlet?
Gertrude & Claudius – adultery or not?
Horatio – Hamlet's friend?
Horatio – is he passion's slave?
Polonius – the evil that men do
Ophelia's love? – did she love Hamlet?
Ophelia closetted – Polonius on love
O help xxx ....... – Olivier's version
Ophelia's change – is Hamlet suspicious?
Hamlet feigns madness – protective "cover"
Is Hamlet mad? – Polonius's opinion
Hamlet kills Polonius – stabs the "Voice"
Laertes on Ophelia – madness & death
Ophelia's death – a recipe
Hamlet's age – digging up the past
Yorick – something rotting in Denmark
Betting on Hamlet – the fencing match
Hamlet's fencing skill – better than Laertes
Polonius — the evil that men do lives after them
Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool
Polonius is part of the main plot of "Hamlet" until the middle of the play. Half way through the third act he is killed but this is far from being the end of him. His death is the pivot on which the action turns. Nearly every subsequent event results from his ill-judged influence and the blunders he perpetrated.
Polonius's first action is to approve Laertes's return to France and to give him some fatherly advice. Polonius may seem a very fine man trying to guide his son except that what he pontificates are no more than shallow platitudinous precepts which Laertes unfortunately seems to take to heart. The odd thing is that Polonius's lecture to Laertes has a similar tone to that which Laertes had only moments before lectured Ophelia. One could well believe that Laertes has heard Polonius's lectures ever since his first toilet-training days. Polonius, though, does not trust Laertes to abide by his instruction. He is thoroughly despicable in harbouring unjustified suspicions of Laertes. Polonius orders Reynaldo to spy on Laertes and deliberately trap him by deceit 'and there put on him what forgeries you please'. The whole scene with Reynaldo is disgusting. No decent man, let alone a father, would instigate such actions.
During the detailed instructions to Reynaldo on how to spy on Laertes, Polonius reveals his peculiar way of speaking. His phrases are complicated, ambiguous and confusing. He expands points in such boring, fine detail that he sometimes loses the thread. His way of talking to those above his station is also quite different from how he talks to his children. To his superiors he is deferential and he talks in an ingenious way, but in trying to be careful and precise his explanations make him long-winded. This contrasts with the smooth easy flow with which he talks to his children. He is used to them and does not need to stoop to the condescending niceties he uses when talking to others.
Polonius is unable to see himself beyond his present status of courtier. He belongs to the class he was born into and he would never ascend, or allow his family to ascend, to exalted rank. When Ophelia discloses that Hamlet has spoken to her of love he forbids the relationship to develop. This reveals the shallowness of Polonius for he denies his own precept when he orders her away from Hamlet:
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
A marriage between Ophelia and Hamlet is unthinkable in his eyes, (though certainly not in Queen Gertrude's). Hamlet is of the royal family whom Polonius serves and although he has attained the highest office in the land that is as far as he will go. As Lord Chamberlain, he is the power behind the throne, able to influence King Claudius and order others to do his bidding. He craves to impress Claudius that he understands the ways of the world. He poses as a wise man but cannot resist childish stratagems. His nature leads him to suspicion, duplicity and intrigue which is particularly unfortunate in one who deals with human equations with such crassness.
When he shows the king and queen Hamlet's love letter to Ophelia he incorrectly links its content with Hamlet's melancholic mood. He is insensitive to words, and despite the possible alternative reasons for Hamlet's moods he sees it in black and white terms only. 'This' is the cause and 'that' is the effect is his diagnosis of Hamlet's condition. That he may be wrong is not a consideration. When he reads Hamlet's letter he shows his insensitivity to its substance. He tries to impress the king and queen with convoluted interpretations of its phrases, yet even individual words are taken out of context as he bumbles through with his pathetic attempts at humour. Gertrude has long experience of his way of speaking and she expresses impatience and exasperation at his tardiness to get to the point. Hamlet, too, is used to Polonius' sycophantic streak and he uses verbal barbs to jibe at his shallowness but they are wasted as Polonius hears but fails to understand their sarcasms. Claudius, though, seems oblivious of Polonius's bowing and scraping and apologetic tone but Claudius is new to the kingship and more concerned with getting help from his chief adviser. Polonius for all of his obsequious manner must have capable administrative abilities to have attained his present high office.
Despite his vast experience he is na´ve and, although he fails to comprehend, he is the one who sets the stratagems to discover the cause of Hamlet's moods. Polonius's inability to understand Hamlet reflects his general na´vetÚ to understand things. To prove his belief in Hamlet's madness he invokes a little play-acting from Ophelia. He directs or rather, with his proven lack of sensitivity to an actor's role, misdirects Ophelia to feign reading a book but to accost Hamlet, while he and the King eavesdrop. Although this meeting reveals that Polonius has made a gross blunder he is not in the least discouraged but immediately sets up his next stratagem. It proves to be his last because he is killed during its commission. If he had not misjudged Hamlet he would not have been pursuing his ill-founded suspicions and been behind the arras and gotten himself killed.
That Polonius deserved some punishment for his interference and intriguing is justified but certainly not death. Had his imprudence resulted in his own death only it would be reasonable to feel sorry for him. However, though Claudius is the real cause of all the tragedies, some deaths, including Polonius's own, would not have occurred but for his thoughtless acts. It is his blundering that lead indirectly to the deaths of others that followed as a chain-reaction including Ophelia's madness and death. It is his death that set off the chain of events that lead to the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and later, through Laertes's desire to revenge his death, to the deaths of Gertrude, Laertes and Hamlet.
Polonius relates that he once acted "Julius Caesar" and was stabbed by the hidden conspirators. There are ironies in his death. He dies Caesar's death but not by a hidden conspirator but as a hidden conspirator! And just like Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Polonius continues to influence events after he is dead. Mark Antony's 'The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones: so let it be with Caesar.' might well be applied to Polonius.