Polonius: a Tedious Old Fool

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Polonius is an important and respected person. It seems appropriate that he investigates and controls the behavior of his son and daughter. He, as the King's advisor is no longer a private person but a public one: what he or his children do has important public, not just personal implications. However, if his actions and speeches are examined closer, it is evident that he is a limited and vain person who is overly concerned with his appearance and wears different masks to tune up to different people. In the following speech, Polonius is sending his servant, Reynaldo, to France in order to find out how Laertes, Polonius's son is behaving himself. Polonius instructs Reynaldo to inquire an acquaintance about all the vile things Polonius assumes Laertes to be doing. "He closes with you in this consequence:"and as you say,I saw him enter such a house of sale" - Vedelicet, a brothel - or so forth. See you nowYour bait of falsehood take this carp of truth; And thus do we of wisdom and of reach, With windlasses and with assays of bias,By indirection find direction out." (II. i. 45-72)Polonius seems incapable of acting in an honest manner. His actions are reminiscent of a hunter's job - using all his wit to uncover the unwary prey in a roundabout way. He even uses hunters' terminology. "Windlasses" means an indirect approach in hunting. He talks of the "bait of falsehood" - being dishonest to the "prey" - Laertes - and even to the people who are to help him catch the "prey" - the acquaintances. Polonius wants to catch "the carp of truth". This topic is echoed later on when Hamlet calls Polonius a "fishmonger" (II. ii 190). Carp, a big and hard-to-catch fish, symbolizes value and profit. However, the reader is only left to wonder how much real value the truth has if it has been acquired through such underhand methods. For Polonius, however, the end justifies the means. His methods of finding out...
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