In Hamlet, Polonius is a well-respected and important person. It seems appropriate that he investigates and controls the behavior of his son Laertes and daughter Ophelia. He, as the Lord Chamberlain of Claudius’ courts, is no longer a private person but a public one. What he or his children do has important communal, 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 many masks to communicate with different people. By analyzing the speech in Act II, scene ii, 85-112 it is closely revealed that there are several themes, characterization and plot atmosphere.
In the following speech, Polonius has decided to tell Gertrude and Claudius that he has discovered the reason for Hamlet’s odd behavior, which is in his opinion caused by Hamlet’s love for Ophelia, Polonius’ daughter. Besides the fact that this kind of love relationship would make Polonius extremely proud because of Hamlet’s princely position, Polonius is relieved over the fact that he has solved the mystery that is so important to the King and Queen that everyone is trying to solve. This is evident in his language full of signals and vanity:
This business is well ended/
my liege, and madam, to expostulate/
what majesty should be, what duty is/
why day is day, night night, and time is time/
were nothing but to waste night, day and time/
therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit/
and tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes/
I will be brief, your noble son is mad.
(II. ii. 85-94)
This speech is a wonderful relief from the tension and tragic seriousness throughout the tragedy. Here, it is evident that Polonius is the clown of the play. His use of metaphors and play on words, all delivered in the supreme confidence in his own ability, result in a crazy misrepresentation. What is most amusing is that Polonius is his own critic, when talking about night, day and time. He concludes, “brevity is the soul of wit.” (II. ii.90) Also, after indulging in another exercise involving the words true and pity, he exclaims, “A foolish figure!” (II. ii. 98)
Polonius tries to put on a show of his funniness by delivering a lecture about what he considers philosophical questions such as those about the nature of night, time, day and duty. However, this is all obvious and not worth speaking about to the reader. Polonius’ funny language that emphasizes how profound this subject matter is in his opinion makes this all the more comical. Also the pattern of Polonius’ speech is different than previous ones; it is simple, with shorter lines, and even rhymes by having ended each line with the same words. Nevertheless, the language however suggests that Polonius is an educated man. He is imitating books because to him it’s a sign of wisdom.
This speech is very fake. Here, Polonius plays a role. He is humble in his own manner to flatter the King and Queen. Polonius starts his soliloquy with “My Liege, and madam, to expostulate/ what majesty should be, what duty is.” (II. ii. 92-93) He is concerned about appearing as wise as possible, at the same time playing it up to the royal couple. This tone of speech is opposite to the one in the dialogue with Reynaldo, where Polonius speaks instructively and with authority. Polonius tries to show off his wisdom and uses different language in both of these passages. He still has different masks on depending on the person he is speaking to.
Even though Polonius is a comical character, he has a relation to the main themes in the play and helps us gain insight on other characters. “Madam, I swear I use no art at all,” (II.ii 104) says Polonius, which gives the readers a chance to laugh. Therefore, this soliloquy is successful in communicating the emotional state of Polonius to the audience because it reveals the true nature of Polonius' feelings; not only through the dictation but also through the imagery, language and underlying messages of the text. It successfully highlights the divisions of character of Polonius while aiding the audience in building a connection with him.