The Meaning Behind the Dialogue Between Polonius and Reynaldo in Shakespeare’s Hamlet
by Kenneth Chan
This paper reveals how Shakespeare crafted the dialogue between Polonius and Reynaldo to convey a profound message. This message resonates through the entire play and reaches a thundering climax at the final duel scene.
A number of scenes in Shakespeare’s Hamlet appear unnecessary to the main action of the play. These scenes are, nonetheless, included by Shakespeare for a purpose. They actually now serve as the best clues to the meaning of the play; for if they do not contribute to its action, in all likelihood, they contribute to its message.
A clear example is the dialogue between Polonius and Reynaldo, in Act II Scene 1 of Hamlet. As this episode has no bearing on the main action of the play, its protracted length has been a puzzle for centuries. Why does Shakespeare dwell so much on this dialogue, especially since nothing related to it appears later in the play? We never hear of Reynaldo, or what he did with the instructions to spy on Laertes, ever again. What then is Shakespeare’s purpose here?
The most common conclusion is that the dialogue is used to create the impression of a significant time lapse between Hamlet’s encounter with the ghost and the subsequent action.1 This sense of a time interval is considered necessary for Hamlet’s delay to seem real to the audience.
Other reasons offered for Shakespeare’s inclusion of this long dialogue include the following:
It helps in the characterization of Polonius, particularly as a comic character.2
It highlights Polonius’s inclination to control others.3
It characterizes the relationship between Polonius and Laertes,4 and, in an oblique way, also characterizes Laertes.5
It introduces the spying motif that permeates the play, and illustrates the nature of Hamlet’s environment – one filled with espionage and subterfuge.6
It serves as an episode of comic relief.7
While all the above points may be valid, this paper will reveal that the dialogue has a far more important purpose. This colloquy between Polonius and Reynaldo is actually an integral part of the play, for it serves to highlight three closely related motifs that reverberate through the entire drama like an endless echo. These motifs are critical to the meaning of the play, and are as follows:
• Our lack of honesty in facing up to the truth.
• Our tendency to artificially beautify reality in order to conceal the truth.
• Our tendency to be false to others because of our failure in being true to ourselves.
These motifs are so essential to the message behind Hamlet that they are echoed by Shakespeare repeatedly throughout the play. Let us explore them more closely.
Motif 1 — “The body is with the King, but the King is not with the body”
The first motif highlighted by the dialogue between Polonius and Reynaldo is centred on the word “honesty,” or rather, the lack of it. Polonius’s scheme to ferret information about Laertes certainly lacks honesty, but Shakespeare’s main concern is the lack of honesty at a deeper level. This is also illustrated, in the same dialogue with Reynaldo, by the character of Polonius. Polonius is concerned about Laertes harming the family reputation and goes to extreme lengths to investigate. He is preoccupied with petty intrigues of little consequence; and is thus hiding from the profound by focusing instead on matters irrelevant to the real issues of life. This is the lack of honesty that Shakespeare is drawing our attention to – our lack of honesty in facing up to the truth.
The question of honesty recurs repeatedly in the play. For example, in the encounter between Hamlet and Polonius:
Hamlet Then I would you were so honest a man.
Polonius Honest, my lord?
Hamlet Ay, sir. To be honest, as this world goes, is to be
one man picked out of ten thousand.
Polonius That’s very true, my lord.8(2.2.176-80)
The question of honesty appears again in Hamlet’s dialogue with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern:
Hamlet What news?
Rosencrantz None, my lord, but the world’s grown honest.
Hamlet Then is doomsday near.(2.2.236-38)
The lack of honesty that Shakespeare is concerned with is our lack of honesty in accepting reality and, in particular, in facing up to our own mortality. This is suggested here in the last quote by Hamlet, for the statement can be read as implying that it will be close to our doomsday before we will acknowledge the inevitability of death.
This theme concerning our denial of the truth and of the inevitable is echoed throughout the play. In the opening scene, we are introduced to the nature of the reality we have to face. In this scene, set among the bleak battlements of a castle wall, Shakespeare presents a dramatic evocation of the mystery world we are all in, the thinly veiled situation of every man, caught between the mundane world of the senses and the wider spiritual world just a shade beyond. We are, as it were, treading on a divide, stranded on a wall separating the seen and the vast unseen. And here, in meeting the ghost of Hamlet’s father, we experience a confrontation with the ultimate mystery, the mystery of death and the beyond.
In Scene 2, set in the royal court of Denmark, this mystery is expanded upon in the dialogue (between Hamlet and the King and Queen) concerning death and mourning. Here, Shakespeare introduces the underlying theme that runs through the entire play: our propensity to hide from the profound by denying the inevitability of death. This is echoed in the words of the King:
King For what we know must be, and is as common(1.2.98-106)
As any the most vulgar thing to sense –
Why should we in our peevish opposition
Take it to heart? Fie, ’tis a fault to heaven,
A fault against the dead, a fault to nature,
To reason most absurd; whose common theme
Is death of fathers, and who still hath cried
From the first corse till he that died today,
‘This must be so.’
Here, Shakespeare is having the King reiterate the common reaction to death: Since death is common, why should we take it to heart? Yet the question answers itself. We should take it to heart for the very reason that it is common. Here lies the fundamental lack of honesty that Shakespeare addresses in the play: our lack of honesty in facing up to the inevitability of death, and to the profound truths in life.
Throughout the play, we are constantly assailed with harsh references to death and its inevitability. No other play by Shakespeare comes remotely close to Hamlet in its endless and remorseless references to death. It is as though Shakespeare is subjecting us to a form of shock treatment designed to shake us out of our denial of its truth.
Shakespeare finally devotes an entire long scene to emphasizing our mortality – the famous graveyard scene. Here, in the dialogues involving the grave-diggers and Hamlet, we are presented with a continual array of issues focusing on the nature of death and its inevitability. The graveyard scene is another example of a scene unnecessary to the main action of the play. It is included by Shakespeare because it clearly contributes to its message.
Thus, a central theme in Hamlet is what the Indian epic, the Mahabhrata, calls the “greatest wonder of the world.” In the Mahabharata, one of the heroes, Yudhistira, was posed with the question: “What is the greatest wonder?” Yudhistira’s reply was: “Day after day and hour after hour, people die and corpses are carried along, yet the onlookers never realise that they are also to die one day, but think they will live forever. This is the greatest wonder of the world.”9 Thus, while we readily admit that “everyone dies,” we behave as though we will live forever; this means we have not actually realized we will die. This is the lack of honesty that the play focuses on: our lack of honesty in facing up to the truth, and in facing up to the profound.
Via the characters in Hamlet, Shakespeare, portrays the entire spectrum of the different methods we use to hide from the inevitable. Here, we will examine how this is portrayed in three of the characters: the King, Ophelia, and Polonius.
Among them, the King is the most deluded of all. He completely gives way to his evil impulses in his quest for power, prestige, wealth, and all the mundane pleasures of life, as though any of these can help him in the end. He has deliberately barred the truth from himself. Without a total change to his lifestyle and motivation in life, he will be unable to accept the truth staring at him. In a sense, he lives almost in a state of drunken stupor, steadfastly refusing to see things as they are.
This attitude of the King is what Hamlet is refering to in his enigmatic statement:
“The body is with the King, but the King is not with the body.”(4.3.26-27)
The physical body, which inevitably ages and dies, is certainly with the King, but the King refuses to recognise this impermanent nature of his body, so his mind is “not with the body.” He behaves as though he will live forever, ignoring the inevitability of death, even to the extent of murdering his own brother for mere materialistic ends.
In Ophelia, Shakespeare presents another method of hiding from the truth. Ophelia is the passive, obedient one, who believes she can avoid the shocks of life by staying within the norms of society and following all the rules. This is demonstrated by her passive and ready acceptance of Polonius’s command to distance herself from Hamlet, and by her ready compliance with the plan for the King and Polonius to spy on Hamlet’s encounter with her. Ophelia is meek and seeks to avoid the harsh realities of life by sheltering under the tame submission to convention. She lacks the spirit of a seeker and, when she is confronted with the profound later, she truly disintegrates.
In Ophelia’s drowning, Shakespeare presents us with a remarkable imagery of our own state of denial of the truth:
There on the pendent boughs her crownet weeds(4.7.171-82)
Clamb’ring to hang, an envious sliver broke,
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide,
And mermaid-like awhile they bore her up,
Which time she chanted snatches of old lauds,
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element. But long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pulled the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.
Even as she is sinking into the muddy waters, Ophelia refuses to recognize the truth of her situation; instead, she continues singing blissfully. This is a striking analogy to our own continued blissful denial that we are all in the process of dying, that every day brings us one day closer to death. In a cultivated state of ignorance, we indulge in mundane pleasures and petty pursuits, even while we are inexorably sinking beneath the waters. If Ophelia is mad, so are we, and our vain attempt to live in our fantasized world will not hold us up anymore than the muddy waters can keep Ophelia afloat.
In Polonius, Shakespeare presents yet another way of hiding from the truth. Polonius represents the pseudo-intellect that steadfastly avoids the inevitable by hiding behind a dense wall of intellectual arguments and analyses, none of which addresses the profound issues of life and death. This is evident in the list of precepts he delivers to Laertes:
Polonius Give thy thoughts no tongue,(1.3.59-77)
Nor any unproportion’d thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar;
The friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel,
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch’d, unfledg’d courage. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,
Bear’t that th’opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.
Costly thy habits as thy purse can buy,
But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy,
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most select and generous chief in that.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be,
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
Every bit of advice in this list is relevant only for mundane matters and does not even begin to address the real issues of life. The precepts are petty in nature. We cannot imagine Jesus, Buddha, or any other spiritual sage saying these proverbs. (The last precept on Polonius’s list – concerning being true to oneself – is different,10 and will be discussed later. It is his only advice on the list that concerns the more profound issues of life, but, as we shall see, is clearly a precept that he himself disobeys.)
It was a tradition of the period for a father to advise a son leaving on his travels, and Shakespeare merely rephrases current precepts for Polonius.11 Nonetheless, they still characterize Polonius as a shallow pseudo-intellect hiding from the profound. The messages in Shakespeare’s plays target the average population, the norm of society. If such precepts were common at the time, it was probably Shakespeare’s aim to deliberately comment on them in this way by having Polonius deliver them.
The long string of advice, above, thus reveals Polonius to be a man engrossed with mundane affairs. The protracted dialogue between Polonius and Reynaldo re-emphasizes this. In denying the truth of his mortality and in not facing the profound, Polonius ends up wasting away his life on irrelevancies and distractions.
The episode between Polonius and Reynaldo also highlights another recurring motif in the play, which we will now explore more closely.
Motif 2 — “That’s an ill phrase, a vile phrase, ‘beautified’ is a vile phrase”
The second recurring motif illustrated in the dialogue between Polonius and Reynaldo is our tendency to artificially beautifying things to conceal the truth. Here, Polonius’s elaborate instructions to Reynaldo are designed to beautify and conceal the real intention of spying on Laertes. Shakespeare, however, is more concerned with our propensity to artificially beautify at a deeper level. It is the act of deception we frequently use to hide from the profound – we artificially beautify reality to conceal the truth.
In Hamlet, Shakespeare alerts us to this aspect of our dishonesty in a truly unique way: He breaks the natural flow of the play’s action by a sudden reference to “beautification” at a most inappropriate time. This technique is repeated by Shakespeare no less than three times in the play.
The first occurs directly after Hamlet’s encounter with the ghost:
Hamlet … Remember thee?(1.5.97-112)
Yea, from the table of my memory
I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records,
All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past
That youth and observation copied there,
And thy commandment all alone shall live
Within the book and volume of my brain,
Unmix’d with baser matter. Yes, by heaven!
Oh most pernicious woman!
Oh villain, villain, smiling damned villain!
My tables. Meet it is I set it down
That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain –
At least I may be sure it may be so in Denmark.
[ Writes ]
So, uncle, there you are. Now to my word.
It is ‘Adieu, adieu, remember me.’
I have sworn’t.
In the midst of Hamlet’s intense emotional distress, upon being informed of his father’s murder, he suddenly has the need to write down the line “That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain,” and actually does so. This noticeably jolts the flow of the action.
This strange action of Hamlet is, however, deliberately designed to alert us to the recurring motif: our propensity to artificially beautify things to conceal its rotten core, here represented by the King’s amiable smiling appearance that actually conceals a murderer.
Shakespeare repeats this technique again, in the words of Polonius, while he is exhibiting Hamlet’s love letter to the King and Queen:
I have a daughter – have while she is mine –
Who in her duty and obedience, mark,
Hath given me this. Now gather and surmise.
[ Reads ] To the celestial and my soul’s idol, the
most beautified Ophelia – That’s an ill phrase, a
vile phrase, ‘beautified’ is a vile phrase. But you
shall hear thus: in her excellent white, bosom,
In the midst of presenting Hamlet’s letter to the King and Queen, Polonius unexpectedly complains that “beautified” is a vile phrase. This strange remark, delivered at a strangely inappropriate time, strikingly jars the flow of the action. Again, the effect is to deliberately highlight our propensity to artificially beautify reality.
Shakespeare repeats this technique yet again in Hamlet’s account, to Horatio, of how he dispatched Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to their doom:
Hamlet Being thus benetted round with villainies –(5.2.29-36)
Ere I could make a prologue to my brains,
They had begun the play – I sat me down,
Devis’d a new commission, wrote it fair –
I once did hold it, as our statists do,
A baseness to write fair, and labour’d much
How to forget that learning, but, sir, now
It did me yeoman’s service.
In the midst of relating this dramatic account to Horatio, Hamlet unexpectedly digresses onto his aversion to “writing fair.” This again inappropriately jolts the flow of the narrative – an effect deliberately designed to highlight again our propensity to artificially beautify reality. Here, Hamlet even proceeds to elaborate on exactly how he “wrote fair”:
Hamlet As earnest conjuration from the King,(5.2.38-47)
As England was his faithful tributary,
As love between them like the palm might flourish,
As peace should still her wheaten garland wear
And stand a comma ‘tween their amities,
And many such-like ‘as’es of great charge,
That on the view and knowing of these contents,
Without debatement further more or less,
He should those bearers put to sudden death,
Not shriving-time allow’d.
These three episodes are clearly crafted to make us notice the unexpected interruption to the flow of the narrative, and serves to highlight our propensity to artificially beautify reality. In addition to this, this motif is also raised in a more conventional way throughout the play, as in the words of Polonius and the King just before the famous nunnery scene:
Polonius Ophelia, walk you here. – Gracious, so please you,
We will bestow ourselves. – Read on this book,
That show of such an exercise may colour
Your loneliness. – We are oft to blame in this,
‘Tis too much prov’d, that with devotion’s visage
And pious action we do sugar o’er
The devil himself.
King [ aside ] O ’tis too true.(3.1.43-54)
How smart a lash that speech doth give my conscience.
The harlot’s cheek, beautied with plast’ring art,
Is not more ugly to the thing that helps it
Than is my deed to my most painted word.
Oh heavy burden!
During the tempestuous dialogue with Ophelia in the same scene, Hamlet brings up the motif again:
Hamlet I have heard of your paintings well enough. God hath(3.1.144-49)
given you one face and you make yourselves another.
You jig and amble, and you lisp, you nickname God’s
creatures, and make your wantonness your ignorance.
Go to, I’ll no more on’t, it hath made me mad.
Also, in another scene that does not appear necessary to the main action of the play – the madness of Ophelia and her distribution of flowers – the symbolism of this same motif is unmistakable, as Laertes’s words make clear:
Laertes Thought and affliction, passion, hell itself(4.5.185-86)
She turns to favour and to prettiness.
Laertes thus reiterates the same recurring motif of artificially beautifying what is rotten inside. In the distribution of flowers by Ophelia, Shakespeare presents us with a dramatic imagery of this – flowers to beautify the whole rotten situation.
We are reminded of this motif again, during the graveyard scene, while Hamlet dramatically holds in his hand, Yorick’s skull:
Hamlet Where be your gibes now, your gambols, your songs,(5.1.183-88)
your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set
the table on a roar? Not one now to mock your own
grinning? Quite chop-fallen? Now get you to my
lady’s chamber and tell her, let her paint an inch thick,
to this favour she must come. Make her laugh at that.
In yet another scene that seems superfluous to the main action of the play – the long dialogue with Osric – Shakespeare presents us again with a dramatic portrayal of the “vile phrase, beautified.” Here, we encounter Osric’s equivalent of “fair writing” in his manner of speaking:
Osric Sir, here is newly come to court Laertes – believe(5.2.106-11)
me an absolute gentleman, full of most excellent
differences, of very soft society and great showing.
Indeed, to speak feelingly of him, he is the card or
calender of gentry; for you shall find in him the
continent of what part a gentleman would see.
In response, Hamlet makes a mockery of it all by outdoing Osric in “speaking fair”:
Hamlet Sir, his definement suffers no perdition in you,(5.2.112-20)
though I know to divide him inventorially would
dozy th’arithmetic of memory, and, yet but yaw
neither, in respect of his quick sail. But, in the
verity of extolment, I take him to be a soul of great
article and his infusion of such dearth and rareness
as, to make true diction of him, his semblable is his
mirror and who else would trace him his umbrage,
The parody, however, is lost on Osric, who probably feels this kind of court dialogue is natural. In the end, Horatio literally pleads with him to speak normally and get to the point:
Horatio Is’t not possible to understand in another tongue?(5.2.125-26)
You will to’t, sir, really.
In effect, Shakespeare is making a corresponding plea to us, i.e. stop the artificial beautification of reality and try to perceive the truth. We need, however, to first recognize that we are actually behaving this way and that, unfortunately, is already a problem. This is illustrated in the dialogue between Polonius and Reynaldo. Here, after instructing Reynaldo on how to beautify and thus hide his real intentions of spying on Laertes, Polonius even “beautifies” his own behavior:
Polonius See you now,(2.1.62-68)
Your bait of falsehood takes this carp of truth;
And thus do we of wisdom and of reach,
With windlasses and with assays of bias,
By indirections find directions out.
So by my former lecture and advice
Shall you my son.
Not only is Polonius deluding himself by his refusal to accept reality, he actually believes he is being worldly wise.
The dialogue between Polonius and Reynaldo also highlights another recurring motif, which we shall explore next. In the discussion on this, we will also encounter, undeniably, the most dramatic display yet of artificial beautification in the play.
Motif 3. — “To thine own self be true,
And it must follow as the night the day
Thou canst not then be false to any man”
We have noted that the colloquy between Polonius and Reynaldo introduces the spying motif and establishes an atmosphere of espionage and subterfuge that permeates the play. This should be seen as part of a broader and more important motif centred on Polonius’s own advice to Laertes:
To thine own self be true,(1.3.78-80)
And it must follow as the night the day
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
The first motif highlighted by the dialogue between Polonius and Reynaldo, concerns our lack of honesty in accepting the truth, and particularly in accepting our personal mortality. The second motif concerns our propensity to artificially beautify reality in order to hide from the truth. This behavior means that we are not being true to ourselves. We are instead practising self-deception, for being true to ourselves essentially means facing up to reality, to the inevitable, and to the profound. If we are unable to do this, we will fill our lives with petty, irrelevant concerns and deceitful conduct, both to ourselves and to others. The third recurring motif – highlighted by the colloquy between Polonius and Reynaldo – focuses on this consequence of our failure to be true to ourselves.
In instructing Reynaldo to spy on Laertes, Polonius clearly disobeys his own advice. He is neither being true to himself nor to others. He is instead being false to others via petty intrigues and elaborate deceptions, a result of being false to himself in the first place.
Throughout the play, Shakespeare provides us with a continuous display of this same phenomenon, with recurring scenes of deceit and deception. The play runs like a catalogue of repeated violations of the principle of honesty, violations by practically all the main characters, including Polonius. Among the characters, Hamlet is the only one courageous enough to face up to his mortality and to the profound, but he fails to be honest to himself in another way (this issue is discussed in detail in the book Quintessence of Dust12).
Following the episode between Polonius and Reynaldo, a regular pattern of falsehood develops in the play, often taking on a strange reciprocal symmetry, like a bizarre dance of deception and counter-deception that inexorably builds in intensity and malice.
First, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are requested by the King and Queen to spy on Hamlet under the cloak of renewing old friendship. This is met, in turn, by the feigned madness of Hamlet, and played out in intriguing dialogues full of hypocrisy and deceit.
Following this, the pattern of deception grows in intensity, and involves the practice of spying on one another in contrived situations. It begins with the King and Polonius spying on Hamlet’s contrived encounter with Ophelia. The roles are then reversed, in the next scene, with Hamlet and Horatio spying on the King in yet another contrived situation during the play-within-the-play scene. And the roles are reversed yet again with Polonius, acting for the King, spying on Hamlet’s encounter with his mother.
The bizarre dance of deception and counter-deception then continues in sinister fashion, with the King sending Hamlet to England, accompanied by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern carrying a hidden mandate for Hamlet’s execution. This is reciprocated by Hamlet substituting the mandate and dispatching his two former friends to their doom.
The pattern of falsehood and deceit finally culminates in the climactic duel between Hamlet and Laertes, and here Shakespeare presents us with a dramatic combination of the play’s recurring themes. The act of being false to others as a result of being false to oneself, is now being perpetrated by artificially beautifying what is rotten inside. We witness a duel of utmost sinister and murderous intent. Yet it is cloaked under a layer of beautification to appear, before the whole court, as affable entertainment. The bizarre dance of deception and counter-deception thus resumes with horrific intensity; it is now an outward charade concealing the malevolence of murder.
Throughout the duel, the tension mounts and yet the facade continues. And for a long time, it continues to appear a friendly contest. But we know the beautification must inevitably break and the terrible truth spill out. This is the way of all artificial beautification of reality, including our own vain attempts at hiding from the profound. In the end, we will not escape. And Shakespeare has, here, presented us with a powerful and lasting imagery of this fact.
The same three motifs, highlighted by the dialogue between Polonius and Reynaldo, are thus echoed at a new level of intensity in the final duel scene.
One of the aims of this paper is to address the unjust impression left by some critics of the past like Samuel Johnson who wrote, in the 18th century, that Shakespeare “sacrifices virtue to convenience and is so much more careful to please than to instruct that he seems to write without any moral purpose.”13
Johnson is sorely mistaken, for it can be shown that Shakespeare has, in fact, meticulously crafted his plays to convey deep messages for humanity. These frequently take the form of reverberating themes that pervade entire plays, and often, as in Hamlet, these themes build in intensity to reach a thundering climax.
It is also testimony to Shakespeare’s care in crafting his plays that scenes not contributing to the main action of the play are, nonetheless, there for a reason. They generally contribute to Shakespeare’s intended message, and hence may now be the most useful clues to the meaning of his plays.
A clear example of this is the dialogue between Polonius and Reynaldo. The three recurring motifs highlighted by it are critical to the meaning of Hamlet, and are designed to compliment the other central theme of the play that focuses on the issue of revenge. (How these themes integrate together is discussed in the book Quintessence of Dust.14)
1 See, e.g., J. Dover Wilson, What Happens in Hamlet (Cambridge University Press, 1956), 209-210; Levin L. Schucking, The Meaning of Hamlet (George Allen & Unwin, 1966), 92-93; Eleanor Prosser, Hamlet and Revenge (Stanford University Press, 1971), 145-147.
2 See, e.g., Levin L. Schucking, 92; Susan Snyder, The Comic Matrix of Shakespeare’s Tragedies (Princeton University Press, 1979) (Reprinted in Hamlet, Critical Essays, ed. Joseph G. Price, Garland Publishing Inc, 1986) 159-161; Maurice Charney, Hamlet’s Fictions (Routledge, 1988), 135-136.
3 See, e.g., Harold Fisch, Hamlet and the Word, The Covenant Pattern in Shakespeare (Frederick Ungar Publishing Co, 1971), 125; James L. Calderwood, To Be and Not To Be, Negation and Metadrama in Hamlet (Columbia University Press, 1983), 16. In a private communication, Sean Lawrence suggests that Polonius even carefully controls himself. Since he loses his place and Reynaldo prompts him like an actor, one has the sense that he’s memorized this speech and is reciting it.
4 See, e.g., James L. Calderwood, 15-16; Harold Jenkins, Introduction in The Arden Shakespeare Hamlet (Methuen & Co, 1982), 134.
5 See, Bert O. States, Hamlet and the Concept of Character (The John Hopkins University Press, 1992), 121-123.
6 See, e.g., Michael Cohen, Hamlet in My Mind’s Eye (The University of Georgia Press, 1989), 42; Bert O. States, 118-119, 121; James K. Lowers, Shakespeare’s Hamlet (Cliffs Notes, 1971), 33. The introduction of the spying motif was also suggested in an online colloquy between Ed Pixley and Larry Weiss. See, Ed Pixley. “Re: Polonius and Reynaldo”. Online posting. 11 Jun. 2003. SHAKSPER: The Global Electronic Shakespeare Conference. 12 Jun. 2003. < http://www. shaksper.net/archives/2003/1165.html >
7 See, e.g., David Bishop, Hamlet’s Clashing Ideals (Xlibris Corporation, 2001), 60-61. In addition to comic relief, Bishop suggests that the episode also offers moral relief from the ghost’s angry, puritanical idealism. See, also, J. M. Robertson, “Hamlet” Once More (Richard Cobden-Sanderson, 1923), 130-131. Robertson goes on to say, however, that “the mere desire to relieve tension is no good justification for a scene that in itself serves nothing to the action,” and suggests that the scene may have been a residual action carried over from Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy.
8 Quotations of Shakespeare follow The Arden Shakespeare Hamlet, ed. Harold Jenkins (Methuen & Co., 1982).
9 Quote taken from R. K. Narayan, The Mahabhrata (Mandarin, 1991), 91-92.
10 Levin L. Schucking also notes that this last precept is different from the rest. While the other precepts “are in keeping with the worldly setting of the play, and reflect the practical wisdom of aristocratic society in the Elizabethan age,” the concluding precept is “certainly not a commonplace of the period.” He adds that it “is to be found in Bacon’s Essays, and certainly seems above Polonius’s intellectual level.” (The Meaning of Hamlet, 80-81.)
11 See notes by Harold Jenkins, The Arden Shakespeare Hamlet (Methuen & Co, 1982), 440-443. See, also, Levin L. Schucking, 80-81.
12 Kenneth Chan, Quintessence of Dust: The Mystical Meaning of Hamlet (iUniverse, 2004).
13 See Samuel Johnson, Samuel Johnson on Shakespeare, ed. H. R. Woudhuysen (Penguin Books, 1989), 130. Johnson goes on to add that Shakespeare “makes no just distribution of good or evil, nor is always careful to show in the virtuous a disapprobation of the wicked” and that “he carries his persons indifferently through right and wrong and at the close dismisses them without further care and leaves their examples to operate by chance.”
14 See Kenneth Chan, Quintessence of Dust: The Mystical Meaning of Hamlet. The book is written in the form of a running commentary of the whole play in order to demonstrate how Shakespeare has meticulously crafted every part of it towards imparting his central message.