Hamlet

Polonius Character Analysis

Read our modern English translation.
A councilor, or advisor, to Claudius, and the father of Ophelia and Laertes. Polonius is a verbose, faltering old man whose servile devotion to Claudius renders him slimy, untrustworthy, and pathetic in the eyes of Hamlet. Polonius is determined to do whatever it takes to stay in the good graces of the king and queen, and invents many different ways of spying on Hamlet in an attempt to win the monarchs’ continued favor. Petty, meddling, and hypocritical, Polonius meets his end when, hiding behind a tapestry in Gertrude’s chambers in order to listen in on a conversation between the queen and Hamlet, he lets out a noise—and Hamlet stabs his sword through the tapestry, not knowing who is behind it but furious at being spied upon by a “rat.” While Hamlet is a character crippled by inaction, Polonius is a character whose constant scheming and devising—in other words, his inability to stop taking new actions—is what ultimately kills him. Polonius’s arc also ties in with the plays’ theme of appearance versus reality—with all of his two-faced plotting and fawning deference in pursuit of political strength and favor, it’s impossible to tell who Polonius truly is or what he truly wants.

Polonius Quotes in Hamlet

The Hamlet quotes below are all either spoken by Polonius or refer to Polonius. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Action and Inaction Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Simon & Schuster edition of Hamlet published in 1992.
Act 1, Scene 3 Quotes

This above all—to thine own self be true;
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Related Characters: Polonius (speaker), Laertes
Page Number: 1.3.84-86
Explanation and Analysis:
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Act 2, Scene 2 Quotes

Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief.

Related Characters: Polonius (speaker)
Page Number: 2.2.97-99
Explanation and Analysis:
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Act 4, Scene 3 Quotes

CLAUDIUS: What dost thou mean by this?

HAMLET: Nothing but to show you how a king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar.

Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker), Claudius (speaker), Polonius
Page Number: 4.3.33-35
Explanation and Analysis:
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Polonius Character Timeline in Hamlet

The timeline below shows where the character Polonius appears in Hamlet. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, Scene 2
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
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Religion, Honor, and Revenge Theme Icon
...him are his new wife Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother and the queen; Hamlet himself; Claudius’s councilor Polonius; Polonius’s children Laertes and Ophelia; and several members of court. Claudius delivers a long monologue... (full context)
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...has a request for him, and tells the young man to ask for anything he wishes—Polonius is so important to Claudius that Claudius will do whatever Laertes asks.  Laertes asks the... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 3
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Polonius enters to give Laertes’s departure his blessing. He gives his son some fatherly advice, warning... (full context)
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After Laertes leaves, Polonius asks Ophelia what her brother told her. Ophelia tells him that Laertes gave her some... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 1
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Inside Elsinore, Polonius gives his servant Reynaldo money and notes to take France. Polonius tells Reynaldo what he... (full context)
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Polonius suggests that Reynaldo pretend to be a casual acquaintance of Laertes and try to gossip... (full context)
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...board a ship to France, Ophelia enters looking pale and in a state of fright. Polonius asks her what has happened, and she tells him that just now, as she was... (full context)
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...eyes from her face. Ophelia says she fears Hamlet really is in love with her. Polonius suggests Ophelia go with him to see Claudius, so that they can inform him of... (full context)
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Polonius asks if Ophelia has done anything to upset or offend Hamlet, and she replies that... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 2
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Polonius enters with two pieces of good news. He tells Gertrude and Claudius that the ambassadors... (full context)
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Polonius fetches Voltemand and Cornelius and brings them into the hall. Claudius asks them for the... (full context)
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With Voltemand and Cornelius gone, Polonius moves onto the next topic at hand: Hamlet’s madness. Polonius produces a letter given to... (full context)
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Claudius asks if there’s a way they can test Polonius’s theory. Polonius suggests “loos[ing]” Ophelia onto Hamlet during one of the prince’s long, pensive walks... (full context)
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Claudius and Gertrude leave, and Polonius greets Hamlet. Hamlet’s demeanor towards Polonius is cool and removed, and in response, Polonius asks... (full context)
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Polonius is puzzled by Hamlet’s strange demeanor and aggressive conversational style, and decides to try asking... (full context)
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Polonius continues trying to talk with Hamlet, asking if he plans to walk through the gardens... (full context)
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Polonius enters and greets Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Hamlet introduces Polonius to his friends as a “great... (full context)
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...attacking the elderly King of Troy, Priam, whom Hamlet refers to as “grandsire Priam”—pointedly mocking Polonius’s age. In the tale, Pyrrhus kills the old Trojan king while the king’s wife, stripped... (full context)
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Hamlet tells the First Player he can stop, then charges Polonius with finding comfortable rooms for the entire troupe and making sure they’re treated well. Hamlet... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 1
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Claudius, Gertrude, Polonius, Ophelia, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern gather in the hall of Elsinore. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern tell Claudius... (full context)
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Claudius tells Gertrude to leave so that he and Polonius can enact their plan of getting Hamlet to meet with Ophelia while Claudius and Polonius... (full context)
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Polonius hands Ophelia a prayer book and orders her to pretend to read it while he... (full context)
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...of “arrant knaves, all” who should be washed from the earth. Hamlet asks pointedly where Polonius is. Ophelia answers that her father is at home. Hamlet says he hopes Polonius gets... (full context)
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...that Hamlet has gone mad and fallen so far from grace and nobility. Claudius and Polonius come out of hiding to comfort Ophelia. Claudius states that whatever is going on with... (full context)
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Polonius obsequiously agrees with Claudius’s plan, but suggests that before sending Hamlet to England, Claudius should... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 2
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Polonius, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern enter. Hamlet asks if the king and queen are going to attend... (full context)
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Trumpets sound, and Claudius enters with Gertrude, Polonius, Ophelia, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and some other members of court. Claudius greets Hamlet and asks the... (full context)
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...from his seat. Gertrude asks Claudius what’s wrong, and he announces that he is leaving. Polonius orders the players to stop the performance. Everyone but Hamlet and Horatio follows Claudius out... (full context)
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Polonius enters and tells Hamlet that his mother wants to see him right away. Hamlet tells... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 3
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After Rosencrantz and Guildenstern leave, Polonius enters and tells Claudius that Hamlet is on his way to Gertrude’s room. Polonius plans... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 4
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In Gertrude’s chambers, Polonius lays out his plan for the queen, and she agrees to it. As Hamlet approaches,... (full context)
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...to stay. Gertrude asks Hamlet if he plans to murder her, and calls for help. Polonius, hearing Gertrude’s cries, also calls out. Hamlet, angered at being spied upon, draws his sword,... (full context)
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...with his own petard”—in other words, Hamlet plans to outsmart the king. The death of Polonius, Hamlet says, means he will have to leave even sooner. He bids Gertrude goodnight, assuring... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 1
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...that he wouldn’t believe what she’s seen tonight: Hamlet is entirely mad, and has slain Polonius in a hallucinatory rage. Claudius remarks that Hamlet’s “liberty is full of threats to all”—but... (full context)
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...calls Rosencrantz and Guildenstern back in, and orders them to go find Hamlet and bring Polonius’s body to the chapel. They hurry off. Claudius tells Gertrude it’s time to “call up... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 2
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After hiding Polonius’s body, Hamlet returns to the castle and runs into Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. They ask him... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 3
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Rosencrantz enters and tells Claudius that while Hamlet refuses to divulge where he has buried Polonius, he is outside under guard. Claudius orders Hamlet be brought inside, and Guildenstern brings him... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 5
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...he says, he might as well be his father’s “bastard.” Claudius tells Laertes that though Polonius is dead, he was not the one to kill the man. Laertes asks how Polonius... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 7
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Claudius and Laertes discuss Claudius’s innocence in Polonius’s murder—which Laertes has come to believe. Laertes, however, wants to know why Claudius didn’t pursue... (full context)