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: 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.
Act 2, Scene 2 Quotes
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
...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)
Act 1, Scene 3
Act 2, Scene 1
Act 2, Scene 2
...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)
Act 3, Scene 1
...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)
Act 3, Scene 2
...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)
Act 3, Scene 3
Act 3, Scene 4
...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)
...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
...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)
...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
Act 4, Scene 3
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
Act 4, Scene 7