What is the meaning of Act II Scene i, in which Polonius tells Reynaldo to make up stories about Laertes' activities in Paris? What is Polonius trying to accomplish by this -- and does Reynaldo fully understand?
Other than Claudius, Polonius is the most despicable of characters in the Danish court. For, he is an incorrigible hypocrite! Even with his only son, he is duplicitous. Yet, his instructions to Reynoldo are so comically complex and so circuitous that he himself loses track of them.
In this scene there is some comic relief as well as an example of what it is that is "rotten in Denmark"--the coutiers such as Polonius.
I think the importance of this scene lies in how it prepares us for Polonius' future activities in the play - he shows that he is willing to use underhand means to spy on his son, completely preparing us for his role in trying to discern what is going on within Hamlet and his use and abuse of his daughter to accomplish that aim.
Polonius is attempting to find out the truth about his son's behavior and actions while away at college. He doesn't want to impugn his son or damage his reputation if it is intact, but he wants Reynaldo to ask the right questions to discover the answers. Reynaldo understands, as far as I can tell, although he, like most every other person who comes in contact with Polonius, seems to be in a hurry to leave him.
Thanks clairewait -- that's what it seemed like, but I wasn't certain. The edition I have (an old Riverside -- which I know contains many innacuracies that have been fixed in later editions) doesn't help in the footnotes at all. I'm assuming that the salient lines are:
.. but it seemed odd to me that, just in case Laertes was behaving himself, this might actually cause him to get a bad reputation. What a risk! I guess that Polonius assumes that Laertes is doing at least some of these bad things, so the risk is small. But the damage (as when Reynaldo says "but that would dishonor him!") to Laertes might be irreversible. It seems too risky to be worth it, unless Polonius is very certain (and is he?) that Laertes is up to no good.
I hadn't thought about the establishing of Polonius as duplicitous -- it makes perfect sense. Could, perhaps, Shakespeare have been preparing us a little to bit for Polonius's murder? I actually feel a bit less sad now about Hamlet killing him (albeit that was totally avoidable!) because Polonius was willing to do this to his own son. But things might have been different then -- these "crimes"added to Laertes reputation, even if he hadn't committed them, might have given him more of a cache' than a bad rep. I don't know. But this definitely makes me like Polonius less!
Polonius thinks his son is probably engaging in the type of typical behavior teenagers don't talk about with their parents. He tells Reynaldo to go visit him and pretend like he's "cool" with everything. The idea is to get Laertes to open up to Reynaldo, perhaps even invite him to come out and party with him.
Polonius is basically spying on his son through his servant. We consider this the first action of Polonius' that show is shifty and untrustworthy. But, I have to say, as a parent, it is a little bit ingenious.
Poster #2 succinctly sums up the scene. That was a rather perceptive analysis of the situation and that poster did a fantasticjob. There doesn't seem to be any more to add after that. Polonius does indeed think his son is engaging in behavior that teenagers would never talk about to their parents.