Polonious suggests to Claudius that they hide behind the curtains and then he will "loose my daughter to him." As Folger's points out, this is a figure typically used for animals when they are let out for either hunting or mating. Thoughts?
I agree with you in reply #3! Poor Ophelia is a pawn to be given up as necessary for Polonius' advancement. In all other scenes up to his death, Polonius is such a kiss-a** and suck-up. He doesn't seem at all the caring or doting father he should have been for either of his children. He failed his daughter, especially.
I actually go over a very similar topic when teaching this play. Polonius comes off throughout the play, not as the doting father, but as the ambitious and selfish know-it-all. He shoves his kids into these situations to get in good with Claudius and he gives very little if any thought to what impact this is having on his family. His sole purpose is to gain the right hand and ear of the king. Even when he's grieving over Ophelia's death, which could ultimately be his own fault because he "loosed" his daughter to Hamlet, he seems disingenuous. He seems to supremely play up his grief to the king in order to turn the king against Hamlet. I wonder how much of the grief was real and how much was actual. I absolutely think that if asked Polonius would have sold his daughter's soul (and her virginity) so he could be regal. Folger's translation of the line is spot on!
I think your topic title hit the nail on the head...Ophelia is used like a sheep or a goat as bait to lure Hamlet into showing them his hand - what is he really up to? Is he truly mad with love for Ophelia, or is something else going on to cause his lunacy?
Hunting or mating, huh? Well, I don't honestly think Polonius would have objected to either one with regards to Ophelia and Hamlet. Although he does warn her that Hamlet is out of her reach, I'm sure that all of his pandering to Claudius and Gertrude is not only out of servile duty and obligation to one's monarchs - I'm sure he had high hopes that they would consent to a marriage between Ophelia and Hamlet, thus making Polonius the father-in-law to a prince.
Pretty little sheep...too bad Hamlet's behavior started her push toward the edge of the cliff of insanity.