Explain the effect of Polonius' interruption of the royals in Act Two, scene two, in Shakespeare's Hamlet.

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When Polonius interrupts Gertrude and Claudius in Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act Two, scene two, the audience learns of his true character. Although he serves the King, he is simply the...

...elderly and long-winded courtier and chief counselor in the Danish court. Polonius demonstrates a propensity for hypocrisy and spying...

Polonius is a master at double-speak: saying a lot that may sound important, but really means nothing. He is self-serving, and trying hard to show himself as indispensable to the new King. He is also convinced of his own self-importance. He provides excellent advice to his son Laertes in Act One, but cannot follow his words of wisdom himself. Polonius sets the stage by allowing the newly arrived ambassadors from Norway to speak first, saving the best (himself) for last:


Give first admittance to the ambassadors.

My news shall be the fruit to that great feast. (54-55)

When he begins, Polonius pontificates, going on a nonsensical tirade regarding majesty, night and time. He notes that to try to explain these things would be a waste of time...exactly what he is doing.


My liege, and madam, to expostulate

What majesty should be, what duty is,

Why day is day, night night, and time is time.

Were nothing but to waste night, day, and time. (92-95)

Ironically, he says that it is wisest to be brief, but is unable to be brief. He claims that Hamlet is mad, but to explain madness would be insane. Speaking in circles, Gertrude grows weary of his pointless babbling, telling Polonius to give them details and stop playing with words:


More matter, with less art. (102)

With a great deal more rambling, the old man tries to convince Gertrude and Claudius that he has answers they need, and in doing so he involves his daughter—he tells the royal couple that he is certain Hamlet's love for Ophelia is responsible for Hamlet's unusual behavior. He reads a love letter Hamlet wrote to Ophelia as proof that what he says is true.

In truth, Hamlet is feigning madness to discover if Claudius murdered Hamlet's father. Everything Hamlet does with regard to his mother, Claudius, the rest of the court, and even Ophelia, is to lull everyone into a sense that Hamlet is not a threat because he is crazy. In this way, Hamlet hopes Claudius will mistakenly expose his guilt.

Polonius' bumbling convinces the audience that Polonius is actually a fool. Gertrude seems impatient with his nonsensical blathering, yet Claudius listens to it all, even agreeing to spy with Polonius on Hamlet and Ophelia. This shows not only that Polonius is silly, but also that Claudius may be ignorant as to how one who is King should act—Old Hamlet (we can assume) would have done so by showing Polonius the door. Preoccupied with what he has done, we might infer that Claudius is more interested in guaranteeing his place on the throne. Gertrude has the experience of being a queen; Claudius (as far as we know) has no idea of how to act with kingly grace.

Polonius draws the attention of the King away from international relations (with Norway), focusing things squarely on Hamlet, but including Ophelia so that Polonius himself will still be involved in what is taking place, feeding his need to be essential in what is to follow.

All of these things become apparent with Polonius' ridiculous behavior, introduced as he interrupts the royal court.