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Amen, mwestwood! While his pandering and prattling are amusing on one level, Polonius is a despicable hypocrite willing to release his daughter to the dogs, so to speak, in order to advance himself in the eyes of a murderous and egotistical king.
I feel less heated about Laertes, probably because he is still young and reacts more than schemes, something his father is constantly doing. He does love Ophelia, and he is moved by her "crazy" behavior, not just by her death. He is also admirable in his death, offering forgiveness to his former friend and placing blame where it aptly belongs--on himself and on the perfidious Claudius.
Polonius is the consummate hypocrite; he is the most odoriferous of the "rotten in Denmark." For, he instructs his son in virtue when he has none, but instead does anything in order to ingratiate himself with the king while, at the same time, telling Gertrude, "Madam, your son is mad." Polonius despicably exploits his own daughter in order to advance himself in favor with King Claudius. So cruelly does he use and confuse Ophelia in order to learn about Hamlet that the psychologically shaken girl kills herself. Polonius possesses absolutely no redeeming qualities--he is,truly, the quintessential politician for modern times.
I think that Polonius was trying to do his best by his children and that he was a little overbearing. You could argue that his actions toward Hamlet helped start Ophelia on the downward spiral that caused her death. Further, his being killed as a result of "spying" on Hamlet and Gertrude definitely was a factor in Ophelia's death.
Laertes on the other hand, was very loyal. He was loyal to his father, his sister and to the crown; so much so that he wanted to take the crown from Claudius. He was perhaps a little too overzealous, but at the same time, he acted on his instincts and his loyalty. You could argue that Hamlet did not - at least not in time.
I wonder if we should now rate Hamlet, Laertes and Fortinbras as SONS?
I can say for myself that I was politically socialized in two very different and opposite ways. Growing up in a very conservative household with die-hard Republicans for parents certainly shaped my views on many topics. Once I was 18, I attended a very liberal liberal arts school and started to see the world from a completely different angle. I think I have come to a healthy balance. Like so many aspects of life, the mix of family and outside influence would have to both play a part in the final result.
I like Polonius. He's kind of a clown and an idiot, but his heart's in the right place. I suppose it would get kind of old listening to him telling me what to do when I'm about to go off to France (Laertes) or about my love life (Ophelia), but after all, that's sort of what a father is supposed to do. So he's trying his best, even if he's not brilliant.
Laertes, on the other hand, annoys me. If I were Ophelia, I'd hate listening to him. I would be thinking "you're my brother, not my dad. Shut up." If he said to me
If with too credent ear you list his songs,
Or lose your heart, or your chaste treasure open
To his unmast'red importunity.
Fear it, Ophelia, fear it, my dear sister
I would be thinking "shut up about my "chaste treasure" it's mine and it's none of your business. Maybe people back in Shakespeare's day would have expected brothers to act like parents towards their sisters, but I don't like it.
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