In Hamlet, why does Polonius send Reynaldo after Laertes?

In Hamlet, Polonius sends Reynaldo after Laertes to spy on him and ferret out gossip about him.

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In act 2 of William Shakespeare's Hamlet, Polonius sends his servant, Reynaldo, to Paris. Ostensibly, Polonius sends Reynaldo to France to deliver money and letters to his son, Laertes. Polonius's true motivation in tasking Reynaldo with a trip to France is his desire to spy on his son.

Polonius instructs his servant to ask around about Laertes. He tells him to discreetly seek out Danish people living in France and find out as much as he can about them, especially their names; how much money they possess; who they are acquainted with; and if they know Laertes.

Reynaldo is to casually bring up Laertes's name in conversation and pretend to be a distant acquaintance of his. He is then supposed to make up innocuous stories about Laertes to encourage his associates to share information about him. In particular, Polonius is interested in whether or not his son is engaging in disreputable behaviors such as gambling, drinking, swearing, fighting, and having relations with prostitutes.

Polonius reiterates that Reynaldo should go about this task in a discreet, roundabout manner. The servant is to gauge the reactions of those he talks to about Laertes, but he is not to trust their accounts alone. Polonius tells his servant to observe Laertes's behavior for himself and not to rely solely on gossip. Reynaldo is to report his findings to Polonius.

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Laertes is off to university in Paris. Upon his departure, his father, Polonius, gives him a list of dos and don'ts, one of which—“Neither a borrower nor a lender be”—has become a staple of the English language.

That Polonius should take to lecturing his son like this on how to conduct himself should surprise no one. Polonius is a pompous finger-wagger, never happier than when he's telling other people what to do.

Even though Laertes comes across as quite a sensible, level-headed young man, his father still feels the need to lay down the law to him, an indication that Polonius, as well as his many other faults, is also something of a control-freak.

As a loyal and faithful son, it's highly unlikely in the extreme that Laertes will get up to any mischief while he's in Paris. But Polonius is not prepared to take any chances. He sends his servant Reynaldo after Laertes to make sure that his son stays out of trouble.

Once he's arrived in Paris, Reynaldo is to start spreading rumors about Laertes's dissolute behavior and see how people react. If they react with incredulity, as if the very idea that Laertes could do such things is simply too ridiculous for words, then Reynaldo will know that Polonius's son is behaving himself.

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Polonius sends Reynaldo, whose name sound like the French word renard, or fox, after Laertes to spy on him in Paris.
Polonius gives Reynaldo specific and minute instructions about what to do. He wants Reynaldo to watch Laertes himself and not to rely on gossip. At the same time, he wants Reynaldo to ferret out the gossip about Laertes. He advises Reynaldo to seek out the Danish community in Paris. He is to pretend he doesn't know Laertes very well and to insinuate he has heard some questionable things about him in order to draw out of his companions what they have heard. When Reynaldo says it will ruin Laertes's reputation to start spreading dirt about him, Polonius tells him not to say anything terrible, but just to suggest that Laertes might be slightly soiled.
Polonius says that the "bait" of lying catches the fish of truth. He calls this behavior wise and says that underhanded methods are good ways to discover what is really happening:
See you now,
Your bait of falsehood takes this carp of truth.
And thus do we of wisdom and of reach,
With windlasses and with assays of bias,
By indirections find directions out.
By sending a spy after his own son, Polonius reveals how distrustful he is and how ingrained a devious, underhanded way of life has become in him. This foreshows, too, how he will hide to spy on Hamlet and Gertrude, leading to his own undoing.
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This is what Polonius has to say about that: “What was I about to say? By the mass, I was about to say something! Where did I leave?”  In other words, not even Polonius really knows why he sends a spy. There's no special or good reason. Instead, we must look at what that shows us about him and the court: he spies on his children out of habit, and distrusts them automatically, assuming he knows best. This shows us that the court is a place of distrust, though not, ironically, where it needed to be. (Hamlet didn't suspect his uncle in time to save his father.)


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In Act II, Scene i, Polonius's ostensible reason for sending Reynaldo to Paris is to take money and notes to Laertes. His real reason, however, appears to be that he wants Reynaldo to spy on Laertes and find out if he is gaming, drinking, fencing, swearing, or going to brothels. To put it simply, Polonius does not trust his children and keeps an ever-watchful eye on them. In Act I, Scene iii when Laertes is preparing to leave, Polonius is eager to lecture him in great detail about how he should behave abroad. His meddling ways are not limited to his son; Polonius also tells Ophelia to stay away from Hamlet so that her chastity is not in danger.

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