In William Shakespeare's play Hamlet, why does Polonius spy on Hamlet and Gertrude in act 2, scene 4? What is he trying to discover from listening in to their conversation?

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Polonius tells Claudius that he is going to listen to Hamlet's conversation with Gertrude as an impartial witness (since his mother is likely to be partial) who can tell the King what they discussed. Polonius has just talked to Hamlet and the Prince's fantastical observations would obviously have given him cause for concern.

While he claims to be spying for King and country, Polonius obviously has at least one other motive, apart from his constant love of interfering in the business of others. He has already decided that Hamlet's madness is due to Ophelia 's neglect (which he initially encouraged) and...

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It starts back in 1.3 when Polonius is talking to Ophelia. At the very end of the scene Polonius tells Ophelia that she is no longer "to give words or talk with the Lord Hamlet." Now go to 2.1. This is a scene where Polonius is instructing Reynaldo on how he is to spy on Laertes. Polonius thinks he is very clever with his spying acumen. After Reynaldo departs Ophelia appears in a tizzy. Hamlet has appeared at her closet acting crazy. Ophelia confirms to Polonius that she has been faithful to his word and denied access to Hamlet. Polonius immediately connects the two: Hamlet is mad from neglected love.

In the next scene Polonius tells the king that he has discovered the cause of Hamlet's madness. After the Ambassadors depart, Polonius clearly infatuated with holding center stage launches into bombastic circumlocution that convinces the king and queen to follow his plan. Polonius wants to arrange a meeting between Hamlet and Ophelia and see what happens.

In 3.1 the nunnery scene plays out but by the end the King is not convinced. He thinks Hamlet is dangerous and wants to ship him off to England. Polonius is firm in his belief that Hamlet's madness "sprung from neglected love." Polonius is undaunted and he gets Claudius to let him spy on Hamlet as his mother confronts him. She is to get Hamlet to "show his grief" and from Polonius' perspective this will prove his theory of Hamlet's madness.

After the play in 3.3 Polonius briefly encounters Claudius. He brings Claudius up to speed with his plan. He specifically tells Claudius that he is heading to Gertrude's closet where he will hide and spy on  Gertrude's encounter with her son. And that's why Polonius spies on Hamlet and Gertrude in 3.4.

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