Why does Polonius believe Hamlet has gone mad in Act 1 and 2. Support your response with reference to the play.

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jseligmann eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Act 1, there is no reference to why Polonius may think Hamlet is mad. In that act, however, he does tell his daughter, Ophelia, to make herself less available to her boyfriend, Prince Hamlet. She tells her father that she will obey him.

Then, in Act 2, scene 2, Polonius tells King Claudius and Queen Gertrude, after the most pompous, self-servingly wordy speeches to them, that he now knows the cause of Hamlet's "madness." He is mad because Ophelia has listened to her wise (ahem) father and shut herself off from Hamlet:

...No, I went round to work

And my young mistress thus I did bespeak:

‘Lord Hamlet is a prince, out of thy star.

This must not be.’ And then I prescripts gave her,

That she should lock herself from his resort,

Admit no messengers, receive no tokens.

Which done, she took the fruits of my advice,

And he, repellèd—a short tale to make—

Fell into a sadness, then into a fast,

Thence to a watch, thence into a weakness,

Thence to a lightness, and, by this declension,

Into the madness wherein now he raves,

And all we mourn for.

The King and Queen seem somewhat convinced, and plans are made to try the matter further. They conspire to test out Polonius brilliant, but wrong, hypothesis by spying on Hamlet when he next talks with Ophelia.