Why does Polonius read Ophelia's love letter and what are his plans?

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Polonius reads the love letter aloud to Gertrude and Claudius for two reasons:

  • He wants to show that he is a loyal subject, and that he's not trying to get his daughter together with HamletHamlet, being a royal, won't get much advantage from marrying the daughter of a mere noble. If he reveals the message to them directly, they'll know he is "a man faithful and honorable," as Claudius says.
  • He wants to get credit for being the one to know why Hamlet is mad. Once he reads the letter, he uses it to explain how Hamlet became mad: "he, repelled...Fell into a sadness, then into a fast...and, by declension / Into the madness wherein now he raves." Claudius was very eager to find out why Hamlet was mad, so being able to give an explanation makes Polonius look good.

His plans after reading the letter are to show the king directly that love is the cause of Hamlet's madness by taking the king to observe a conversation between Ophelia and Hamlet. As it turns out, Hamlet is very mean to Ophelia during this conversation, and the King concludes that he is not in love: "Love? His affections do not that way tend." So Polonius's plan doesn't really succeed.

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Ophelia gives her father, Polonius, the love letters Hamlet wrote to her, and in act 2, scene 2, of Shakespeare's play, Polonius reads these letters aloud to King Claudius and Queen Gertrude as a part of his presentation to the royal couple regarding his assessment of their son. He presents the letters as proof of Hamlet's infatuation with his daughter.

Polonius tells Claudius and Gertrude that, upon learning of the letters, he advised his daughter to rebuff Hamlet's advances due to their difference in station, saying "Lord Hamlet is a prince, out of thy star; this must not be." Essentially, he instructed Ophelia to ice out the prince. Ophelia followed this advice, and Polonius believes her rejection led the prince to fall into madness. He proposes his plan of spying on Prince Hamlet to determine if his theory is true, assess Hamlet's mental state, and observe the strength of Hamlet's love for Ophelia.

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In Act II, scene ii, Polonius reads Hamlet's love letter to Ophelia to Gertrude and Claudius. Ophelia had given it and other love letters to Polonius, her father, out of confusion and concern over Hamlet's professions of love for her. Polonius shares the letter with the King and Queen because he knows they are worried about Hamlet's recent irrational behavior. In the letters, Polonius believes he has found the key to Hamlet's madness: Hamlet is in love. Polonius explains to the King and Queen that when Ophelia came to him with her worries, he told her to avoid Hamlet: "Lord Hamlet is a prince out of thy star / This must not be.” In other words, because of being a prince, Hamlet was out of her league and it was safest to stay away from him. But because Ophelia has rejected him, Hamlet has gone crazy, Polonius maintains.

Polonius's plan is to spy on the couple along with the king to confirm that Hamlet really is in love. As a courtier, he will prove his worth if he can solve the monarchs' problem.  

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