How does Hamlet expose Polonius as a sycophant in Act 3, Scene 2 of Hamlet?

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Hamlet exposes Polonius as a sycophant in act 3, scene 2 by comparing a cloud to a sequence of dissimilar animals: a camel, a weasel, and a whale. In each case, Polonius agrees, though it is impossible for the cloud to be like all three creatures, proving him to be a sycophant.

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A sycophant is one who tries to please those around him or her with flattery and insincere agreement. Shakespeare is often critical of sycophancy, particularly in courtiers, since he regards it as a characteristic vice of those who attend upon royalty.

Polonius is almost a caricature of a courtier. He may not particularly like Hamlet, who often treats him rudely, and is happy to conspire against him behind his back. However, Hamlet is a prince, and as such, Polonius is eager to treat him with exaggerated deference at every opportunity.

In act 3, scene 2, Hamlet exposes Polonius as a sycophant by inviting him to agree with a series of mutually contradictory statements. First, he says that a particular cloud in the sky resembles a camel, then a weasel, then a whale. Each time, Polonius agrees that the same cloud is like the animal to which Hamlet compares it, even though these animals have nothing in common with each other.

Hamlet ridicules Polonius's eagerness to agree with his comparisons, which suggests that he will say anything to please the prince. However, he also remarks reflectively, "They fool me to the top of my bent." Polonius's sycophancy is not only ridiculous, but dangerous, since the corrupt Danish court is teeming with plots that endanger Hamlet's life.

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