Ms Evelyn Beck
5 April 2007
Polonius: A Good Father?
There is a great deal of speculation regarding what makes a good parent. Some people believe that as long as the children are happy, then they’re good parents. Others feel that a firm guiding hand is needed, and that eventually their children will come to understand the reasons for the things they did. An important part that most will agree upon however is the wish to protect one’s children from danger. In his play Hamlet, Shakespeare describes a number of family dynamics, one of which is that between Polonius, a servant to the King and Queen of Denmark, and his two children, Laertes and Ophelia. Because we can see in his actions and his words a desire to protect his children even if they don’t understand his reasoning, we can see that indeed Polonius is a father that does care for the well being of his children, even if outsiders may not see it that way.
We first see Polonius acting as a father should in the first act, when Laertes is asking King Claudius for his blessing to leave and return to France. Claudius asks Polonius if he has given his son his blessing. “He hath, my lord, wrung from me my slow leave / by laboursome petition, and at last / Upon his will I seal’d my hard consent: / I do beseech you, give him leave to go.” (I.ii.58-61). Polonius does not wish for his son to leave Denmark and return to France. Clearly it was only with Laertes’ constant pressure that he was able to win his father’s reluctant blessing.
We see his concern again later in the first act when Laertes is getting ready to depart. Polonius comes upon them and begins to lecture his son on how he should comport himself while he’s away. “Yet here, Laertes! aboard, aboard, for shame! / The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail, / And you are stay’d for. There; my blessing with thee! / And these few precepts in thy memory” (I.ii.55-59). Again, and this time out of the prying eyes of the King and Queen, the father is giving his blessing to his son as he leaves to cross the ocean, a dangerous journey no doubt, and to a land far from his family. What follows is a long passage detailing a father’s instructions to his son, not unlike something my father said to me when I started college.
The final part of that same passage, an often-quoted line that is as true today as it was in Shakespeare’s time, shows faith in the character of his son, and trust that he will act as he should. “This above all: to thine ownself be true, / And it must follow, as the night the day, / Thou canst not then be false to any man. / Farewell: my blessing season this in thee!” (I.ii.78-81). This is sound advice to anyone, but I believe that it shows that Polonious does care for the well being of his son as he sends him back to France, a land that was at the time known for rather loose morals. He wanted his son to remain true to his heart, not to change to please anyone, and this I believe shows a genuine caring for his son, even if his ways of showing it were somewhat misunderstood.
Polonius had a daughter as well, and it is common for fathers to dote more upon a daughter than a son. Like most fathers he is very protective of his little girl, especially when he finds out that Hamlet has been paying quite a lot of attention to her. “’Tis told me, he hath very oft of late / Given private time to you; and you yourself / Have of your audience been most free and bounteous: / If it be so, as so ’tis put on me, / And that in way of caution, I must tell you, / You do not understand yourself so clearly / As it behoves my daughter and your honour.” (I.ii.90-97). Here Polonius expresses his hope to Ophelia that she will be careful regarding the attentions she receives from the Prince. He doesn’t want her to be dishonored, for in the time of this play it was unthinkable for a young woman to entertain a man without first being married, and certainly there was also a class difference between them. Polonius also believed that he was protecting his only daughter’s heart by telling her to be wary of Hamlet
It is not only in private that Polonius shows his concern for his daughter, however strangely he shows it. Later on in Act 2 Polonius brings his concerns regarding the reasons for Hamlet’s madness to the King and Queen, believing that the Prince is mad because Ophelia has turned him away. “And my young mistress thus I did bespeak: / ‘Lord Hamlet is a prince, out of thy star; / This must not be:’ and then I precepts 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;” (II.ii.140-145) Polonius is doing what a father must to protect his daughter, in this case seeking the help of those that could send Hamlet away.
Throughout the play, Polonius does what he can to raise two children, and to help them become good, honest individuals who are able to think for themselves. He displays a protective nature, a very important quality in parenting, in protecting his children both from others and from themselves. Despite the eventual end for all three, Polonius shows himself to be a good, caring parent who really only wants the best for his children.
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. 8th ed. Ed. Roberts, Edgar V., and Henry E. Jacobs. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson, 2007. 1404-1502.