I find Polonius’ influence over Ophelia in Act 1 Scene 3 and the subsequent effect on Hamlet to be very interesting. I have learned that it is not uncommon for fathers to be involved with their daughter’s love lives in order to pick their suitors. Yet, I think that Polonius would be happy that Hamlet loves his daughter. While I can see his apprehensions because what Ophelia thinks are “many tenders of his affection to me” come across as dishonest. Polonius says “Think yourself a baby/ That you have ta’en these tenders for true pay,/ which are not sterling. Tender yourself more dearly or… you’ll tender me a fool.” At the beginning of this interaction between Ophelia and Polonius, it seems that he is trying to watch out for her. It seems as if he is trying to keep her from getting her heart broken, keep her from ruining her reputation, and possibly keep her from having an illegitimate child. His concerns for her seem to be genuine concerns a father would have for his daughter. Yet, as he comes across as watching out for her best interests, he is also concerned about his reputation. If Ophelia and Hamlet did become intimately involved without being married, she would have the mark of a slut as would Polonius. Not to mention the fact the Polonius could lose his daughter (I think of how Hero “died” simply from rumors about her being promiscuous.) If Ophelia were shamed on behalf of her sexuality, Polonius would have everything to lose.
As the play progresses and Hamlet becomes “crazy”, I found Polonius’ switch to supporting his daughter also very interesting. He goes from discouraging her to interact with Hamlet saying “From this time /be somewhat scanter of your maiden presence./ Set your entreatments at a higher rate/ Than a command to parley” to insisting that Hamlet has gone “mad for thy [Ophelia’s] love.” in Act 2 Scene 1. While on the one hand he tells his daughter to stay away from the Prince, then he takes credit for his new insanity, claiming Hamlet’s love for his daughter has driven him mad. That to me seems a like a shallow basis on which to claim his knows why Hamlet is crazy. The audience knows that he is mad because he saw the ghost of his father. But, Polonius is arrogant and probably a bit stupid to think that Ophelia and love has captured Hamlet’s sanity. It also baffles me that Polonius is so confident with himself that he goes to the King and Queen to claim that Hamlet is only love sick. He goes so far as to back up his own words by saying “Take this from this if this be otherwise./ If circumstances lead me, I will find/ where truth is hid, though it ere hid indeed/ within the center.” As Polonius says that the King and Queen can kill him if he’s wrong about Hamlet, it makes me wonder if he is really going to die at some point in the play. It is some pretty obvious foreshadowing. Since Ophelia is not the major reason for Hamlet’s sudden change in behavior, maybe Polonius is a character whose arrogance and uncalled for confidence will be the cause for his demise.