is a character in William Shakespeare's Hamlet. He is chief
counsellor of the king, and the father of Laertes and Ophelia.
Generally regarded as wrong in every judgment he makes over the course
of the play,
is described by
"sincere" father, but also "a busy-body, [who] is accordingly
officious, garrulous, and impertinent". In Act II
as a "tedious old fool" and taunts him as a latter day
connives with Claudius to spy on Hamlet.
kills Polonius, provoking Ophelia's fit of madness, ultimately
resulting in her early death and the climax of the play: a duel
between Laertes and Hamlet.
4 Stage and film portrayals
5 Famous lines
6 Notable portrayals
Ophelia and Laertes, and counselor to King Claudius, he is
described as a windbag by some and a rambler of wisdom by others. It
has also been suggested that he only acts like a "foolish prating
knave" to keep his position and popularity safe and to keep anyone
from discovering his plots for social advancement. It is important to
note that throughout the play,
Polonius is characterised as a typical
Renaissance "new man", who pays much attention to appearances and
ceremonious behaviour. Some adaptations show him conspiring with
Claudius in the murder of King Hamlet.
In Act 1, Scene 3,
Polonius gives advice to his son Laertes, who is
leaving for France, in the form of a list of sententious maxims. He
finishes by giving his son his blessing, and is apparently at ease
with his son's departure. However, in Act 2, Scene 1, he orders his
servant Reynaldo to travel to Paris and spy on Laertes and report if
he is indulging in any local vice.
Laertes is not the only character
Polonius spies upon. He is fearful
that Hamlet's relationship with his daughter will hurt his reputation
with the king and instructs
Ophelia to "lock herself from [Hamlet's]
resort". He later suspects that Ophelia's rejection of Hamlet's
attention has caused the prince to lose his wits, and informs Gertrude
and Claudius of his suspicion, claiming that his reason for commanding
Ophelia to reject
Hamlet was that the prince was above her station. He
and the king test his hypothesis by spying on and interrogating
In his last attempt to spy on Hamlet,
Polonius hides himself behind an
arras in Gertrude's room.
Hamlet deals roughly with his mother,
causing her to cry for help.
Polonius echoes the request for help and
is heard by Hamlet, who then mistakes the voice for Claudius' and
stabs through the arras and kills him.
Polonius' death at the hands of
Hamlet causes Claudius to fear for his
Ophelia to go mad, and Laertes to seek revenge, which leads
to the duel in the final act.
The literary origins of the character may be traced to the King's
counselor found in the
Belleforest and William Painter versions of the
Hamlet legend. However, at least since the 19th century scholars have
also sought to understand the character in terms of Elizabethan court
Polonius was first proposed as a parody of Queen Elizabeth's leading
counsellor, Lord Treasurer, and Principal Secretary William Cecil,
Lord Burghley in 1869.
Israel Gollancz also suggested that Polonius
might have been a satire on Burghley. The theory was often finessed
with supplementary arguments, but also disputed. Arden Hamlet
editor Harold Jenkins, for example, criticised the idea of any direct
personal satire of Burghley as "unlikely" and "uncharacteristic of
A stained glass representation of Polonius
Gollancz proposed that the source for the character's name and
sententious platitudes was De optimo senatore, a book on statesmanship
by the Polish courtier Wawrzyniec Grzymała Goślicki, which was
widely read after it was translated into English and published in 1598
under the title The Counsellor. "Polonius" is Latin for "Polish" or
"a/the Polish man." The English translation of the book refers to its
author as a statesman of the "polonian empyre".
In the first quarto of Hamlet,
Polonius is named "Corambis". It has
been suggested that this derives from "crambe" or "crambo", derived
from a Latin phrase meaning "reheated cabbage", implying "a boring old
man" who spouts trite rehashed ideas. Whether this was the
original name of the character or not is debated. Various suggestions
have been made to explain this. G. R. Hibbard argues that the name was
originally Polonius, but was changed because Q1 derives from a version
of the play to be performed in Oxford and Cambridge, and the original
name was too close to that of Robert Polenius, founder of Oxford
Polonius is a parody of a pompous
pseudo-intellectual, the name might have been interpreted as a
deliberate insult. The title page of Q1 specifically states that
the play was recently performed in London, Oxford and Cambridge.
Stage and film portrayals
In most productions of the 20th century, up to about 1980, Polonius
was played as a somewhat senile, garrulous man of about seventy-five
or so, eliciting a few laughs from the audience by the depiction. More
recent productions have tended to play him as a slightly younger man,
and to emphasise his shiftiness rather than pompous senility, harking
back to the traditional manner in which
Polonius was played before the
20th century. Until the 1900s there was a tradition that the actor who
Polonius also plays the quick-witted gravedigger in Act V. This
bit suggests that the actor who played
Polonius was an actor used to
playing clowns much like the Fool in King Lear: not a doddering old
fool, but an alive and intelligent master of illusion and
Polonius adds a new dimension to the play and is a
controlling and menacing character.
One key to the portrayal is a producer's decision to keep or remove
the brief scene with his servant, Reynaldo, which comes after his
scene of genial, fatherly advice to Laertes. He instructs Reynaldo to
spy on his son, and even suggest that he has been gambling and
consorting with prostitutes, to find out what he has really been up
to. The inclusion of this scene portrays him in a much more sinister
light; most productions, including Laurence Olivier's famous 1948 film
version, choose to remove it. The respective productions starring
Richard Burton and
Kenneth Branagh both include it. Although Hume
Polonius mostly for laughs in the Burton production,
Polonius is more sinister than comic in Branagh's version.
Polonius's most famous lines are found in Act 1 Scene 3 ("Neither a
borrower nor a lender be"; "To thine own self be true") and Act 2
Scene 2 ("Brevity is the soul of wit"; and "Though this be madness,
yet there is method in't") while others have become paraphrased
aphorisms ("Clothes make the man"; "Old friends are the best
friends"). Also, the line he speaks when he is killed by
Hamlet in Act
3 scene 4 ("O, I am slain!") has been subject to much parody and
ridicule due to its relative obviousness.
Hume Cronyn won a
Tony Award for playing
Polonius opposite Richard
Hamlet in John Gielgud's 1964 Broadway production. No other
actor has ever won an award for playing
Polonius in any professional
American stage version of Hamlet, nor for playing him in a film
version of the play.
In "The Producer", a 1966 episode of Gilligan's Island, Polonius'
"Neither a borrower nor a lender be" speech is performed satirically,
first by series regular
Alan Hale Jr.
Alan Hale Jr. as
The Skipper playing the role
Dawn Wells as Mary Ann playing Laertes) in a musical
Hamlet by the castaways, then by Phil Silvers
guest-starring as a famous stage producer who finds himself on the
Actors who have played
Polonius on film and television include Hans
Junkermann, Ian Holm, Michael Redgrave, Ian Richardson, Oliver Ford
Davies, Bill Murray, and Richard Briers.
Fictional characters portal
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Polonius.
^ 'Hamlet' in William Hazlitt, Characters of Shakespeare's Plays.
Polonius at Encyclopædia Britannica". Encyclopædia Britannica.
Retrieved 10 July 2014.
Hamlet Act II scene ii – William Shakespeare.
^ French, George Russell. "Notes on Hamlet." Archived 10 October 2008
at the Wayback Machine. In Shakspeareana Genealogica. London:
Macmillan & Co., 1869. pp. 299–310.
^ See, for example, Lilian Winstanley,
Hamlet and the Scottish
Succession, 1921, 112; 114–118; John Dover Wilson, The Essential
Shakespeare, 1937, 104; Joel Hurstfield, The Queen's Wards, 1958, 257;
A.L. Rowse William Shakespeare: A Biography, 1963, 323; Shakespeare
The Man, 1973 185, 186.
^ Jenkins, Harold, ed.
Hamlet (1982), 142.
^ Daniel H. Cole, "From Renaissance Poland to Poland's Renaissance:
The Struggle for Constitutionalism in Poland by Mark Brzezinski,"
Michigan Law Review, Vol. 97, No. 6, 1999
^ William Shakespeare, Philip Edwards (ed) Hamlet, Prince of Denmark,
Cambridge University Press, 2004, p.71.
^ Courtney, Krystyna Kujawinska. “
Shakespeare in Poland: selected
Shakespeare Editions, University of Victoria, 2003,
^ G. R. Hibbard (ed), Hamlet, Oxford University Press, 1998, p.69-75.
^ "See all of Polonius's lines". Opensourceshakespeare.org. Retrieved
10 July 2014.
^ Elizabeth Abele (20 November 2013). Home Front Heroes: The Rise of a
New Hollywood Archetype, 1988–1999. McFarland. p. 187.
William Shakespeare's Hamlet
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
"To be, or not to be"
"What a piece of work is a man"
"Speak the speech"
Words and phrases
"The lady doth protest too much, methinks"
"Thy name is"
Legend of Hamlet
The Spanish Tragedy
House of Gonzaga
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Common phrases from Hamlet
Hamlet in popular culture
References to Ophelia
Language of flowers
Human skull symbolism
Moscow Art Theatre (1911–1912)
Richard Burton (1964)
The Rest Is Silence (1959)
The Bad Sleep Well
The Bad Sleep Well (1960)
Hamlet Less (1973)
The Angel of Vengeance – The Female
Strange Brew (1983)
Hamlet Goes Business (1987)
The Lion King
The Lion King (1994)
Let the Devil Wear Black (1999)
The Banquet (2006)
Hamlet A.D.D. (2014)
The Lion King
The Lion King (2019)
Gertrude and Claudius
Gertrude and Claudius (2000)
Ophelia's Revenge (2003)
The Dead Fathers Club (2006)
Something Rotten (2007)
Hamlet's Father (2008)
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (2008)
Hamlet Had an Uncle
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The Lion King (1997)
Hamlet (Australian TV, 1959)
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Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (BBC, 1980)
Hamlet (BBC 2, animated, 1992)
Hamlet (BBC 2, 2009)
The Complete Works of
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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
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To Be or Not to Be: That is the Adventure
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"Pull Me Under" (1992)
"Song for Athene" (1997)
Die Hamletmaschine (Rihm)
Story within a story
To Be or Not to Be (1942)
Hamlet in the Village of Mrdusa Donja (1973)
To Be or Not to Be (1983)
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990)
Highlander II: The Quickening (1991)
Last Action Hero
Last Action Hero (1993)
Renaissance Man (1994)
In the Bleak Midwinter (1995)
Hamlet 2 (2008)
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead (2009)
Three Days (2012)
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1966)
Stage Blood (1974)
To Be or Not to Be (2008)
Hamlet, Revenge! (1937)
Theatre of War (1994)
"The Undiscovered" (1997)
Shakespeare Stealer (1998)
Interred with Their Bones
Interred with Their Bones (2007)
"The Producer" (1966)
"The Conscience of the King" (1966)
"Born to Be King" (1983)
"Terrance and Phillip: Behind the Blow" (2001)
Slings & Arrows (2003)
Affe mit Schädel
Last Action Hero
Last Action Hero (1993)
Asterix and the Great Crossing
Hamlet and Oedipus
Hamlet and His Problems
Ostalo je ćutanje
The Chronicles of Amber
"Symphony No. 65" (Haydn)
The Hobart Shakespeareans
Gertrude – The Cry