Janus is the roman God of beginnings and endings, represented with a double-faced head, each looking in opposite directions. A worldly politician always watches his back and Polonius, the king's advisor from Shakespeare's Hamlet gives this concept a whole new meaning. His advice to his children may seem like unwanted, hypocritical opinions, but in fact, delve into a clever facade put on in order to deceive those around him. His attempts at truth are discredited, but upon examining the process in gaining those truths, a complex and scheming man is discovered. His ramblings seem dull on the surface, but divulge into a clever soul that is constantly thinking up new stratagems to gain answers.
The long-winded observations spouted by Polonius rarely exercise clarity and his concept of brevity can frustrate anyone to demand for "more matter with less art" (II.II.98). He is the most quoted out of the minor characters (Geller, 2001). This can be seen in his long, circular speeches that attempt a skill of spewing out politically correct statements as he tries to contend with Hamlet and Claudius.
He has a tedious habit, saying six words when one would suffice, and occasionally finds himself swaying away from the original thread of the conversation to deliver meaningless asides. Thus, by critics, he is rendered a "doddering old fool" (Geller, 2001) a few years away from senescence. Others see him as simply impractical and "completely incompetent. This reputation of a "foolish, prating knave" allows Polonius to waylay the lowered defences of people in his presence making it easier to obtain information. His verbosity may be a clever wile to prevent the dispute that would occur if Claudius were to feel that his inferior was more astute than he. Polonius enjoys pulling the strings, exploiting his observational tendencies by hiding in the shadows to eavesdrop on Hamlet in a childlike behaviour. This is contrasted to his paternal responsiveness as he attempts to convince Ophelia that Hamlet's motives are undignified. However shameful his qualities, one cannot argue that they aren't intriguing. Polonius reveals characteristics that range from the culpable to the worthy, and actions that array tactlessness to valid scrutiny. His deferential way of talking to his superiors is different from the fluid spiels he uses with his children. He does not resort to the condescending pleasantries he uses when talking to others. His role as the king's advisor could not have been achieved by a simpleton. His behaviours are not one of a fool, but of a complex and well-rounded man.
Politicians have their real face and the face they show to the public. Polonius does not want his statesman face to be blemished by any scandal created by his children. This is why he gives the double standard to Laertes in Act I. He wants to be portrayed as a loving father concerned about the welfare of his son, but at the same time throws in advice that would keep his own image from being tarnished. He tells Laertes "to thine own self be true" (I.III.79) which is a statement that in itself raises a series of questions about epistemology. A senile, old fool cannot spawn such wisdom by accident. The one-dimensional cannot ponder the elements of truth. Further exploration reveals that Polonius has great depth and insights into himself and the minds of the other characters. Though his advice to Laertes is phony, Polonius' counsel is reasoned and useful. Sending Renaldo to spy on Laertes is hardly a fatherly concern for the wellbeing of his only son, but a reassurance that his behaviours are adequate for the son of a king's chamberlain. When Ophelia speaks to him of Hamlet's love he forbids the relationship. Hamlet is the royalty which Polonius advises and a marriage is impossible in his eyes. He wields the authority behind the throne, controlling the king and ordering the other advisors around. Perhaps the thought of his daughter becoming queen and ending up in a more prestigious position than himself unnerved him. Polonius harshly tells Ophelia to "tender yourself more dearly" (I.III. 107-108). He calls her a prostitute for seeing Hamlet, despite there being no evidence to refute the claim that she slept with him. Ophelia devotedly tells Polonius that Hamlet "made many tenders of his affection towards [her]" (I.III.99-100). He in turn, confuses her with a series of tiresome puns by changing meanings of 'tenders' as coins, further associating her a prostitute. These strategies of coercion are evocative of a politician. His loyalty to the state comes before his children because his link to greater power is through the king, not his family.
Polonius has a cunning mind, persistently coming up with ways to find the answers, mostly by the technique of spying. He searches for cause and effect. "I have found / The very cause of Hamlet's lunacy" (II.II.48-49), he does not accept facts, but seeks to discover his own truth. He disregards his daughter's feelings in Act III when he tries to relate Hamlet's madness to the rejected love dealt by Ophelia. When he voices this reason to the king and queen, Gertrude expresses annoyance and frustration at his lack of a bottom-line and Claudius is new to the kingship and seems oblivious to these ramblings, only seeking guidance from his chief advisor. The king is interested on Polonius' linkage of Hamlet's insanity to Ophelia's love, but the queen discredits his assessments as mere blather. However, the lengths Polonius goes to test out his theories through a slew of probing questions cannot be the deeds of a simple man. His nature leads him to mistrust, deceit and deception which are unfortunate in one who deals with human relations with such vulgarity. Readers cannot sympathize with Polonius when he is portrayed so negatively, simply seeing a childish old man whom they can expect comic relief from, whose never-ending ramblings and comedic misconceptions make him more of a joke than an intellectual philosopher. It makes his death unsurprising rather than the jarring event it ought to be. Polonius deserved some punishment for his meddling and intriguing, but certainly not death at the hands of Hamlet.
Polonius states that " [he] played Julius Caesar" (III.II.94) and was stabbed by hidden conspirators. The irony is that he dies Caesar's death as a hidden conspirator, continuing to control events even after his death. It is his casualty that led to Ophelia's death and later to the deaths of Laertes, Gertrude, and Hamlet. If stimulating both allies and enemies to ponder the meaning of truth, if the concern for one's children under a mask of personal image protection and a vast range of personality traits are what comprises a fool, then Hamlet was correct in his assumption. Nevertheless, few could rationally assert that such in-depth merits do not induce the notion of a fool, but that of an insightful, three dimensional human being. Polonius represents rot and decay, but further study exposes a character that will remain an intricately designed epitome of wisdom.