The Manipulation of Polonius and Ophelia in Hamlet
The main plot of Shakespeare's Hamlet centers around Prince Hamlet's desire to repay King Claudius for his evil deeds. Around this central action revolve the stories concerning the minor characters of Polonius and Ophelia. Though they do not motivate Hamlet's actions towards the King, these characters act as forces upon Hamlet himself, trying to spur him to do things he does not want to do. Both Polonius and Ophelia try, unsuccessfully, to manipulate Hamlet into a place of inferiority.
In the first scene of Act II, Polonius and Ophelia discuss the meaning of Hamlet's odd behavior. Though the two characters agree his actions arise out of the torment of spurned love, they arrive at that point through very different means. At the beginning of the dialogue, Ophelia says that she has been "affrighted" by Hamlet in her bed chamber. (II,i 75) Her encounter with the Prince left her scared about his real intentions. She says that he looks like he has been,"loosed out of hell/To speak of horrors". (II,i 83-4) The very fact that Hamlet does not speak one word to Ophelia makes him look even more intimidating. By not speaking anything, Hamlet at once strengthens his image as a madman, as well as shrouding his real intentions towards those around him. Just following this passage comes a place in the text where we can see how the character of Ophelia has been manipulated by Polonius. After his "hint" that he might be doing this out of frustrated love, Ophelia says that that is what she truly does fear. (87) Her feelings of pity and concern are shaped by her father in order to fit his case of madness against Hamlet.
To further strengthen this situation, Polonius' first words show concern not for Ophelia's well-being, but for Hamlet's intentions upon her. Polonius prompts Ophelia,"Mad for thy love?" (II,i 85) Polonius tries to change the way Ophelia may think about the incident in order to get power and control over Hamlet. Issues of power are foremost in Polonius' mind. He immediately seeks the King in order to legitimate his accusations concerning Hamlet. By doing this, not only does Polonius gain power over Hamlet, but also with the King himself. Polonius tries to control the way Hamlet is seen around the court so as to rise in stature himself. Through his manipulation of Ophelia, Polonius becomes a character not as much concerned with familial ties as one whose concern rests within the world of court intrigue and position.
Taken separately, these two characters have different agendas concerning the Prince. Polonius' preoccupation with power exists at the same time as Ophelia's true (but nevertheless easily controlled) concern. When looked at together, these two people form something larger. Ophelia's sentiments, when mixed with Polonius' desire for power, result in a double-edged sword aimed at Hamlet. Other scenes within the play have both of these characters...