Hamlet's Antic Disposition
[See Hamlet, II.ii.159-185 in which Polonius proposes to use his daughter Ophelia as a bait for Hamlet, while Polonius and Claudius conceal themselves behind an arras; at which point Hamlet enters unexpectedly and is spoken to by Polonius]
Everything that Hamlet here says is capable of an equivocal interpretation reflecting upon Polonius and Ophelia. "Fishmonger," as many commentators have noted, means a pander or procurer; "carrion" was a common expression at that time for "flesh" in the carnal sense; while the quibble in "conception" needs no explaining. And when I asked myself why Hamlet should suddenly call Polonius a bawd and his daughter a prostitute-for that is what it all amounts to-I could discover but one possible answer to my question, namely that "Fishmonger" and the rest follows immediately upon "loose my daughter to him." Nor was this the end of the matter. For what might Hamlet mean by his sarcastic advice to the father not to let the daughter "walke i'th Sunne," or by the reference to the sun breeding in the "carrion" exposed to it? Bearing in mind Hamlet's punning retort "I am too much in the 'son,'" in answer to Claudius's unctuous question at J.ii.64,
And now my cousin Hamlet, and my son,
How is it that the clouds still hang on you?
- and recalling Falstaff's apostrophe to Prince Hal: "Shall the blessed sun of heaven prove a micher and eat blackberries? a question not to be asked. Shall the son of England prove a thief and take purses? a question to be asked," is it not obvious that Hamlet here means by "Sunne" the sun or son of Denmark, the heir apparent, in other words himself? And if so, "let her not walke i'th Sunne" is to be paraphrased "take care that you do not loose your daughter to me!"
What then? Hamlet must have overheard what Polonius said to the King. The context allows no escape from this conclusion, inasmuch as what Hamlet says to Polonius is only intelligible if the conclusion be allowed. It remains to examine the text in order to discover, if possible, what Shakespeare's intentions, clearly impaired in some way by corruption, may have been. We are left, of course, to conjecture, but even so we are not entirely without clues. Says Polonius:
You know sometimes he walks...