Advisor(s) - Committee Chair
Hoyt Bowen, Robert Ward, William McMahon
Department of English
Master of Arts
On the archetypal level of Hamlet, Polonius embodies three roles--the wise old man, the fool, and the scapegoat-- in a schema composed also of embodiments of the archetypal hero-prince, the anima, the racial father, the shadow, the terrible mother, and the night sea journey. Polonius as an incarnation of the wise old man archetype has both a positive side, which is denoted in his relationship to Ophelia, and a negative side, which is shown in his relationship to Hamlet. From the wise old man, Polonius degenerates into the archetypal fool who, being on the periphery of the social order, constantly tries to secure his position. Within his role as fool, Polonius resembles the vice figure of the old morality plays and the archetypal trickster figure, both of which add complexity to this role. From the fool, Polonius degenerates into a scapegoat, in which form he resembles another scapegoat figure in Shakespeare, Falstaff, and is sacrificed, at which time he both substitutes for the king and portends his death. Polonius' degeneration and denouement within his roles contrast, through symbols connected with the mother archetype, with the sacrifice of the hero, Hamlet, which is preceded not by a degeneration but by a journey which fits the model of the archetypal night sea journey. After this journey, a reoriented and reborn Hamlet sacrifices himself, and, in so doing, makes possible the resurgence of a new order, the old society having been destroyed symbolically at Polonius' death. Although the two sacrifices are contrasted in the play - Polonius' is truncated and Hamlet's is transcendent - both are necessary to reform and revitalize a corrupt and dying social order.
Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature | Literature in English, British Isles | Playwriting | Theatre and Performance Studies
Oakes, Elizabeth, "Polonius, the Man Behind the Arras: A Study of His Archetypal Significance" (1975). Masters Theses & Specialist Projects. Paper 2696.