Act 2, scene 1 of Hamlet begins with the passage “A room in Polonius’ house,” which describes the stage’s setting. Shakespeare chose this place to depict the privacy of Polonius’ dishonest actions and intentions.
Even simple notes about the scenes in Hamlet bear a significance for storytelling. Each description adds subtle details to the interactions of the stage and the whole play. The events of Hamlet take place in the 11th century, in a royal castle in Denmark. The first scene of Act 2 occurs at Polonius’ house, located near the Court. This scene in the play is transitional. Yet it reveals an essential aspect of further character relations.
The exact place of Polonius’ residence remains relatively vague. Variations of this location in different plays can change the added dramatic effect from closeness to the Court. However, the main impact it conveys is the privacy and secrecy of Polonius’ dealings. The story of Hamlet is an example of a Shakespearean tragedy. That is to say, the character’s fate was foreshadowed. Polonius’s desire to know everyone’s secrets, shown in that scene, leads to his untimely demise.
In an isolated place, Polonius speaks and acts more open, without much pretense. He gives thorough directions to Reynaldo, requesting him to spy on Laertes. He advises pretending to be his son’s acquaintance:
You shall do marvellous wisely, good Reynaldo,
Before you visit him, to make inquire
Of his behavior.
Your bait of falsehood takes this carp of truth:
And thus do we of wisdom and of reach,
With windlasses and with assays of bias,
By indirections find directions out.
(Act 2, Scene 1)
Then he inquires Ophelia about information she possesses about Hamlet. Via his daughter, he tries to find what’s on the protagonist’s mind and whether he is dangerous. As a result, he admits that he didn’t trust Hamlet:
By heaven, it is as proper to our age
To cast beyond ourselves in our opinions
As it is common for the younger sort
To lack discretion.
(Act 2, Scene 1)
These two encounters are separated, with only a glimpse slipping from one to another. They demonstrate how Polonius values intimate knowledge and knows its price. In Act 3, by showing disregard for the privacy of others, Polonius meets his death.