When Polonius says, “brevity is the soul of wit,” why is it ironic?

The phrase “brevity is the soul of wit” means that it is better to express intelligence using as few words as possible. In the play Hamlet, Polonius is a character who contradicts this phrase. He is verbose, repeating himself, and not concise. Polonius is vain, foolish, and hypocritical. In Act 2, he claims to be brief but goes on and on about Hamlet’s possible madness. He serves King Claudius but is also interested in his own gain. He advises his son to keep a low profile, listen more, and talk less to make an advantage for himself without putting himself in danger.

Polonius believes that the appearance is more important than being honest. He is a spy who uses this tactic to gain information, such as when he eavesdrops on Gertrude and Hamlet’s conversation. When Hamlet hears a noise, he stabs the hidden listener with his sword. Even after realizing his mistake, he does not repent because he sees Polonius as someone who uses mean tricks.

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Shakespeare uses the phrase “brevity is the soul of wit” to show his mastery of irony. In this context, it is not just a phrase but a contradiction between Polonius’s characterization and the sense of his words. Despite being contemptuous of Polonius, Prince Hamlet acknowledges his sage counsel. Shakespeare warns young people twice to stay conscious, which might be his own wisdom. In summary, Polonius’s verbose speeches and contradictory actions demonstrate the irony of the phrase “brevity is the soul of wit.”

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