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Brevity is the soul of wit.

Polonius, right-hand man of Hamlet’s stepfather, King Claudius, has been employed to spy on the prince and report on his very odd behavior. As Polonius begins to deliver to the king and queen the results of his investigation, he embarks on this windy preface. Besides being nonsensical, his speech is self-contradictory: he wastes plenty of time denouncing the time wasted by rhetorical speechifying.

“Brevity is the soul of wit” has become a standard English proverb; in the process, its context has been somewhat neglected. Polonius, though he has high opinions indeed of his “wit” (that is, acumen), is the least brief and one of the least “witty” characters in the play. Freud aptly referred to Polonius as “the old chatterbox” in Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious.

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