Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: March ::
Re: Polonius' Precepts
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0341.  Tuesday, 11 March 1997.

[1]     From:   Laura Fargas  <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Monday, 10 Mar 1997 20:13:16 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0335  Re: Polonius' Precepts

[2]     From:   Louis C Swilley <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Monday, 10 Mar 1997 20:54:11 -0600 (CST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0335 Re: Polonius' Precepts

[3]     From:   Louis Marder <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Friday, 28 Feb 1997 01:47:36 PST
        Subj:   Re: Polonius' Precepts


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Laura Fargas  <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Monday, 10 Mar 1997 20:13:16 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 8.0335  Re: Polonius' Precepts
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0335  Re: Polonius' Precepts

To add a rather simplistic historical note to this discussion, I can't
help but read Polonius' precept "to thine own self be true, then it
follows, etc." in light of two things:  Essex' recent behavior at the
approximate time of Hamlet's composition, which was notably, not to say
notoriously, self-seeking; and the overall debate in the Elizabethan
mind about the role of a courtier in light of Machiavellian precepts.
That issue could have seemed particularly fresh at that time, when
Burghley's death was still relatively recent, and Elizabeth's could be
foreseen.

Chapter xxii of 'The Prince' warns princes against servants who follow
their own interests ("self-minded men"), and Bacon wrote an essay (whose
name slips my mind at the moment, sorry) echoing and elaborating upon
that topic.  Polonius' advice is distinctly contrary to this view.
Perhaps this would have inclined a contemporary (Elizabethan into early
Jacobean) audience to view him as less a doddery old dear, and more the
calculating "devil that Branagh makes him out to be," as Joseph Tate put
it.

Laura Fargas

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Louis C Swilley <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Monday, 10 Mar 1997 20:54:11 -0600 (CST)
Subject: 8.0335 Re: Polonius' Precepts
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0335 Re: Polonius' Precepts

It used to be put about that Polonius' advice to Laertes was "old hat"
to every Elizabethan school boy, who had to memorize and recite the
advice he so "sagely" delivers. Olivier suggested that possibility when
he directed his Laertes and Ophelia (the lovely Jean Simmons) to treat
their father's remarks lightly.  And does anyone remember a production
of the play in which, during this scene, Laertes and Ophelia mouth the
words with him, implying that they had "heard that tune before"?

This and other scenes with Polonius remain problems for me.  This man is
the first minister of state, the right hand of the astute Claudius (who
tragically shows his competence to fill an office to which he now has
absolutely no right).  When Polonius says to his emissary to Paris,
"What was I saying?" it is not the remark of a senile old man - as
Olivier had Fexix Aylmer play him - it is the command of a high official
who need not bother remembering, for he has servants who had damned well
better remember for him.

In one filmed production of Hamlet, Polonius's speech to Laertes is
delivered while the father is signing documents, nervously breaking away
from his duties as minister to answer his too-often-neglected duties as
father.

Some productions have suggested that Polonius has been in cahoots with
Claudius in the murder - either having assisted or having guessed after
the fact, and is conducting a sly blackmail scheme.  Such a reading
would provide opportunities for such scenes as Polonius' report of
Hamlet's madness to the king and queen (the "brevity is the soul of wit"
scene, where the old man is having a great time playing his hand.)

But the stickler for me is the two scenes where Polonius convinces
Claudius to hide behind the arras to overhear Hamlet and Ophelia, then
is again behind the arras to overhear Hamlet with Gertrude! If Polonius
is a senile old man, these might make sense for his character (but,
Claudius!!?); if he *is* senile, why is he kept in office and respected
by the shrewd Claudius?

L. Swilley
Houston

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Louis Marder <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Friday, 28 Feb 1997 01:47:36 PST
Subject:        Re: Polonius' Precepts

Rob O'Connor on Polonius:  I have always objected to Polonius being
played as a doddering idiot giving stupid information to his son.  Long
before I had a son of Laertes' age I thought it good advice.  Lord
Burleigh gave same advice.  OK, Polonius is a little talkative, but he
is a king's minister, that is his job.  With a son going off to a
foreign country, why not give such advice?  Polonius was minister to
Hamlet Senior too.  Would Clauidius have kept him on if he was a
nut-brained old man?  And what's wrong with his advice to Ophelia?  He
is a parent, that is the advice they give.  He wasn't royal so why would
he think his daughter might marry a Prince.  She could, but....
Hamlet could, but....  I have seen the play with a wise Polonius; it
played very well.  The audience which was ignorant of the dramatic
tradition of the foolish old man accepted it very well.  Try it some
time; or read it that way and see if it doesn't work.  More matter with
less art doesn't mean P is a fool.  He is making a point.  Louis Marder

 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 
 

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.