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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: May ::
Re: Senile Dementia
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1114  Tuesday, 30 May 2000.

[1]     From:   Roy Flannagan <
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        Date:   Monday, 29 May 2000 12:04:52 -0400
        Subj:   Polonius as Big Baby

[2]     From:   Stuart Manger <
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        Date:   Monday, 29 May 2000 17:46:40 +0100
        Subj:   SHK 11.1106 Re: Senile Dementia

[3]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Monday, 29 May 2000 09:57:20 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1106 Re: Senile Dementia

[4]     From:   Werner Broennimann <
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        Date:   Monday, 29 May 2000 18:29:39 +0100
        Subj:   SHK 11.1088 Re: Senile Dementia


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Roy Flannagan <
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Date:           Monday, 29 May 2000 12:04:52 -0400
Subject:        Polonius as Big Baby

Felix Aylmer's slightly doddering Polonius in Olivier's movie, it seems
to me, is equally defensible as Richard Briers's Polonius-in-control in
Branagh's movie.  Hamlet must be allowed to be a shrewd judge of
character, right?  And Hamlet says he is a "great baby," in his second
childhood, and Hamlet's opinion is endorsed by Rosencrantz, with "an old
man is twice a child."  Hamlet also judges him, after death, as "a
wretched, rash, intruding fool."  Polonius has many characteristics of
the old as seen in Shakespeare's era-he is insensitive, he lives in the
past ("I did play Caesar once"), he forgets things, he dwells on fixed
ideas ("mad for thy love"), he repeats himself, he is an unblushing
toady ("very like a whale"); he is also a cruelly manipulative parent
who feels the need to spy on the sexual habits of both his children in
order to control their behavior; he is pedantic without being able to
live by his own precepts.  He doesn't have the sensitivity, the capacity
for love, the tragic awareness, of King Lear.

Roy Flannagan

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stuart Manger <
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Date:           Monday, 29 May 2000 17:46:40 +0100
Subject: Re: Senile Dementia
Comment:        SHK 11.1106 Re: Senile Dementia

Can that same Polonius moment be played as I once saw it convincingly?

Polonius is busy with state papers. Gets very absorbed, and is clearly
delivering an oft-repeated sermon to whoever, but gets so engrossed by
what he is reading that he loses track of what he is saying, manages to
break away from the state papers, and asks for a prompt? This seemed to
suggest that this Polonius is a deep-dyed apparatchik, wedded to the
darker secrets of state and his master of the moment - OKH, Claudius etc
- more or less equally unmindful of Laertes as well as Ophelia, such
that his later astonishing dismissal of Ophelia in the nunnery scene is
all of a piece with his chilly indifference to family? This same
Polonius made his few precepts' speech to Laertes walking about with
Reynaldo correcting papers, whispering to him as Laertes was speaking to
him, AND went further in that he was pretty testy at being interrupted
by Ophelia reporting H's dishevelled re-appearance to her, and very
reluctantly laid the papers aside and dismissed a servant.

Personally, I was deeply moved by this interpretation. I have always
found the 'jolly old buffoon' angle difficult to swallow. I don't think
it is dementia at all, but Shakespeare's subtle and scathing portrayal
of a government servant who has totally sold out to the apparatus of the
state, and can think of nothing but wiles and stratagems. P more or less
admits such just before his death. Bit late. There seems to me to be a
clever pseudo-comic smoke-screen blimpishness behind which is a chilly
crocodile of a Permanent Secretary (British respondents will understand
all that that implies!) easily able to slip into the muddy waters and
kill. What he does not reckon on is Hamlet's fierce determination to
break all the usual rules of state and cut corners, adopt his own odd
stratagem - eg The Mousetrap - and be in a position to be unintimidated
by Polonius' best efforts.

In the same show: Polonius's interrogation of Hamlet in which he gets
the very off-the-wall replies was conducted with Hamlet in a blasting
spotlight, tied to a chair while Polonius patrolled just outside the
light and occasionally nodded to the goons to slap Hamlet about a bit,
and  relishing the insults from H's wit because it gave him the excuse
for another biff. Genuine old-hand Stasi / KGB in deep cellars stuff.

So dementia? I am not totally convinced.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Monday, 29 May 2000 09:57:20 -0700
Subject: 11.1106 Re: Senile Dementia
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1106 Re: Senile Dementia

Lois Potter seems, while agreeing with it, to turn Terence's point on
its head:

>On the other hand, it doesn't usually happen: Polonius
>plays the moment with enough control, and often enough comedy, to make
>it clear that we are watching something happen inside rather than
>outside the play -- especially since actors don't normally tell other
>characters that they've dried. Reynaldo's reaction is perhaps even more
>crucial; however embarrassed or superior he may look, most people can
>tell that he is reacting as Reynaldo, not as a junior actor wondering
>how he can salvage the situation.

In this case, metadrama comes to depend on choices made by actors on the
basis of character study.  Rather than overthrowing characterology,
metadrama finds its foundation in it.

Don't worry Graham, you're not going mad-Terence has a good point, and
one which I largely agree with, though I wouldn't want to strain it too
far.  After all, if Shakespeare is capable of portraying the
dissemination of propaganda before Goebbels, a panopticon before
Foucault, or the will to power before Nietzsche, then he's certainly
capable of portraying Alzheimer's disease before the discoveries of
neurological chemistry.  The structure of the brain has probably changed
no more, and perhaps even less, in the interval than has the structure
of political organization.

That said, as my earlier note mentioned, I like to think of Polonius as
an actor losing his place.  The question is whether he's an actor on
stage or an actor in the court of Denmark.  If we think of him as a
political actor, then his losing his place need not make us much more
aware of the fact of watching a play, only of watching a play in which
another play is acted, in which secondary (and contained) drama,
somebody loses their place.

I always choke up when the Wife of Bath loses her place in her prologue,
to choose a parallel without really knowing where it might lead.
There's a peculiar frisson at this point, as if she's flickered into
reality for less than the time necessary to think reflectively about the
phenomenology of her character.  In other words, in this case, the
character losing her place seems to increase the illusion, not decrease
it.

Cheers,
Se

 

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