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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: January ::
Re: Polonius Clan
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0104  Thursday, 18 January 2001

[1]     From:   Phyll Gorfain <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 16 Jan 2001 11:11:48 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0068 Re: Kent (now the Polonius clan)

[2]     From:   Don Bloom <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 16 Jan 2001 13:25:48 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0068 Re: Kent (now the Polonius clan)


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Phyll Gorfain <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
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Date:           Tuesday, 16 Jan 2001 11:11:48 -0500
Subject: 12.0068 Re: Kent (now the Polonius clan)
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0068 Re: Kent (now the Polonius clan)

Paul Doniger wrote, in response to Moira Russell's admiration of
Ophelia/Laretes mocking Polonius behind his back (this is seen in the
Williamson movie of many years ago), that he thinks it detracts from
Polonius' proverbs and even wisdom:

>I have often seen this playfulness, which I
>think is appropriate to the characters, generally, but inappropriate to
>the scene.  What bothers me is when the teasing covers Polonius's advice
>to Laertes to the point that it distracts the audience from what
>Polonius actually says.  This is the first opportunity we have to see
>how skilled and serious an advisor Polonius actually is (I have really
>gotten exceedingly tired of seeing Polonius played as a one-dimensional
>buffoon) , and it is important that we pay attention to what he is
>telling his son. The "endless proverbs" are actually quite true and
>useful, and the actor playing Laertes needs to listen to it attentively.
>This also is the only opportunity we have to see the love Laertes bears
>his father-certainly important in light of his heated vengeance later in
>the play. I find that if Laertes and Ophelia show "affectionate
>impatience" at this moment, although it is amusing and entertaining, it
>detracts from the full presentation of Laertes and Polonius as fully
>rounded characters.
>
>Does anybody have any thoughts about this?

Briefly, I would say that while I think too much stage business of this
kind CAN contribute to the audience judging Polonius as nothing more a
buffoon.  That certainly is a problem if we are to take seriously a
crafty ruler like Claudius listening to his advice and conspiring with
him, relying on him as a spy, etc.

Nonetheless, I think that Polonius' sententious and proverbial style
with Laertes is suspect as wise advice to a youth leaving home.  The
problem with Polonius string of proverbs is that they are rushed
together, in a kind of hyper-stimulating series that does not allow each
piece of advice its own integrity.  The rush of prefabricated,
traditional proverbs can attain weight and wisdom if given with due
regard and time for audience absorption.  Piling one proverb, on another
as Polonius does, indicates his need to appear important and wise rather
than his ability to convey wise words.  The performance of the proverbs,
and the way of presenting them, undermines their effect and betrays his
lack of understanding of how to perform proverbial wisdom effectively.
Later Ophelia's use of proverbs in a possibly just as sententious way
can greatly annoy Hamlet, as it will show a family reliance on available
speech rather than fresh and direct communication.

The other problem with Polonius advice as wise is that he doesn't follow
it himself.  His final proberb "To thyself be true" is an admonition he
does not, in fact, trust to himself, his daughter, or his son, nor to
Hamlet.  Polonius spies or sets up spying on both the last two; he uses
his daughter in a spying scheme; and he does not respect the need for
his children to find themselves to be true to.  He sacrifices his
daughter's privacy and reputation to advance or protect himself and his
family's interests at court, and he allows himself to be made a fool by
Hamlet in order to retain a position with Claudius.

I think in an effectively performance, Polonius' children can to show,
beneath their affectionate awareness of his tendency toward foolishness,
their reservoir of respect and love for Polonius.  If they are to be
stricken, if not devastated by his death (perhaps as much the manner as
the fact), we need to see that they have a bond with him and with each
other. I think the complex balance of Polonius' craftiness, perhaps
former effectiveness as a court counselor, foolishness, ambition, and
destructiveness to himself, his family, and the court needs to touching
and troubling.  The children's own complex behavior with their father
and together can help set the stage for our sense of his complexity,
which even Hamlet recognizes, to some extent.  In the way Laertes
leaves, he and Ophelia can show their recognition of Polonius' fatherly
concern and of Polonius' past acumen as an advisor.  Their mockery can
perhaps show that they need to share their awareness that he is not
demonstrating either very effectively at that moment, bvut they can,
perhaps, express a certain regret in their interplay.

Phyllis Gorfain

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Don Bloom <
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 >
Date:           Tuesday, 16 Jan 2001 13:25:48 -0600
Subject: 12.0068 Re: Kent (now the Polonius clan)
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0068 Re: Kent (now the Polonius clan)

My Romantic tendencies-which I really do try to keep in check-may lead
me to view characters in too black and white a cast, but my view of
Polonius remains very negative. He is, to me, the tedious old fool that
Hamlet calls him, as evidenced by his dithering introduction of the love
letter to Claudius and Gertrude. He is, moreover, a time-server and a
hypocrite, able to compromise any principle so long as "the
administration" succeeds, and he with it. Finally, he's a domestic
tyrant who casually destroys his daughter's happiness without ever
making a serious effort to find out what Hamlet's intentions are and
whether the king and queen would accept Ophelia as the princess.

At the end of the scene in question, when he tears the poor girl shreds,
he gets more and more upset when there's nothing to get upset about. He
appears to be one of those people who are unable to handle emotion, get
angry as a result, and have to take out their anger on someone else,
whether present or absent. Ophelia is available, so she gets grilled,
insulted, and browbeaten like a bad servant.

Frankly, I think it's quite likely that she and Laertes would get even
with this overbearing windbag by making fun of him behind his back.

Paul Doniger is right that "the 'endless proverbs' are actually quite
true and useful," but their pomposity is tedious-and the situation
completely inappropriate.

Or so I view it,
don
 

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