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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: January ::
Re: Polonius Clan
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0139  Tuesday, 23 January 2001

[1]     From:   L. Swilley <
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        Date:   Sunday, 21 Jan 2001 10:46:26 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0123 Re: Polonius Clan

[2]     From:   Simon Morris <
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        Date:   Monday, 22 Jan 2001 10:58:58 GMT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0123 Re: Polonius Clan

[3]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Sunday, 21 Jan 2001 17:29:03 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0123 Re: Polonius Clan


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           L. Swilley <
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Date:           Sunday, 21 Jan 2001 10:46:26 -0600
Subject: 12.0123 Re: Polonius Clan
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0123 Re: Polonius Clan

I certainly agree with Mr. Doniger, who waxes impatient with
productions, like Olivier's, that present Polonius as a doddering old
fool, for not only is Polonius the first minister of state, he also has
the attentive ear of the wily Claudius, who suffers fools not at all.
Branagh's presentation of Claudius was more believable. Concerning
Polonius' advice to Laertes: I read somewhere years ago that the speech
given was a recitation of "wisdom" to be found in any Elizabethan
school-boy's hornbook.  If that is so, it would do much to explain
Laertes', Ophelia's (and the Elizabethan audience's) amusement at the
speech.

        L. Swilley

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Simon Morris <
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Date:           Monday, 22 Jan 2001 10:58:58 GMT
Subject: 12.0123 Re: Polonius Clan
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0123 Re: Polonius Clan

Ed Pixley wrote:

> More importantly, the climactic bit of advice, "This above all, to
> thine own self be true, and it shall follow as the night the day . . .
> ," is a piece of advice that Laertes does not follow, a failure that
> results in his undoing, and for which he has to beg Hamlet's forgiveness
> as he is dying.

Isn't Laertes true to his rather doltish self for most of the play,
regardless of how true he is to Hamlet? If anything, it's his dying
appeal for mutual forgiveness that strikes me as unexpected.

Isn't the interesting part of Polonius' advice its wording, which
forgets that day and night are opposites, and confuses (or accidentally
puns on) the temporal and logical meanings of "follows"?  It's not easy
to imagine Hamlet being so unaware of what his choice of words is doing.

S.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Sunday, 21 Jan 2001 17:29:03 -0500
Subject: 12.0123 Re: Polonius Clan
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0123 Re: Polonius Clan

It has long seemed to me that Polonius's advice serves more of a
dramatic than thematic function:  It establishes him as an habitual
employer of aphorisms, proverbs and epigrams, especially when
instructing his children.  Therefore, if Polonius's daughter uses such
an expression it is fairly inferable that she has been directed by the
old man, especially as this sort of rhetoric does not come naturally to
Ophelia.

At the beginning of the nunnery scene Ophelia offers to return Hamlet's
gifts; he refuses them; she insists, saying "to the noble mind / Rich
gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind," the kind of thing we have
become accustomed to hearing from Polonius, not Ophelia.  Hamlet catches
on immediately:  "Ha, ha! are your honest?" and off we go.

I have never seen a better explanation for how Hamlet becomes aware of
Ophelia's duplicity.  Without something like this, we are forced to
invent stage directions -- shoes under the arras, Hamlet's presence when
the text has him offstage, etc.  This view puts the explanation in the
text itself, and also provides a reason for the (otherwise)
developmentally unnecessary advice scene.
 

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