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|GR: About that Polonius
Written by Barbara
(5/18/2003 1:36 p.m.)
One of Laraine's themes/topics for the week is:
Is Polonius just a blow hard toady, or is he sometimes insightful? naturally devious, but generally thickheaded?
To me, Polonius is a character who can really be changed a lot according to who is playing him and how they have chosen to do it.
Richard Briers, in Branagh's Hamlet, does seem to me to be more devious, self important, and a schemer than does Ian Holm in the Zeffirelli/Mel Gibson version, for example. And, forgive my silliness, but I cannot think of Polonius without recalling the Gilligan's Island version of Hamlet: the Musical, in which the Skipper delivers the 'Neither a borrower nor a lender be...' speech sung to the Toreador Song!
I think that the Polonius character, however, is a good example of someone 'toadying', as Laraine suggests, to improve his position at court, even to the point of sycophancy. And he is two-faced IMO.
I think that what bothers me most about him is the manner in which he is willing to use both his children and give them concerned, fatherly advice to their face while going behind their back to scheme other things. He advises Laertes not to borrow or lend money, to dress respectably as he can afford, to hang on to his good tried and true friends, etc. All of it actually does sound like very good advice.
But then Polonius turns around and sends Reynaldo after his son to make up and spread rumours about Laertes and then see if he can find anyone to either confirm, add to them or deny them outright!! What's up with that?
I'm not sure whether I think this means that Laertes has given Polonius (and maybe Ophelia) reason to suspect this of him before? When Ophelia responds to Laertes' advice on guarding her virtue with
"But, good my brother,
...is she just being sisterly or is she suggesting that Laertes' advice to her is hypocritical?
The other thing that bothers me about the Polonius/Reynaldo scheme is the double standard that Polonius seems to hold for his children's behaviour. Polonius tells Reynaldo that he can hint that Laertes has been gambling or "drinking, fencing, swearing, quarrelling,drabbing (visiting ladies of the evening): you may go so far."
Reynaldo thinks those accusations would dishonour Laertes, but Polonius says that no, these things are the typical behaviour of any young man who has just been given his freedom.
And, if Polonius thinks that typical behaviour, I suppose it's not much wonder that he suspects that Hamlet wishes to use Ophelia in the same manner. So, although he has a double standard toward the conduct of his son and his daughter I suppose it's understandable to a certain extent.
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