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|GR: Polonius and his children
Written by Laraine
(5/18/2003 11:36 p.m.)
in consequence of the missive, GR: About that Polonius, penned by Barbara
] 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 cannot ever read or watch this play without hearing Bob Denver singing "I ask to be, or not to be, oh, this is the question that I ask of me" to Carmen's song about love (love is a rebel bird, love is a gypsy child).
It's easy to downplay Polonius' relationship with his children, because it is material that can be cut without a huge loss to the play. But I think that those relationships are the most complex part of Polonius' character.
There two pairs of scenes with Polonius and his children that have always bothered me a lot. The first is the juxtaposition of ideas like "to thine own self be true, and then it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not be false to any man" with ideas like, "go spy on my son to find out if he's being a good boy or not." What a hypocrite!
The second one is a whole lot worse, though: consider what he tells Ophelia regarding keeping her head about Hamlet (as Barbara outlined) and then, when he thinks he can get something out of the same relationship, he tells the King and Queen about it himself and sets Ophelia up as bait to "draw Hamlet out" --this is just hateful. And considering Hamlet's "get thee to a nunnery" reaction, Polonius has actually put Ophelia in some peril with his nonsense. But apparently she is there for the sacrificing, if it helps Claudius or it gives Polonius another chance to prove himself invaluable.
How can anyone treat their children that way?
I still haven't figured out if he's evil (that is, he knows exactly what he's doing and he wants to do it), if he's just a hypocrite (that is, he simply doesn't care that he's treating his children exactly as he's telling them never to treat themselves), or if he's a great big idiot (that is, he has no idea what he's doing, but just following some really, really bad instincts).
I've even read critics who try to prove that Polonius and Ophelia had an incestuous relationship, and the man she actually loves killing her father/lover is what drives her mad. I wouldn't go that far myself, but I have to say that I can't blame someone for trying to make sense of it by a bizarre explanation. Just what Polonius thinks or feels in not at all clear to me.
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