Polonius triggers his death by calling for help.
It is tragic
Especially when so many people trigger their deaths
By failing to call for help.
It’s like, we take to heart this moment –
We think by sounding the alarm we will
end up with a sword in our guts.
But most of the time it’s the suffering in silence,
The not wanting to cause trouble, that can trigger things like cancer or ulcers or all
Of the diseases and injuries of the body driven by neglect.
I grew up pretending I was fine when I wasn’t so
I try to train myself to call for help when I need it, to ask for assistance –
Even when I am tempted to struggle to go it alone.
I read recently that in some languages, people are likely to call for their mothers in times of trouble.
The author (of whatever thing I read – I can’t recall what it was) said that this was very unlike what we Americans can sometimes shout in similar situations. I think it was her coy way of saying that we shout “motherfucker!” When others do the much softer, and perhaps more sensible, thing of just calling, “Mother!”
It is seemingly something we never stop doing, calling for our mothers.
Though, I’m pretty sure Polonius is not calling for his mother here. He does not yet realize it is he that is in danger – so he’s calling for anyone else.
I copy a page of Hamlet at a time and slip it into the back of my notebook. I draw spirals on the page where I’ve already been as well as over empty spaces.
When I finish a page, I copy the next one. I finished the page that precedes this line days ago – but I’m away from home and so I’ve made do with looking at an edition on line. I’m not sure it matches with mine – but it’s an okay stop gap measure until I return to my own text. The problem today is that I also don’t have the Internet with me. No phone. No tablet. So I’m relying on my memory and I think this line is, “I hear him coming” and I think it is so because I remember a small laugh from the audience after it was said and I think the line is Gertrude’s because I think I said it and so it got the laugh. Good old Gertrude doesn’t get a lot of laughs usually. And it wasn’t me, it was Hamlet’s crazed, “Mother” repetition that did it, I just got the punchline sometimes in some audiences. I think. This memory is now 20 years old so I can’t be sure. Maybe I’m mixing up my eavesdropping scenes. Maybe it wasn’t my laugh at all.
And in some editions this line is Gertrude’s. (The New Penguin Edition that I use, for example does.) In others, they give it to Polonius. (Like the on-line version I sometimes use as well.) I’m glad I got to say it.
The year after my job playing Gertrude, I had a temp job. A very BORING temp job. I spent hours in the file closet by myself. And I would entertain myself there by trying to remember all of Hamlet from the beginning to the end. I never got this far in that exercise – In fact, I’d be surprised if I ever made it past Act 1, before my memory failed – but I bet if I kept that job, I’d have all of Hamlet memorized today.
I think of round as warm and comforting.
Round is soft. It has no keen edge.
It is plush and you want to hug it.
Round is communal and open.
There’s always room for more at a round table.
And yet this is not at all what Polonius has in mind.
Other editions have Polonius sconcing himself here. I see that “sconce” scans better and it has an imagistic quality that makes it a fun choice. It instantly makes me imagine Polonius as a candle holder, attached to the wall, quietly observing, not animate.
Silence has the benefit of being rather a lot more clear, though.
So, of course, there must be some quarto/folio choice being made here by editors. Has silence been massaged into sconce because it scans better?
Or have these editors of my edition here chosen silence for the directness and clarity? Which is folio? Which is quarto? If it is a question of neither?
Here is a moment in which I could happily use an Arden edition. Or a copy of both quarto and a folio.
And where, pray tell, would the source of this heat be?
From the King? From Polonius?
Who would give heat to the Prince of Denmark?
Is there some scolding from some source that might actually concern a royal young man?
It’s a funny thing that Polonius wants Gertrude to say. It is particularly interesting that Polonius references Hamlet’s pranks. We only see Hamlet pranking Polonius – but Polonius assumes these pranks are more general – so much so that he thinks Hamlet’s mother should give him some hell for them. But – really – when you look closely – there really are no pranks, per se. There’s some strange behavior, granted but it’s not as if Hamlet’s pulling practical jokes as if the Royal castle were a frat house. He’s not (as far as we know) short sheeting anyone’s bed or placing buckets of water over doorways or telling anyone their refrigerator ought to be caught due to its running.
And recently, all Hamlet has done is have a play put on. He hasn’t interrupted it or planted someone in the audience to leap out and surprise everyone. Sure, he had them add some lines – but almost no one knows that. Why is everyone so mad at Hamlet after just watching a play?
Yeah, this isn’t what Hamlet said. Not at all.
They had a whole back and forth in which Hamlet clearly expressed that he would come ‘by and by’ and even repeated ‘by and by.” By and by is sort of the opposite of straight.
Is Polonius being deliberately misleading here?
Is he editing what Hamlet said to somehow soften the response? Or has he worked out some behavioral tick wherein Hamlet will do the opposite of what he says he’ll do – because Hamlet does, in fact, arrive shortly after this sentence.
In any case, the report is an inaccurate reflection of what Hamlet actually said. And we all know it.
Given the sheer amount of spying that goes on in this court, I imagine that this meeting up before the king’s bedtime is probably a regular occurrence. Probably Polonius could bring along a glass of warm milk with his reports. Maybe it’s a part of Claudius’ bedtime rituals. He gets jammies on, snuggles under the blankets and instead of a bedtime story, he gets the spying results from Polonius. Maybe the day’s report is what helps him settle in for the night. Once he knows what everyone has gotten up to all day, he can really relax and get comfortable for sleep.
Your last Farewell, Polonius. This is your last farewell.
Your death will not give you time to say farewells – so this stands as the last one. It does make some sense that it should be to the king.
Polonius makes it so clear that this hiding behind the arras business (the one that gets him killed) was 100% not his idea. He flatters Claudius about it but there’s a quality of the Polonius Doth protest too much about it for me.
I’m curious, too, about why Shakespeare makes it so explicit that this is Claudius’ idea to eavesdrop on Gertrude and Hamlet. It feels like it serves to magnify his guilt, like it shifts the responsibility for Polonius’ death a TINY BIT off of Hamlet’s shoulders.
I suppose it also supports Hamlet’s idea that it would be Claudius behind the arras. This variety of spying being so clearly more Claudius’ style – given that he came up with it.