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.
This is a funny assumption. Why does Polonius think this is their relationship? Does Gertrude USUALLY give her son the business? Is she GENERALLY a reprimanding sort?
If the actual closet scene is any indication, it would seem to be the reverse. Hamlet would appear to be a rather bossy insolent son who likes to tell his mother what to do. Gertrude will trot out an attempt at a scolding but it fails in several ways. 1) Hamlet takes no heed of it and 2) It gets Polonius killed.
This taxing Hamlet home business is perhaps not the job for his mother. Especially since he is an adult and a would be king. I’m guessing it used to be Hamlet Senior’s job, back when he used to walk the earth with blood in his veins and his armor on.
I’m actually not clear why Polonius and Claudius think this is a good idea. Is it a way to police Gertrude, perhaps – keep her out of Hamlet’s confidence? Or keep her from betraying herself to Hamlet?
It’s weird. I’m trying to imagine a circumstance in which hiding behind a curtain to listen to a mother with her son makes sense. If the son was a member of the mob and the mother was cooperating with the police?
That would make sense.
I guess this is a little bit like that from Claudius’ point of view.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were sent before Polonius was sent to try and get Hamlet to go to his mother. They seem to have come straight from that (failed) errand to Claudius. There is no discussion about it that we see – but they must have previously reported their failure to insure Hamlet’s cooperation. Perhaps their enthusiasm for the errand to England comes from an attempt to make up for the previous failure. As in, no, we couldn’t bring him to his mother’s closet but we CAN bring him to England.
Polonius, though he got no more of a guarantee of Hamlet’s compliance than Rosencrantz and Guildenstern did, reports compliance and assurance. He has a politician’s skill in this.
And he does say so.
We can count these last sentences he will utter on our hands. Perhaps even one hand, depending on the editor. If we collected them in a basket, would these be the words he’d want to be his last?
He spends his last moments on earth going between a mother and son. His last speech is to offer instructive advice to said mother.
Is this how he’d want to go out?
I’m not sure, if I knew my minutes on this planet were numbered, that I’d spend them trying to fix anyone else’s mess. I’d hope to finish off with something pithy or meaningful or true.
I wouldn’t care if it were clichéd; I’d be up for telling every last person and thing that I loved them. Polonius has some rhetorical arts. I’m sure he’d have preferred to go out on a philosophical speech.
But, I suppose, we never do get what we want.
He gets, at least, a nice dramatic death – a sword through the guts is so much better than a wasting away.
I read a lot of Ogden Nash as a young person. I don’t think I’ve thought of Ogden Nash since.
There’s not really the market for his kind of work anymore, is there?
His or Dorothy Parker’s?
You don’t really have the Comedy Poem genre anymore.
There must be, of course, many funny poems. (Poets! Link ‘em up here!) But the only place funny poems might reliably show up anymore is in children’s books.
I feel like I want to go pick up some Ogden Nash just as a mark of respect for all the poems I read all those years ago. It’d be fun to read them with my grown-up eyes
The curves of the spine of an animal
Reveals, at times,
So, too, the curves of a human’s spine
Whisper secrets about the spirit
About the way that person moves through the world.
I meet so many people who push their way – right through the small of the back, curving it more and more
And there are people who are pulled through their lives by their heads
Those that are just barely catching up with themselves
Those who are pushed down.
The landscape of the spine
Backing each person
As their own special hillside view.
This is so much like a conversation with a child. There is the imaginative element – the (possibly) fictitious cloud in its (possibly) fictitious shape. There is the yes, and-ing, the acceptance of the fanciful proposition. “By the mass!” “Wow, you’re right! My goodness!”
If the conversation were with a child, it might be sweet.
Instead, there’s a level of menace to the playing. A demonstration of manipulative skills. It always feels to me like a little bit of a show for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Like – “You think you can manipulate me? Watch me work.”
Here is Polonius having his 2nd to last conversation. This is the 2nd to last person he’ll talk with.
If, at death, he does a little rewind of his life – this will be the 2nd thing he sees, after his death.
This is the last message he ever delivers.
The last baffling conversation with Hamlet.
The poignancy of life is that we rarely know what’s coming. Surely, if Polonius knew his end was near, he wouldn’t spend his moments left running after Hamlet.
But we never know which moments are our last until they have passed.
I love lighting designers. I’ve thought sometimes about how it might be possible to make a show with just lighting designers – because they are just so delightful to work with.
They are usually extremely generous people with very little ego. I wonder if this is just part of the job – they are continually just doing their best to make everyone and everything else look good. They literally shine a light on others and that light shows people at their best. Their art is literally reflective. It brings out the best in those who are in it.
Their work often comes last in the line-up. They take what comes before them and shine it up, bathe it in their own glory before showing it to the world.
I’d give a lot to work with actors and designers and directors and so on who were so ready to support, to buoy, to make everything look better.
Next show: Just lights. A series of short light pieces completely created by different lighting designers.
And we’d add only elements that the lighting designers wanted to see in their lights.