Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

Parliamentary Correspondent's Report

    Last night, to a packed house and unusually great interest, there was a performance of Shakespeare's play Hamlet. Prince Hamlet certainly staked his claim as the general wordsmith of this tragedy, with his renowned loquaciousness, but the focus wholly centered on the anticipation of Polonius' appearances, he being as celebrated a statesman of Denmark as that wordy speechmaker. In truth, his dialog added extraordinary significance to the play, and was given an unusually apreciative ear. A brief synopsis of the whole play follows.
    After the opening formalities with a ghost, the Danish king was the first to speak; after him Hamlet added his famous impractical yammering, and then Polonius stepped up and delivered, to an attentive silence, a speech dazzling in its keen insight and sharp perspective. We excerpt from its end:

"Yet here, Laertes? Aboard, aboard, for shame!
Even private time to you, and you yourself
Have of your audience been most free and bounteous.
Do you believe his tenders, as you call them?
I would not, in plain terms, from this time forth
Have you so slander any moment leisure
As to give words or talk with the Lord Hamlet.
Look to't, I charge you. Come your ways."

    Following this, Prince Hamlet attempted to undermine the powerful words of Polonius with his own inane and confused bleatings; he had no success and neither did his companions. Even the ghost of his father, designed for its shock value, certainly did not confuse the discerning audience. After these distasteful scenes Polonius once again began to speak, delivering some remarkable insights into the civil education of young men in conversation with Reynaldo.

"Give him this money and these notes, Reynaldo.
You shall do marvell's wisely, good Reynaldo,
Before you visit him, to make inquire
Of his behaviour.
But, sir, such wanton, wild, and usual slips
As are companions noted and most known
To youth and liberty.
Gambling, ay, or drinking, fencing, swearing, quarrelling,
Drabbing. You may go so far.
So, by my former lecture and advice,
Shall you my son. You have me, have you not?"

    Turning to Ophelia, he continued.

"How now, Ophelia? What's the matter?
With what, i' th' name of God?
Mad for thy love?
What said he?
Come, go with me. I will go seek the King.
This is the very ecstasy of love.
Come, go we to the King."

    Polonius added a sharp observation to the following conversation, which even included the king and queen.

Th' ambassadors from Norway, my good lord,
Are joyfully return'd."

    After that, the evening proceeded to its climactic moment, when Polonius firmly exposed Prince Hamlet's strange behavior. In a manly and remorseless way, well aware of his responsibility, he spoke to an eager audience.

"I will be brief. Your noble son is mad.
Mad call I it; for, to define true madness,
What is't but to be nothing else but mad?
That he is mad, 'tis true: 'tis true 'tis pity;
And pity 'tis 'tis true. A foolish figure!
But farewell it, for I will use no art.
Mad let us grant him then. And now remains
That we find out the cause of this effect-
Or rather say, the cause of this defect,
For this effect defective comes by cause.
I have a daughter
Who in her duty and obedience, mark,
Hath given me this. Now gather, and surmise."

    To breathless anticipation he read Prince Hamlet's highly compromising letter and continued.

"What might you think? No, I went round to work
And my young mistress thus I did bespeak:
'Lord Hamlet is a prince, out of thy star.
This must not be.' And then I prescripts gave her,
That she should lock herself from his resort,
Admit no messengers, receive no tokens.
Which done, she took the fruits of my advice,
And he, repulsed, a short tale to make,
Fell into a sadness, thence into a weakness,
Thence to a lightness, and, by this declension,
Into the madness wherein now he raves,
And all we mourn for.
Hath there been such a time- I would fain know that-
That I have positively said 'Tis so,'
When it prov'd otherwise.?"

    Amidst much excitement, the play proceeded to the sharp argument between Hamlet and Polonius, in which he demolished his bumbling opponent with these sharp and decisive words:

"How does my good Lord Hamlet?
Do you know me, my lord?
Not I, my lord.
Honest, my lord?
That's very true, my lord.
I have, my lord.
What do you read, my lord?
What is the matter, my lord?
Fare you well, my lord.
You go to seek the Lord Hamlet. There he is."

    Hamlet, after his well-deserved defeat by these withering and well-aimed words, embarrassedly babbled something to universal disinterest; he tried to divert the conversation to some actor in his well-known and impractical way, (by making a confused hodgepodge of things), but Polonius, returning in a timely manner from offstage, landed a few more verbal blows.

"My lord, I have news to tell you.
The actors are come hither, my lord.
Upon my honour-
This is too long.
My lord, I will use them according to their desert.
Come, sirs."

    It is no surprise that Hamlet was only capable of delivering a monologue after these memorable words; he clearly feared such a quick opponent.
    After intermission, Polonius, understanding the value of behind-the-scenes observation, added this weighty piece of advice to the play:

"Ophelia, walk you here.- Gracious, so please you,
We will bestow ourselves."

    The private conversation between prince Hamlet and Ophelia followed, after which Polonius concisely said:

"How now, Ophelia?
You need not tell us what Lord Hamlet said.
We heard it all."

    Meanwhile, prince Hamlet arranged--of course, in quite an unseemly way--a theatrical production; during this embarrassing episode Polonius rightly expressed:

"O, ho! do you mark that?"

    Another vehement argument arose between Hamlet and Polonius concerning the former's unfortunate enterprise. Blow after blow of Polonius' sharp words fell upon the prince:

My lord, the Queen would speak with you, and presently.
By th' mass, and 'tis like a camel indeed.
It is back'd like a weasel.
Very like a whale.
I will say so."

    The shamefaced Hamlet could not ease himself after such a moral thrashing except by monologue, as was his dubious and cowardly wont.
    Further along in the play another of Polonius' valuable and circumspect advice was given:

"My lord, he's going to his mother's closet.
Behind the arras I'll convey myself
To hear the process. I'll warrant she'll tax him home;
And, as you said, and wisely was it said,
'Tis meet that some more audience than a mother,
Since nature makes them partial, should o'erhear
The speech, of vantage. Fare you well, my liege.
I'll call upon you ere you go to bed
And tell you what I know."

    He then said fittingly to the queen:

"He will come straight. I'll silence me even here.
Pray you be round with him."

    Then Hamlet maliciously impaled him; at this, Polonius added with his characteristic quickness and forthrightness:

"Oh! I am slain!"

    The play should have finished with the death of Polonius; what follows is simply idle chatter without rhyme or reason; Prince Hamlet is an especial burden on the audience with his unsuitable and overly personal monologues as to whether he should be or not. A good half of the play could simply be deleted. The evening would have been wasted were it not for Polonius' fantastic speeches.
    We have described the play Hamlet in as much detail as possible, so the appreciative reader can create his own impression of the entire play. The audience, while attending the powerful words of Polonius with the utmost attention, was clearly disinterested in the end of the play. An insignificant group of unquestioning partisans applauded Hamlet's empty words and demagoguery. The discerning public will of course not be deceived by such a hollow success.

LN 18 January, 1931

  • Čapek as remixer of Shakespeare, 35 years before Stoppard. -Andrew

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