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Let’s Explore: Polonius the state councillor – and father

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If you haven’t tried out our  techniques of using ‘Parts and Cues’ and ‘Highlit Text’ to explore a Shakespeare character, then you’ll find it helpful to read the detailed explanation we give for the character Hamlet (click on Let’s Explore Hamlet).

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You can explore any Shakespearean character in a play  published by Players-Shakespeare.com in a similar way. Here we help you explore Polonius, the state councillor, the king’s right-hand man, and father to Ophelia and Laertes.

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Polonius is conventionally seen as a silly old buffer, one of two sources of humour in Hamlet, along with the grave-digger in A5S1.  There is perhaps some evidence to support this view in that Polonius and the grave-digger (Clown) were doubled in the original casting of the play, giving the two ‘comic’ roles to the same (comic) actor.

 

Polonius may be a source of comedy, but a close reading of his lines shows some interesting aspects to Polonius’ character. In particular, it is worth exploring the following scenes:

  • In A1S3 we are introduced to Polonius and his children Laertes and Ophelia.  We assume his wife is dead. Laertes is preparing to leave for Paris, and gives his sister some advice. Polonius enters, gives Laertes some conventional advice (usually played for laughs) and then quizzes Ophelia on her relationship with Hamlet. This scene shows the relationships between the different members of the family. It’s worth exploring both in Parts and Cues, and Highlit text modes. Here’s a link to Polonius’ lines in Parts and Cues format and here’s one to the scene in Highlit Text mode.
  • A2S1 is split into two halves. In the first half Polonius tells his servant Reynaldo how to find out how his son, Laertes is behaving in Paris. It serves no plot function, other than showing us how Polonius expects Reynaldo to treat his son. During the scene, Polonius forgets what he’s trying to say. This is usually played for humour, but is there something deeper going on? Is Polonius’ behaviour with Reynaldo  the behaviour of a loving father? In the second half of the scene, Ophelia runs in, all upset by Hamlet’s treatment of her, and tells her father of her upset. How does Polonius respond? Is his bevaviour that of a loving father? If not, what makes him behave to his children in the way he does. Here’s a link to Polonius’ lines in A2S1 in Parts and Cues format. Once you’ve explored those lines, you can switch to Highlit Text mode, and see his lines in the context of the whole scene. What do you think is going on?
  • In the next scene (A2S2) Polonius behaves rather strangly with the King and the Queen, as he sums up the courage to tell them that he thinks their son, Hamlet is mad and is in love with his daughter Ophelia.  This again is usually played for laughs, but what do his lines, and those of the king and queen say about his relationship with them? Let’s start with Polonius’ lines in Parts and Cues.
  • The scenes discussed above should help you to come to a view about the character of Polonius, but there are other scenes in which he appears which are worth exploring: A1S2, A3S1, A3S2, A3S3, A3S4. Have fun exploring them.

Of course, by reading the scenes above, you may well see things differently from what I’ve outlined above, but  you should come to clearer view of what you think about Polonius’s character. Don’t forget the other scenes in which he appears, so you might like to find and explore them.

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Let’s play!

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Richard Forsyth
‘The Director’
Players-Shakespeare.com

 

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