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Polonius has sometimes been presented as an essentially comic character and sometimes as a more sinister figure. What critical and dramatic issues are raised by the character of Polonius?

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Introduction

Polonius has sometimes been presented as an essentially comic character and sometimes as a more sinister figure. What critical and dramatic issues are raised by the character of Polonius? There has been much debate amongst critics and directors alike on the depth of Polonius's character, and his purpose in the play. There are those, such as critic Myron Taylor, who view him as a more sinister persona, arguing 'his ineffectuality does not excuse his moral deviousness. Appearance has become his reality', thus implying he is used for menacing dramatic effect. However others take a more sympathetic view, for example Elkin Calhoun Wilson; 'that dotage repeatedly amuses us in his fondness for lecturing and giving advice, however sound, to his meandering young;', therefore interpreting him as a more bumbling and comical element to an otherwise serious play. Despite understanding both these views I still, like Hamlet, see Polonius as a 'rash, intruding fool' [Act.3Scene.4 line33]and believe anything done that may appear enigmatic or ominous can only have occurred unintentionally (in the script) or through exaggeration in directing. Similarly to Wilson, I can see how Polonius would add light-hearted, comic relief to the play, especially when paired with quick-witted Hamlet, highlighting the cracks in Polonius's delusional 'wise' role he has adopted. ...read more.

Middle

This is Polonius in a more tragic light, though Claudius evidently still relies on him and trusts him, as he follows Polonius's advice regarding spying, but also agreeing to a meeting between Hamlet and the Queen before Hamlet is sent to England. The latter theory is the viewpoint that perhaps Claudius and Gertrude see him as a fool. When Polonius in Act 2 Sc.2 gets carried away in his own wordiness "Why day is day, night night..." [line 88] unintentionally, he is opposing himself to the idea of his speech "brevity is the soul of wit" [line 90], and Gertrude even remarks "More matter with less art." [line 95], in other words, bluntly pointing out that Polonius's act as a wise advisor is conjured by himself; that he is not the mind he thinks himself to be. Act 3 Scene 1 reconfirms my original theory, as Polonius guesses-incorrectly and slightly hypocritically-that the cause of Hamlet's madness is down to Ophelia's rejection, again giving Hamlet, and the audience, the upper hand 'yet do I believe The origin and commencement of his grief/ Sprung from neglected love'. ...read more.

Conclusion

This proceeds to him finally taking revenge on Claudius, and results in the murders of Gertrude, Hamlet, Laertes and Claudius. Whether this increases his worth or not in the play is open to interpretation. Elkin Calhoun Wilson decides 'Polonius has a minor tragic dimension as well as a major comic' boasting '[my] eyes catch a more embracive view of him than Hamlet's possibly can' and with this I can, to an extent, agree. It is tragic he should be cast off in such a way, and in him there was not just the 'doddering old fool', but also, as Elkin writes, a 'comic appendage'. Overall then, looking at various views and studying the text thoroughly, I can stick by my judgement of Polonius as a foolish, though comic, character. Although considered unimportant by those in the play, I believe him to bring a welcome relief from the drama and tragedy entangled in the plot which would otherwise make for a very depressing production. Of course, it is down to personal interpretation how a director would present the character, but to me the lengthy and self-important dialogue is unavoidable, and the undignified death inevitable, making Polonius -arguably- doomed to lack credible menace void of irony and humour, and therefore set firmly as a foolish 'prating' character. ...read more.

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A well researched essay which shows a good knowledge of text and context. It is worth researching who Shakespeare was said to have modelled Polonius on - and the significance of this - too! ****

Marked by teacher Karen Reader 03/08/2012

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