The Two Sides of Polonius:
A Critical Review
One of the great benefits of seeing a theatrical performance of Shakespeare’s works is that the audience can see well known pieces interpreted, and hence performed, in different manners. These differences in interpretation can dramatically change the feel of the performance as a whole. Seeing these differences leads me to a larger understanding and appreciation for Shakespeare. For my review of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, I am going to focus on the character Polonius. This character was portrayed very differently in the production than I had imagined him when I read the text.
While reading the text, I imagined Polonius as a very ...view middle of the document...
These actions are intentionally exaggerated during the performance, and help to portray the character in a different, perhaps dimmer, light. The king and queen respond in exasperation. They roll their eyes and maneuver themselves away from the irritating man. They run with this theme when the queen responds to him by saying, “More matter with less art” (H,2,2,95).
Other characters responses to Polonius in the production have a different tenor as well. This can easily be seen when Polonius approaches Hamlet, who is reading. When reading the text, I imagined Hamlet as a man who was so engrossed with his inner struggles that he appears angry at Polonius when he in fact is upset with his mother and the king. Polonius’s responds by, perhaps justifiably, assuming that Hamlet’s odd behavior means he is mad when he says to himself:
How say you by that? still harping on
my daughter. Yet he knew me not at first, ‘a said I was
a fishmonger. ‘A is far gone. And truly in my youth I
suff’red much extremity for love – very near this. I’ll
speak to him again.—What do you read, my Lord? (H,2,2,187-191)
In my reading of the text, I assumed Hamlet was not really paying attention at this point, and his actions were hence a little strange. In the production, however, James Kuhl’s Hamlet wants nothing to do with Polonius. This is exemplified when he responds by shoving the book in Polonius’s face and answering, “Words, words, words” (H, 2,2,192). In the production, Hamlet is not preoccupied at all. Instead, he is using the book as a means of ignoring Polonius. Again, in the production, Polonius is seen as a bit of a buffoon that others attempt to ignore or even avoid.
The production, of course, is afforded some liberties when they tackle the play. Many of the scenes are left out to cut down the length of time. Inevitably, this changes the effect of the play as well. One such scene omission is in act two, scene one. Polonius instructs Reynaldo on what to do when he visits his son. He rambles on in typical fashion until the end...