bardseyeview

A Shakespearean Glance at the People and Issues of the Day.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Hamlet #6 - What Forgeries You Please

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(Note: Bardseye is currently doing Hamlet, and taking a break from our usual hallucinatory Shakespearean commentary on current events. If you're entering the theater late, Hamlet: Act I, Scene I started four posts ago - just scroll down and catch up.)

* * * * * * *

As Act II begins (already!), the curtain rises on a thickening plot as we peek in on Polonius hiring a spy. Polonius wants the spy to surveil Polonius' his son Laertes at his school in France, or more likely at the bars surrounding his school.

Pol: "By this encompassment and drift of question
That they do know my son, come you more nearer
Tan your particular demands will touch it
Take you, as 'twere, some distant knowledge of him,
…………..Do you mark this, Reynaldo?"


Rey: "Ay, very well my lord."

Pol: "'…you may say…he's very wild,
Addicted so and so,' and there put on him
What forgeries you please – marry none so rank
As may dishonor him, take heed of that,
But, sir, such wanton, wild, and usual slips
As are companions noted and most known
To you and liberty."


So Polonius has not only hired a spy, but is directing that spy to slander his son among his new acquaintances. An additional irony in this exchange is that we have the client Polonius instructing the spy Reynaldo in spying, and Shakespeare's main purpose may be to show what manner of man Polonius is and whether he deserves – later – to be stabbed by Hamlet through an arras (a screen made of fabric; a sort of tapestry hung in the middle of the room). But let's get back to Philip Marlowe/Reynaldo in his detective's agency, who wants to know just how slandered Polonius wants his son to be (drabbing means whoring):

Rey: "As gaming, my lord."

Pol: "Ay, or drinking, fencing, swearing,
Quarreling, drabbing – you may go so far."

Rey: "My lord, that would dishonor him."


Pol: "Faith, no, as you may season it in the charge…."

Rey: "But, my good lord – "

Pol: Wherefore should you do this?"


Rey: "Ay, my lord, I would know that."

Pol: "Marry, sir, here's my drift…"

Polonius proceeds to drift for quite a while, twice prompting Reynaldo to the verbal equivalent of shifting in his chair in impatience, and once actually forgetting what he was trying to say and needing Reynaldo to remind him. But eventually Polonius says that he believes these slanders of Laertes will loosen the tongues of Reynaldo's conversational companions, who will either confirm or deny that Laertes is as Reynaldo describes him:

Pol: "……………See you now,
Your bait of falsehood takes this carp of truth;
And thus do we of wisdom and of reach,
……..
By indirections find directions out."

Hamlet will soon engage in his own share of sleuthing, driven to it by rather than in spite of his conscience, and it will be interesting to contrast his methods to Polonius'. Bardseye will allow our readers to decide which - between Hamlet and Polonius - is guilty of illegal wiretapping in flagrant disregard of Congress, and which has constitutional authority to pursue a reasonable security measure in time of war. In the meantime, Reynaldo leaves and Ophelia enters:

Oph: "O my lord, I have been so affrighted."

Ophelia proceeds to describe a scene familiar to any lovelorn lass burdened with a troubled beau. Hamlet has visited her looking not his best:

Oph: "No hat upon his head, his stockings fouled,
Ungartered, and down-gyvved to his ankle,
Pale as his shirt, his knees knocking each other
And with a look so piteous…
…………………
At last, a little shaking of mine arm
And thrice his head thus waving up and down,
He raised a sigh so piteous and profound
As it did seem to shatter all his bulk
And end his being…".

With yet a bit more interrogation, his specialty, Polonius eventually asks his daughter if she has given Hamlet "any hard words of late."

Oph: "No, my good lord, but as you did command
I did repel his letter and denied
His access to me."

Pol: "That hath made him mad.
I am sorry that with better heed and judgment
I had not quoted him. I feared he did but trifle
And meant to wrack thee. But beshrew my jealousy!"

Ophelia has only done what her father ordered her to do. As for Hamlet, he didn't know Polonius was behind it. His love for Ophelia, and for his late father, has been as real as is his grief, confusion and outrage now over Ophelia's sudden rejection and his mother's sudden remarriage. Not to mention what that Ghost keeps whispering in his ear.

To be continued....
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