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Hamlet – the Wise Polonius

Hamlet – the Wise Polonius

The older gent in Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet, namely Polonius, is no type character. Rather he is quite rounded and complex. This essay will explore his character.

In the Introduction to Twentieth Century Interpretations of Hamlet, David Bevington presents Polonius as similar to Hamlet in various ways:

Polonius, his [Hamlet’s] seeming opposite in so many ways, is, like Hamlet, an inveterate punster. To whom else but Polonius should Hamlet direct the taunt of “Words, words, words”? The aged counselor recalls that in his youth he “suffered much extremity for love, very near this,” and he has been an actor at the university. Polonius too has advice for the players: “Seneca cannot be too heavy, nor Plautus too light.” When Hamlet jibes at “so capital a calf” enacting Julius Caesar, killed in the Capitol, he reinforces the parallel to his own playacting and anticipates the slaying of Polonius behind the arras. (4)

In “Shakespeare’s Nomenclature” Harry Levin discusses the name “Polonius’ and other names from the play:

The Latinism Polonius reminds us of the Polish question, moot throughout Hamlet, where the onomastics are polyglot. If Marcellus and Claudius are Latin, Bernardo and Horatio are Italian, and Fortinbras signifies “strong arm” not in Norwegian but French (fort-en-bras).

On the other hand, the son of Polonius has a Greek godfather in Laertes, the father of Odysseus. The Scandinavian names, at least the Germanic Gertrude, stand out because they are in the minority. (79)

What’s in a name like Polonius? Polonius’ entry into the play occurs at the social get-together of the royal court. Claudius has already been crowned; Queen Gertrude is there; Hamlet is present in the black clothes of mourning. When Laertes approaches Claudius to give his farewell before returning to school, the king asks Polonius: “Have you your father’s leave? What says Polonius?” And the father dutifully answers:

He hath, my lord, wrung from me my slow leave

By laboursome petition, and at last

Upon his will I seal’d my hard consent:

I do beseech you, give him leave to go. (1.2)

So right at the outset the reader/viewer respects the lord chamberlain as a very fluent spokesman of the language, and respectful of his superior, the king. Later, in Polonius’ house, Laertes is taking leave of his sister, Ophelia, and, in the process, giving her conservative advice regarding her boyfriend, Hamlet.

The Power of Language in Shakespeare’s Othello

The Power of Language in Othello

In Othello, Shakespeare explores the relationship between words and events. Spoken thought, in the play, has all the power of action; speaking about an event will make that event become reality for those who hear – it will affect reality as if that event had taken place. Shakespeare demonstrates the power of words poignantly through Othello’s monologues. Othello struggles with the reality that Iago creates for him. When Othello speaks, he reveals that he is unable to stop himself from carrying out acts that Iago’s and his own words have prophesied and initiated. Othello’s monologues further demonstrate that even the knowledge of the power of words cannot protect the characters from the consequences which the words demand. Speaking about an event is prophecy in Othello, but it is more than just an objective foretelling of the future. Words become the all powerful initiators of action, once spoken they cannot be counter-acted , they alone determine the course of the future.

Othello’s monologue before he murders Desdemona is an excellent passage to study Shakespeare’s thesis of how words relate to action.

7 Put out the light, and then put out the light!

8 If I quench thee, thou flaming minister,

9 I can again thy former light restore

10 Should I repent me. But once put out thy light,

11 Thou cunning’st pattern of excelling nature,

12 I know not where is that Promethean heat

13 That can thy former light relume: when I have plucked the

14 rose

15 I cannot give it vital growth again,

16 It needs must wither. Ö

(Othello, 5.2.7-…

… middle of paper …

…d the destinies of others. Shakespeare’s language in all of his writing is incredibly forceful, but in Othello he makes a statement about the powerful impact the spoken word has on reality. It is a message of responsibility and warning, Othello is a tragedy of powerful words spoken wantonly.

Works Cited and Consulted

Campbell, Lily B. Shakespeare’s Tragic Heroes. New York: Barnes and Noble, Inc., 1970.

Di Yanni, Robert. “Character Revealed Through Dialogue.” Readings on The Tragedies. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996.

Reprint from Literature. N. p.: Random House, 1986.

Muir, Kenneth. Introduction. William Shakespeare: Othello. New York: Penguin Books, 1968.

Shakespeare, William. Othello. In The Electric Shakespeare. Princeton University. 1996. No line nos.

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