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The Roles of Polonius in The Tragedy of Hamlet

The Roles of Polonius in Hamlet

As a secondary character, Polonius’ roles in Hamlet are ingenious in their variety and purpose. Shakespeare’s masterfully crafted play contains such a multi-faceted character in a sense of economy; Polonius fulfills the roles potentially played by several insignificant characters. Polonius plays the wise old man, the fool, the substitute for the king, and the scapegoat (Oakes). Shakespeare’s reasons behind the creation of such a significant secondary character are important to the play as a whole. Polonius roles add a crucial dimension to the play’s development of plot, the characterization of Hamlet, and the themes Shakespeare ultimately conveys.

From his first appearances, Polonius seems to be playing the wise old man; he imparts much worldly wisdom to his children–Ophelia and Laertes. In his lecture to his daughter, he claims experience in the matters of love: “I do know / when the blood burns how prodigal the soul / Lends the tongue vows” (I.iii.115-17). This experience lends credit to Polonius’ discount of the authenticity of Hamlet’s intentions. It also adds credibility to his opinion of Ophelia as susceptible to fraudulent affections. It then seems quite appropriate as parental advice to say to her: “Set your entreatments at a higher rate / Than a command to parley” (I.iii.22-3). Polonius also imparts his worldly wisdom in his speech of personal conduct to Laertes (I.iii.59-80). For all this seeming wisdom, however, Polonius seems more to fit Hamlet’s description: “old men have grey beards…their eyes purging thick amber…and that they have a plentiful lack of wit” (II.ii.196-9). Polonius’ parental advice is purely wise, but hardly witty, and is more oppressive than it is useful….

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…ames L. To Be And Not To Be: Negation and Metadrama in Hamlet. NY: Columbia University Press, 1983.

Campbell, Lily B. “Polonius: The Tyrant’s Ears.” Collected Papers Of Lily Campbell. NY: Russell, 1968. 403-423.

Knight, Wilson G. “Hamlet Reconsidered.” The Wheel of Fire. London: Methuen and Company, 1949. 298-325.

Long, Michael. The Unnatural Scene: A Study in Shakespearean Tragedy. London: Methuen and Company, 1976.

Mirrior, Ivor. “Hamlet.” Shakespeare’s God: The Role of Religion in the Tragedies. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1972. 369-430.

Northrop, Frye. “Hamlet.” Northrop Frye on Shakespeare. Ed. Robert Sandler. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986. 82-100.

Oakes, Elizabeth. “Polonius, the Man behind the Arras: A Jungian Study.” New Essays on Hamlet. Ed. Mark Thornton Burnett and John Manning. NY: AMS Press, 1994. 103-112.

Laertes in the Play and Movie Version of Hamlet

Laertes in the Play and Movie Version of Hamlet

In the 1990 version of Hamlet starring Mel Gibson, Laertes is portrayed in a very poor light. He seems to have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. At certain points during the written play, Laertes’s actions may be taken entirely differently than they are conveyed in the movie. In the film version of Hamlet, all of Laertes’s negative aspects are much more pronounced.

As presented in the movie, Laertes is a sore loser. The text version of the play has Laertes simply say “No” after Hamlet scores his first hit. In the movie, Laertes shows much more emotion. His anger at Hamlet is obvious, and his frustration at being hit is evident, as he screams in protest to the mediator’s call. Then, to show what a poor sport he is, he lunges at Hamlet when Hamlet turns his back to Laertes. Laertes didn’t have enough courage or faith in his own fighting ability to take a fair shot at Hamlet and succeed. After the second hit, Laertes demonstrates much the same emotions, screaming in frustration and anger. In the text of the play, Laertes agrees with Claudius to fight Hamlet and use poison on his blade to kill him. As presented in the text, Laertes killing Hamlet will be enough for his revenge. However, in the movie, it is obvious through his actions and mannerisms that it is not enough for Laertes to merely kill Hamlet, but he has to make Hamlet look like a fool while he is doing it. That is why Laertes becomes so upset in the movie when Hamlet gains a hit; Laertes wanted to discredit Hamlet before he killed him.

Laertes makes another unfair move in the film – he wounds Hamlet while Hamlet is on the floor with his back turned. In the text, Laertes wounds Hamlet during their fight…

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…e text, there are several differences between them that are based on interpretation. These differences are notably evident in the character of Laertes during the last scene. While his dislike of Hamlet is obvious in the text version of the play, Laertes demonstrates much stronger feelings towards Hamlet in the movie through his actions. Other aspects of Laertes’s character, such as his cowardice and deviousness, are manifest through his actions and are thus more obvious in the movie. The rearranging of lines and events also portray Laertes in a much more negative light in the film version. In all, the film version of Hamlet allows the character of Laertes to be more complete, and he is developed as more of a villain in the movie than he appears to be in the text. This development occurs mainly through his actions, since the words were the same that Shakespeare wrote.

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