Wednesday, October 13, 2010

II.i. Reynaldo - Tennant (2009)

The 2009 Hamlet features an outwardly patient Reynaldo in the service of an aging and dottering Polonius. He smiles at jokes he doesn't really get and tries to walk away before the rather lengthy conversation starts again (the comedy exit is brilliant). This is a fair way to play since Polonius' long-windedness is Shakespeare's big joke. Just as he ironically has Polonius later go on and on about being brief, and in a later moment pointing out that a speech is too long, here he basically talks to himself, as the other character in the scene barely gets a word in edge-wise. It strikes me now that Polonius asks the questions he immediately answers ("Wherefore should you do this?").

There's irony in the language as well. Polonius uses words like "drift" more than once, as well as "slips". His own slip is an amusing, but disturbing one. Polonius loses the thread of his speech and, far from the 1996 version's test, appears to be losing his mind, and even realizing he's doing so.
It's an episode of Alzheimer's or dementia which puts in question Polonius' entire agenda. Why IS he sending a spy to follow his son? The genial Polonius in this version doesn't usually seem sinister. It's like the evil he does is almost accidental, casual and without reflection. It's just what he does because he's always done it. Does he even know there's been a change of kings? His mental competence is certainly in question. If he's obsessed with what the director calls hyper-surveillance, then what should we make of the shot of the conversation from the security camera?
Even as Polonius instructs his spy, he's the victim of surveillance. From whom? Claudius? Some unknown agency? The audience? Basically, he's under surveillance by dramatic irony. The shot is there to show us a man who has lost control of his own tools (whether that be spycraft or words). In general, whatever Polonius says in the play, the opposite has a better claim to the truth. He will be brief only by being long-winded. He will spy only by being spied upon. And he will never be right about anything - not Hamlet's madness, not his designs on his daughter, and not where to hide in Gertrude's closet. Everything he says is thus suspect, including his suspicions about Laertes' behavior, later to be refuted in everyone's dialogue (calling him a valiant youth, etc.).

In other words, Polonius' untrustworthiness gives Laertes' actor license to play him as the opposite of his descriptions.

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