Thursday, January 20, 2011

II.ii. Brevity - Classics Illustrated

The which Polonius actually IS brief. The original Classics Illustrated is so fixated on plot that it tries to often distill the drama to that alone. The inexpressive figure work does not, in any case, have the subtlety required to make characters "act". They just render (heavily edited) dialog and walk off panel. It is very strange to read a brief Polonius. None of his usual digressions are present, not even his criticism of Hamlet's letter. He comes in, he tells the King and Queen Hamlet is mad and that a letter from his daughter might shed light on the matter. He reads it, the King agrees while the Queen says nothing and Polonius unveils his plan to spy on the prince. In this cut down version, the King asks Polonius "Do you think 'tis this?", not Gertrude. Since this is her first appearance in the comic, it doesn't fill one with hope that her character will amount to much.
Act 2 Scene 2 is our first look at the King as well (the comic does not show the wedding banquet), and he is basically made to look like an evil wizard with a fat crown on his head. Immediately sinister. Meanwhile, the queen is a buxom, silent woman in light blue, apparently a clueless, but guiltless pawn in the drama, showing more shoulder than character.

The Berkley version
Artist Tom Mandrake gives Polonius his due in his watercolor version, allowing the character to dominate the page. Though there are cuts to the text, his digressions remain, and the number of speech bubbles helps support the idea of his ironic lack of brevity. One major change from all other versions we've looked at is that Polonius recites Hamlet's letter by heart. He does not physically hold a letter in the scene. What does this mean? Did Ophelia allow him to read it, but did not give it away? Is there no "letter" per se, just words he once told her and that she repeated to her father and that he repeats to the King and Queen? The stage directions tell us Polonius "reads", but the dialog itself does not specify a letter. "This" can just be the words, as words in Shakespeare are all-powerful. In a stage/film production, where actors can be more expressive than drawings in a comic (trapped, as they are, in a finite number of poses/expressions), this device could also be used to put Polonius' story into doubt (and as the word "doubt" comes up at the top of the "letter", that's fitting). A sinister, manipulative Polonius could well be inventing or exaggerating the whole thing, and if so, could provide a disturbing portrait of a father talking about his daughter's bosom, etc.

The King, for his part, looks bored through the exchange, I suspect more because he does not truly care about his stepson than Polonius' pedantry. Hamlet arrives reading before the King and Polonius make plans to "further try this". The King is less interested in dealing with Hamlet in this version, but will be swept into action more and more as Hamlet pushes him into a corner.

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