Thursday, January 13, 2011

II.ii. Brevity - Tennant (2009)

From the very start, this Gertrude finds this Polonius tedious, rolling her eyes and his formulations. Claudius shares a secret smile with her, sympathizing, but finding humor in his counselor's natural disposition. Oliver Ford Davies continues to shine as a very distracted Polonius. For example, his attention starts to drift at "time is time", as if lost in the line's philosophical implications. Keeping the control she had the scene's beginning, Gertrude snaps him out of his reverie by clearing her throat. So it's with embarrassment that he pledges brevity.

Side-note on the text: We've often talked about how time works strangely in the play (regarding Hamlet's age, for example, or how quickly the nights go by "why day is day, night is night"). Polonius' emphasis on "time is time" here evokes that theme again. Shakespeare may be admitting that the timeline (as opposed to the time line) will not be explained or explainable. It would be a waste of time. He is deftly deflecting nitpicks regarding the apparent flaws in his story. Such is his power that he actually has us referring to symbolic time as a justification for them.

As he continues, the Queen's reactions do nothing but terrorize him. He knows where he stands with the King, but not his lord's new relationship. It gives him a quick, stammering delivery as he tries to disarm the Queen with his words, overexplaining himself even as she requested he get to the point more quickly. He knows he's testing the Queen's patience, but can't seem to find a way out. When he calls Hamlet mad, the Queen's resounding (and unscripted) "Ha!" perhaps shows him that brevity has its own problems. His statement is insultingly obvious to her.
Polonius calls for his daughter as he gets ready to read the letter she's given him, neatly stored in a portfolio. A servant brings Ophelia in. She basically stands there during what's left of the scene, more papers in her hands. This is because director Doran has chosen to follow the scene order from the so-called "bad quarto" that places the To Be or Not To Be speech and subsequent meeting between the former lovers right after this sequence. We'll see later how this affects our understanding of the play. For now, we're still on Polonius' dime.

He reads the letter as if for the first time, stopping at "bosom", surprised and embarrassed, skipping ahead with that comical "etc.". He keeps the paper away from the Queen until he's finished reading. This is his time to shine, and there's a sense that he's competing with Gertrude for the King's attention. Though he has risen with his lord, he's still a peg too low in his opinion. Watch him in the background when the Queen says of his theory "it may be". He doesn't look vindicated. He frowns, not understanding how she can doubt him ("may" rather than "must").

As for Ophelia's role in this sequence, there are some silent reactions to look for. When Gertrude hears about this "young love", she looks at Ophelia, as if for the first time. It seems the royals were not really aware of the relationship. This makes sense, since Polonius himself had to wring it out of his daughter, so it must have been a fairly discreet affair. And when Gertrude agrees that Hamlet may be going mad for love, Ophelia smiles brightly. An odd reaction perhaps, but Ophelia is focusing on the idea that Hamlet may love her, rather than the madness. At that moment, she is accepted by the Queen as a potential mate for Hamlet, and we find out later that (sincere or not), Gertrude would have liked to see them married. We will have to stay aware of the evolving relationship between the play's two female characters to see how we get from here to there.

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