April 22nd, 2008

Behind The Arras

Hamlet is a play about the surveillance society. Polonius is a spymaster- albeit a stupid one. He hires Reynaldo to spy on Laertes, he uses his daughter as an agent to draw Hamlet out while he and the king eavesdrop, he spies on Hamlet's interview with Gertrude. Traditionally played as a lovable, fluffy-haired, old man, he's actually a controlling bastard who richly deserves what he gets.

And then there's the King- who runs his own spies in the persons of the interchangeable opportunists, Rosencrantz and Guildernstern. 

Elizabethan/Jacobean society was fighting a War on Terror (which culminated in the discovery of the gunpowder plot) and there were spies everywhere. I think we can assume, from the treatment he metes out to them, that Shakespeare didn't like them and counted on his audience not liking them either. Hamlet kills Polonius and is responsible for the deaths of  Rosencrantz and Guildernstern and- as in a James Bond movie- I think we're meant to cheer.

We keep moving into new political territory- only to find that Shakespeare has been there ahead of us.