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Tony Grist

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Behind The Arras [Apr. 22nd, 2008|10:11 am]
Tony Grist

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.  

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Comments:
[User Picture]From: upasaka
2008-04-22 01:35 pm (UTC)
Interesting to note also that Kit Marlowe was a professional spy. I wonder if Shakespeare didn't have him in mind.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-04-22 02:53 pm (UTC)
I suspect Shakespeare usually had Marlowe in mind. Marlowe was the dazzling colleague, professional rival and- possibly- friend, who, had he lived, might have given him a run for his money.
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[User Picture]From: lblanchard
2008-04-22 02:06 pm (UTC)
There's nothing lovable about Richard Briers' Polonius in the Branagh Hamlet.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-04-22 02:54 pm (UTC)
I haven't seen that one yet. I'm listening to the 1948 Gielgud production in which Polonius is played as the usual pedantic old duffer.
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[User Picture]From: saare_snowqueen
2008-04-22 02:58 pm (UTC)

only to find that Shakespeare has been there ahead of us

Sometimes I wonder if Shakespeare was a real mortal - or some kind of demon / angel dropped by mistake on earth, so he amused himself writing plays about all of human behaviour while waiting to be rescued.

I loved the Branagh 'Hamlet' The staging was perfect and the language spoken so clearly and beautifully, I wanted it to never end.
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[User Picture]From: lblanchard
2008-04-22 03:03 pm (UTC)

Re: only to find that Shakespeare has been there ahead of us

And it was complete and uncut. And Branagh was brave enough to cast a Claudius that could out-act him, making the entire five hours a nerve-wracking duel. I could have wished for a stronger Ophelia, though, but Helena Bonham Carter had just done the Mel Gibson version, alas. Her fierce little angry Ophelia is the best I've ever seen.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-04-22 03:21 pm (UTC)

Re: only to find that Shakespeare has been there ahead of us

I love Jean Simmons in the Olivier film- maybe because I first saw it when I was young and impressionable. Her mad scenes make me weep.
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[User Picture]From: lblanchard
2008-04-22 04:33 pm (UTC)

Re: only to find that Shakespeare has been there ahead of us

I love Jean Simmons' Ophelia, too -- she projects an appealing aura of innocent bewilderment. That was some breakthrough role for a nineteen year old actress!
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[User Picture]From: saare_snowqueen
2008-04-22 06:14 pm (UTC)

Re: only to find that Shakespeare has been there ahead of us

That's what makes Branagh - Branagh. Long after the pretty boys have retired to raise pigs or some such, he'll be making and acting in creditable movies. To me he's a kind of British Clint Eastwood.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-04-22 03:19 pm (UTC)

Re: only to find that Shakespeare has been there ahead of us

I know what you mean. I don't think there's ever been a writer- before or since- with such range.

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[User Picture]From: saare_snowqueen
2008-04-22 06:11 pm (UTC)

Re: only to find that Shakespeare has been there ahead of us

I can't think of a writer - in English, who even comes close. When I was teaching Spanish students a few years ago they argued that there were writers in Spanish who equaled or bettered Ole Will - Cervantes perhaps, and as I don't read Spanish I really couldn't answer them - but in my heart I doubt it.

Now, in Russian, maybe...........
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-04-22 06:47 pm (UTC)

Re: only to find that Shakespeare has been there ahead of us

Don Quixote is obviously a very great book, but- well, put it this way: Cervantes created two immortal characters- the Don and Sancho Panza- Shakespeare must have created about a hundred.
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[User Picture]From: saare_snowqueen
2008-04-23 08:08 am (UTC)

Re: only to find that Shakespeare has been there ahead of us

I would have tried that argument with them, but... Spanish machismo - you know how it is. I agree with you though.
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From: senordildo
2008-04-24 02:53 am (UTC)

Re: only to find that Shakespeare has been there ahead of us

In terms of playwrights, Lope De Vega might qualify. With regard to Shakespeare's competition, we have a chance of seeing how Middleton stacks up, because a new complete edition of his works has just been released. The TLS just posted a review: http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/the_tls/tls_selections/literature_and_criticism/article3801281.ece
The reviewer is not exactly gung-ho, and the book is very expensive, but I'm going to save up to buy it.
I have to say that Branagh was just about the most irritating Hamlet I've ever seen, and the movie struck me as an elephantine misfire. Someday I'd like to try and see Kozintsev's version, since lots of folks say his is the all-time best.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-04-24 11:48 am (UTC)

Re: only to find that Shakespeare has been there ahead of us

Thank you for the TLS review. I'd buy that book if it were- oh- remaindered. I've read a certain amount of Middleton; he's good. But he doesn't fire me up. For one thing he's not much of a poet. For another, I just can't get into City Comedy. I think Shakespeare was wise to give that particular genre a miss.

One of these days I'll take a look at Branagh's Hamlet. I admire him as an actor, think he's a bit clunky as a director. His version of Much Ado veered between joyous and jaw-droppingly bad. Words cannot express how wrong- and unfunny- Michael Keaton's Dogberry was.
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[User Picture]From: serennos
2008-04-22 04:11 pm (UTC)

Re: only to find that Shakespeare has been there ahead of us

"Sometimes I wonder if Shakespeare was a real mortal - or some kind of demon / angel dropped by mistake on earth, so he amused himself writing plays about all of human behaviour while waiting to be rescued."

Have you seen Neil Gaiman's presentation of Shakespeare in his Sandman stories? It's not as a demon/angel, but very enjoyable!
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[User Picture]From: saare_snowqueen
2008-04-22 06:07 pm (UTC)

Re: only to find that Shakespeare has been there ahead of us

No I haven't seen it - but I'd like to.
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[User Picture]From: aerodrome1
2008-04-23 02:27 am (UTC)
The era of Walsingham and Topcliff did keep the Spanish and the Papists out of England and create a strong English state. Good things, all.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-04-23 09:30 am (UTC)
True. This is one of the paradoxes of civilisation- that its survival often depends upon unpleasant people being prepared to do unpleasant things.
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