This felt relevant.
how dare you tell me what context in shakespeare is. my reading is my reading and you have no right to tell me i read something ‘out of context’ because you don’t see it the same way. do i know what kind of character polonius is? get fucked. polonius is whatever kind of character i say he is because you are not the only person who can interpret something. and you know what? beautiful words can be beautiful even if they’re not attached to an eight hour play.
bundle of pretentiousness indeed.
Of course, by saying “eight hour play” (and the subsequent agreement,) you both make it clear that neither you have actually bothered to read or see the play performed in full because Kenneth Branagh, even with the addition of flashbacks and shots of Fortinbras’ army marching to Elsinore, could only manage to push it to Four hours, Two minutes and Twelve seconds. And that includes the opening titles and
Luciano Pavarotti Placido Domingo serenading the audience during the end credits. (thanks for the correction on the Tenor, wefewwehappyfew!)
I’m not saying that you have to see a complete, unabridged version performed, but your response reeks of you just cherry-picking quotes that you like. Basically, all you see is this:
When what’s actually happening is this:
So yes, knowing what’s happening instead of thinking that you know what’s happening because it happens to be convenient is in no way a recommended way to look at things. If you can reasonably describe your perspectives based on all available facts, fine. But when you consciously cut or flat out ignore vital aspects in order to fit your own opinions, then unless the character in your head is purely a non-canon fanfic version, you’re looking at it wrong, not because others disagree, but because you’re consciously failing to look at all the aspects that are readily available. That’s not having a unique personal opinion, that’s just flat out laziness.
I only have to add that the one serenading was Placido Domingo, not Luciano Pavarotti, but let me bask in the beauty of this reply.
Dammit, I keep getting my Three Tenors confused. Well, just those two, really. I have never mistaken José Carreras for anyone other than José Carreras.
This an interesting little back and forth you’ve got going on. I mean, let’s not be silly, here, you’re not out to educate people, you’re out to mock them, and the education is a side effect. I am neither condemning nor condoning.
To the person who told you to get fucked, though, no, Polonius isn’t whatever kind of character you say he is. Polonius is very clearly written. That’s the beauty of Shakespeare. Not that you can interpret it to mean what you want, this isn’t the bible. Shakespeare very clearly wrote a bombastic, kinda overbearing guy who wouldn’t shut the hell up. If you said Polonius was reticent and soft spoken, you would be wrong, because he isn’t. Shakespeare didn’t write that.
While lines like ‘to thine own self be true’ are much more moving and meaningful from a modern reading, one that doesn’t have to do with finances but with your heart and integrity, you can actually do research that tells you what Shakespeare was probably saying there. Factual research.
Now, many lines in Shakespeare are open to interpretation, because the language is obscure or the phrasing isn’t particularly conclusive. “It shall be called Bottom’s dream, because it hath no bottom;”, that’s a good example of a line where the actor, and subsequently the audience, must decide wtf bottom Bottom’s talking about.
Mostly, though, there is textual evidence to support Shakespeare’s action and characterization. Notice the almost total lack of stage directions in any of his work. So you can be pissed for being made to feel stupid, that’s not a good feeling, but you can’t defend your choice to decontextualize things by saying it is whatever you say it is. Because it isn’t.
It’s what Shakespeare said that counts, here.
And really, in the example given, you don’t even need to know “what kind of a character” Polonius is going into it — just look at the quote in context — literally, in the text it comes from. You don’t even have to look at the whole play to see this — just the immediately surrounding lines. It comes at the very end of a very long speech where Polonius has done nothing but give contradictory advice to his son. There’s an amusing irony in wrapping up twenty-odd opposing maxims with that pat little statement — and if you want to memorialize that absurdity, then, sure, go for it. But somehow I don’t think that’s what people are doing.
Context matters. That doesn’t mean there’s no room for interpretation — is Polonius a bumbling fool because he’s just an oblivious idiot, or because he’s trying so hard to do everything perfectly and it backfires? That is a valid question worth examining. You can make him either of those things out of what the text gives you. You can make him a pompous ass reciting things he’s heard other people say with no critical thought of his own, or you can make him a genuinely concerned father spilling out years’ worth of advice in a single moment so that it all gets jumbled up. You can make him a father who is blatantly unfair to and dismissive of his daughter at his son’s expense, or you can make him a father who doesn’t know what to do with a little girl that’s growing up, and who is so uncomfortable with that perceived failing that he overcorrects on the matter of her boyfriend. (And, I’m just going to say, studying rhetoric will help you a lot with these decisions). You can do a lot of things with Polonius, and that is part of what makes Shakespeare so exciting, that you can tell so many different stories using the same words. But there are limits, and a worthy philosopher is probably something you can’t make him.
And this same thing goes for so much in Shakespeare. I have to chuckle any time I see someone using “If music be the food of love, play on” as a positive statement, because the next two lines are what complete the thought: “Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting, the appetite may sicken and so die.”
I am all for people exploring what is there in Shakespeare, making the plays and characters their own, and embracing the variety he gave us in the text. That’s why it never gets old, because there’s always going to be something else to explore. But you’re as big a fool as Polonius if you try to pretend that context means nothing (and championing willful ignorance does not make you a better person — it’s one thing not to know something, and quite another not to want to know). As I tell students all the time, there are always multiple “right answers” for how to interpret Shakespeare. There are also still wrong answers. Plurality does not create infallibility. So, sure, go ahead and treat words like they’re meaningless fluff if that’s what you want to do. You’re within your rights. But don’t then be surprised or offended when other people snicker.