Act 2.2 is the third longest scene of any of Shakespeare works (#1, Love's Labour's Lost 5.2; #2, The Winter's Tale, 4.4). What do you think the purpose was in creating such a lengthy scene?
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Shakespeare accomplishes a lot in this scene and it's all for the same purpose. This scene is where everyone who is betraying Hamlet to gain favor of the king is revealed. Hamlet's friends denounce their friend for a shot at favor with the king by promising to spy on Hamlet for Claudius. Polonius tells the king of Hamlet's love for his daughter and shares a love note he has that Hamlet has written. This is also the scene where Polonius says he will "loose" his daughter to Hamlet to prove that he is in fact a loyal servant of the king and not lying. While we get to see the betrayal of those closest to Hamlet we also get to see Hamlet's perceptive nature come into play. He isn't stupid, he knows who his true friend(s) are and he knows when he's being questioned and betrayed. This is the scene where Hamlet lets his disloyal friends and the king know that he knows more than they think through the play within a play. Hamlet reveals his own knowledge of the things that were plotted against his father and those which might be plotted against him. I think Shakespeare made the scene so lengthy because he had so much that was interconnected happening here and he really couldn't break it up or it might have broken the continuity of what was unfolding.
Something to consider...the modern scene divisions that we're so used to are just that - modern, or at least more modern than Shakespeare's time. From what I've learned in the acting class I'm taking (if I have my facts straight - it's early yet), "scenes" to Shakespeare were either when the stage was completely clear, or when there was any entrance or exit (now we call those "French scenes"). The link below gives an article about act and scene divisions from the Oxford Companion to Shakespeare, which mentions that even the divisions between acts changed from Shakespeare's earlier plays to his later plays, probably as a result of his later plays being performed indoors (they had to trim candle wicks periodically to keep them from smoking, so took breaks for that).
Also, the earlier quartos of his plays do not have scene breaks. This appears to have been added to some of the plays in the First Folio (which, of course, was published after Shakespeare's death), but not even all of them.
BUT...all that having been said...why, then, did later editors make it such a long scene? #2-clane hit it on the head, in my opinion - everything in that scene is so interconnected that it would not have flowed as well to chop it up. We also see Polonius being mocked in two separate parts of it ("fishmonger" and then later Hamlet mocks him with the players), so it seems like it's the comic relief bit.
I don't understand. Act IV, scene 4 is the second longest scene after LLL but the other scene, Act II, scene 1 in my edition of The Winter's Tale is only the fourteenth... The argument you put forward about the factitious modern division in acts and scenes seems appropriate.
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