Polonious as RhetoricianSome of Shakespeare's most memorable lines come, ironically, from Polonious, like "brevity is the soul of wit" (2.2.97).  Was Shakespeare poking fun at some of...

Polonious as Rhetorician

Some of Shakespeare's most memorable lines come, ironically, from Polonious, like "brevity is the soul of wit" (2.2.97).  Was Shakespeare poking fun at some of the rhetorical flourishes of his own time through Polonious? 

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malibrarian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Good madam, stay awhile, I will be faithful." (2.2.115)

I agree completely with clane's take on this, and the reason this line popped into my mind is because of the Mel Gibson "Hamlet," when Ian Holm as Polonius is just about to drive Glenn Close (Gertrude) to distraction with his brevity, or lack thereof. The look on her face is just hysterical - kind of like, "I'm the queen, here, and you're reminding me to be patient, you little so and so..."!

Polonius makes for a great foil to Hamlet...Hamlet spends tons of time thinking, and comes up with some pretty darn good thoughts and philosophies, to which he is faithful. Polonius spends tons of time talking...and talking...and talking some more, and even though some of his thoughts are good, he doesn't live up to them...like being brief! :)


clane eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think Shakespeare mighthave been poking fun at the rhetoric of his own time, but even more I think he was poking fun at Polonius and this is probably one the best quotes that illustrates that. Polonius is far from being brief any time he enters a scene and yet he talks of it being the soul of wit. He's also by far the least witty character in the play, which makes it even funnier that he would be the one touting about being witty.

I think that Shakespeare used the rhetoric you're speaking of dually in the play. I think he used it to make Polonius the fool, but I also think he used it to very clearly illustrate some lessons and what better way than through the character that can demonstrate the advice through his juxtaposition of character?

clane eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would have to say that Desiderias Erasmus' The Praise of Folly is one that comes to mind and while he predates Shakespeare, it isn't by much and I imagine his works were still relevant in the Elizabethan period. His famous phrase that comes to mind, "In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king" is one that while it isn't in Hamlet, I think Shakespeare would have liked his radical attitude and rhetoric.

I'm not much of a rhetorician though so I could be totally off base here too. I can't really think of one that was around while Shakespeare was alive that he sounds like, I kind of always thought of Shakespeare as a rhetorician himself, in fact the rhetorician of the Elizabethan era.

Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Good points, all, but maybe I didn't phrase my question properly.  I am curious to know if anyone has information about an actual rhetorician whom Shakespeare might have been pointing to through Polonious, like Socrates, but in his own era. 

One of the things I find interesting is the stuff that passes over our heads because the key references/phrases are no longer relevant to modern readers.  Like looking at political cartoons of the past, once the moment has come and gone, sometimes far removed from context, we miss original intent. 

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree that it was Polonius he was making fun of...too many times Hamlet comments on what a fool (or fishmonger) he was.  It is the silliness of his character and people like his character who existed in Shakespeare's time and still in ours today...the ones who speak too much but say nothing and who act like they know everything there is to know but truly live in ignorance.

linda-allen eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Could Machiavelli be a possibility? He wrote about what he thought the perfect prince should be like, and it seems Hamlet is turning out to be the opposite.