Hamlet: Spies, Spies and More Spies

It is a wise father that knows his own child.
(The Merchant of Venice Act 2. Scene 2.)

For Hamlet’s plot till now, see Hamlet So Far.

And now on to Act 2. Here a spy. There a spy. Everywhere a spy spy. R&G spy. Ophelia spies. Gertrude spies. Claudius spies. Polonius spies, and we know how that turned out. Not good. Even Hamlet does a bit of spying.

Hamlet should get used to it. He’s a royal, the son and the nephew of aking. Royals are always spied upon. Just ask Elizabeth I. But she, like most rulers, is both the spyee as well as the spyer. She may not do it herself. She has minions whose business it is to spy.

Why do I bring up all this spy business up? Act 2 opens with Polonius asking a servant, Reynaldo, to take off for Paris and spy on Laertes. Either Polonius knows his son well or he doesn’t know his son well. It must be important for him to find out. Otherwise he wouldn’t spend a pretty penny to spy on Laertes.

Perhaps Laertes will spend all his money gambling and whoring and getting himself in a real pickle. It will cost Polonius all the money and goodwill he can muster, money and goodwill he has spent a lifetime collecting. Polonius wasn’t always an important official. He was born a poor farm boy who had ambition. He was a regular Danish Horatio Alger.

Polonius wants to make sure that his boy is worthy to be his heir. Otherwise he will have to do the unthinkable and will his fortune to Ophelia.

Just as Act 1 established that there was something rotten in Denmark, Act 2 establishes that nobody trusts anybody. Soon we will see that suspicion turns into suspicion run amok..

“So, Reynaldo,” Polonius stands above Reynaldo. “You go off to Paris. Check out what my son is doing. Then come back and let his father know what dynamite he is playing with.”

“But, Sir,” Reynaldo always calls Polonius Sir, “Laertes is a good kid. He’ll sow his wild oats, then come back home and be your loyal son.”

“The kid wants to be the next Van Gogh. That’s all he talks about.”

“Yes, Sir. But what’s wrong with that?”

“You know how Van Gogh turned out. A missing ear he cut off his own self and poorer than a church mouse.”

“He might turn out to be the next Hans Holbein. Then he could paint the king’s portrait and the queen’s too. And even the prince’s.”

“Not him,” Polonius says.

“Sir?”

“Just take my word for it. The prince isn’t going to be around long enough to have his portrait painted.”

Uncle Bardie’s Movie of the Week: The pure joy of fly fishing

Once a week on Monday, Uncle Bardie shares a movie with his Readers he gives a big two thumbs up. It will simply be a short excerpt or a trailer. From time to time, a reflection on the movie will appear below the video. So pop some popcorn and give yourself a treat. This week’s movie is

Fly fishing has a grace and a poetry to it. To watch a line glide across the water, dive, then rise and finally land in the perfect place, that is a thing to behold. It is not about the fish. It’s the pure pleasure the fisherman takes in being one with the line gliding across the water.

A River Runs Through It is not only a great book about this thing called dry fly fishing. It is also a good movie. As sure as there was an Eden where four rivers met, there were great trout rivers, the Elkhorn and the Big Blackfoot in the western Montana of the early twentieth century. This was where Reverend Maclean instructed his two boys, Norman and Paul, in religion of the Presbyterian kind, and in the art of dry fly fishing.

Norman’s father told his sons that Adam was a fisherman casting his line into one of those four rivers of Eden. ‘Course Adam was not a fly fisherman. He was the kind of fisherman who’d be in the garden with a Hills Bro. coffee can, digging for angleworms. That was the way Adam was, and that was the reason he failed.

Like so many fathers since–and maybe before–Reverend Maclean used sport to teach his sons the values he cherished. But this is not the father’s story. It is the story of two brothers who took to fly fishing first to please their father, then to please themselves, knowing that the sport is not easily mastered. Paul, the younger, is the one who loves it more, enough to truly become an artist with it.

As it turned out, it was the one area of his life he could master. The rest of it was a mess. He was a gambler and a drinker and led a life that his family would not be proud of. Yet they could not do anything other than love him. And, for that, he would break their hearts.

What happened to Paul is much of the story–his stubbornness, his charm, his complete commitment to fly fishing–but there is no why to how he ended up the way he ended. We see the boy, Paul, refusing to eat the oatmeal before him at the breakfast table. We see the teenager Paul challenging the rapids of the river he loves. We see the adult Paul bring his Indian girl friend into one of the local dives and challenge all the bigots there to stop him. Somewhere along the way from a boyhood of fun to an adult, things turned sour for Paul. Something drove him onto a road to destruction.

Like so many outlaws we love, Paul is not just a rebel. He is a troubled man. His trouble taking him again and again to the card table until his luck ran out. But again and again he takes us to the rivers and the waters he loves to cast his line. To practice his art with a mastery that his older brother and his father recognize early on. That character that made him such a great fisherman is also the one that pulled him down. But man, what a fisherman he was.

If there is a Great American Novel, “The River Runs Through It” may very well be it. Read the book, then see the movie. They are well-worth it.