Saturday, August 17, 2013

An Interview with Polonius

You know you're getting older when you attend a performance of Hamlet and find yourself thinking, "You know, that Polonius guy was actually pretty smart.  Maybe if the others had listened to him, they could have reduced the body count in the last act."

Yes, the aging and gray-bearded courtier at the Danish court may have been known for longwindedness and unsolicited advice, but he did have a few things going for him.  For example, this time I noticed what an insightful literary critic he was.  

In this scene, Polonius is reading aloud to the king a letter which Hamlet has sent to Polonius's daughter Ophelia.  He reads, "'To the celestial and my soul's idol, the most beautified Ophelia -'" and then interrupts himself to take issue with the wording.

"That's an ill phrase, a vile phrase - 'beautified' is a vile phrase," he observes. 

That got me to thinking:  since the blogosphere abounds in advice to aspiring writers, why not interview the good Polonius to see if he has any words of wisdom for those trying their hand at the craft of writing?  So I invented an Aspiring Writer (AW) to ask Polonius whatever questions he/she felt would be most useful, and here are the results:

AW:  Welcome, Polonius!

Polonius:  Well be with you!

AW:  Um - you, too.  Do you think you will really be able to help me with my writing and marketing?

Polonius:  Hath there been such a time - I'ld fain know that - that I have positively said 'Tis so,' when it proved otherwise?

AW:  Well, not as far as I know.  Okay, then, let's get started.  First, I just want to make sure you understand that my book is all polished and ready to go, and that people tell me it's great.  Why, my mom says it's the greatest novel she's ever read!  What more could I possibly need, right?

Polonius:  Some more audience than a mother, since nature makes them partial.

AW:  But it isn't just Mom.  I submitted it to a bunch of agents, and the only reason most of them didn't take it was that it didn't meet their current needs and it's a tough market.    One of them even said I was a strong writer and he loved my concept!

Polonius:  You speak like a green girl, unsifted in such perilous circumstance.  Do you believe his tenders?  Marry, I'll teach you:  think yourself a baby; that you have ta'en these tenders for true pay, which are not sterling.  Tender yourself more dearly.

AW:  There was even one who said that if I could shorten it and make the characters more well-rounded and fix the pacing and get a professional edit done by a company he'd recommend, he might be willing to look at it again.

Polonius:  These blazes giving more light than heat - extinct in both, even in their promise, as it is a-making - you must not take for fire.

AW:  Maybe you're right.  Speaking of agents, if you were one, what genres would you want to read?

Polonius:  Tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, or poem unlimited.

AW:  I see.  You know, I was wondering if it's possible that 396,000 words is a bit too long for a manuscript.  What do you think?

Polonius:  I do think - or else this brain of mine hunts not the trail of policy so sure as it hath used to do - that I found the very cause.  Brevity is the soul of wit, and tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes.

AW:  I also wanted to ask you about these ads I've been getting lately, from editorial services and companies that have heard great things about my book and want to help me self-publish.  Should I take them up on it?

Polonius:  Do not believe their vows, for they are brokers, - not of that dye which their investments show, but mere implorators of unholy suits, breathing like sanctified and pious bawds, the better to beguile.

AW:   I certainly wouldn't want to get involved with implorators of unholy suits.  Unholy suits sounds like a bunch of CEOs.  Or Congress.  Let's talk a little bit about marketing.  Can you give me a few words of advice about blogging?  What sort of tone should I set?

Polonius:  Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.

AW:  I'd really like to borrow an idea from a fellow blogger, but it wouldn't be plagiarism, because I'd change it some.  I wouldn't mind if he used some of my ideas.  What do you think?

Polonius:  Neither a borrower nor a lender be: for loan oft loses both itself and friend; and borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.

AW:  What about using social media?

Polonius:  The friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel; but do not dull thy palm with entertainment of each new-hatcht, unfledged comrade.

AW:  Sounds sensible.   What should an author do if he gets a really nasty one-star review?

Polonius:  Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgement.  Beware of entrance to a quarrel, but being in, bear't that th'opposed may beware of thee.

AW:  Should I be writing reviews for my friends?  Sometimes it's a problem, because I can't think of anything good to say.

Polonius:  Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice.

AW:  You wrote a reader review for a friend once, didn't you?

Polonius:  He hath wrung from me my slow leave by laboursome petition.

AW:  I know how that goes.  What about book covers?  My book is actually about a peasant family in Outer Mongolia, but I was thinking it might sell better if it had a beautiful woman on the cover.  Maybe a queen, and all mysterious-like, draped in a cloak - a 'mobled queen,' as your creator would have said.

Polonius.  That's good; 'mobled queen' is good.

AW:  I was wondering what you thought about writing for the market.  You know, like if I abandoned my Mongolian peasant family and went back to working on my draft of Tudor Zombies Meet Mr. Darcy.

Polonius:  This above all, - to thine own self be true; and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.

AW:  Mongolian peasants it is, then.  I have so many more questions -

Polonius:  This is too long.

AW:  Oh.  Well, then, I thank you for sharing your time and your wisdom, Polonius.

Polonius:  God be wi' ye!

AW:  Ye too.


Judith Starkston said...

This is a hoot. Thank you, Tinney. Only you could tease out an interview with Polonius. I'm impressed with your "redirection" of Polonius's words. Even as a person who taught Hamlet a few million times to high school students, I would not have been able to weave such a clever web! Brava

Tinney Heath said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it, Judith. Lately I seem to be incapable of doing two serious blog posts in a row, despite my best intentions! This week was supposed to be another Medici post, but, to quote Polonius again, "What was I about to say? - By the mass, I was about to say something: - where did I leave?"

Dorothy said...

Love this! Very nice...

Julia H. West said...

Excellent (and amusing) post, and excellent advice as well!