Shakespeare’s element of comic relief in his plays provides more than just mere pieces of entertainment for the groundlings; it allows a break from the dense and sometimes evil continuity of the play. Comic scenes provide relief to the audience while building up the intensity from earlier scenes. Sometimes appearing out of place within the play, the scenes and characters are still significant roles in advancing the play. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet comic relief is supplied throughout the plot through the character of Polonius. Polonius, a foolish old man with a lot to say, is able to produce the amount of relief necessary to his audience. With his long speeches and pleasing manner, Polonius sets a certain tone towards the entirety of the play. Time and time again he gives the old “when I was your age speech” and assumes the role of a parent to everyone, giving his unwanted and disregarded opinion. When a player about the death of Priam makes a deep and eloquent speech, Polonius interrupts by simply saying, “This is too long.” This being said was entirely ironic because of the long and seemingly pointless speeches that Polonius dishes out to anyone able to hear. Shakespeare’s use of Polonius as a comic character is significant towards the overall tone of the play. The depressing and death filled play needs a comic way to show its tragic nature through a sort of dark humor. Hamlet’s many remarks regarding death and old age towards Polonius is a prime example of this. Polonius being the foolish elderly man he is, provides an easy target for Hamlet so called ‘humor.’ Jokes of murder and death, although humorous, provide an edge of darkness to the tone of Hamlet.
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