Someone’s always watching

To begin analysis of Hamlet Act 2 using Tapor, I went to the one tool that offers the most information: List Words. Below is the list of words that came up, ordered from highest to lowest.


The word that caught my attention most was “know”. My first impression upon re-reading Act 2 was the same as anytime I’ve read Act 2. Polonius is a prize buffoon. How he managed to become a counselor to the king surely says something about Claudius… But back to “know”. Knowledge is something key within all of “Hamlet.” How this knowledge is obtained – or failing to be obtained – is very interesting.

Act 2 contains within it a lot of surveillance of characters upon characters. There seems to exist within “Hamlet” a constant pursuit of knowledge and truth in order to either justify actions, or to deceive for personal gain. Polonius, inflated windbag that he is, is certainly at the center of a lot of this surveillance, or spying.

Here is a list of examples of surveillance within act 2:

  •             Polonius on Laertes through Reynoaldo
  •             Polonius on Ophelia regarding Hamlets courting
  •             Claudius on Fortinbras through Voltemand regarding war with Norway – this is the only example that actually has any concrete reasoning behind it
  •             Polonius and Claudius and their original plan to hide behind the wall tapestry in an attempt to get Ophelia to bait Hamlet into admitting his madness-inducing love for her – this plan gets spoiled when Hamlet suddenly arrives, but still leads to:
  •             Polonius questioning Hamlet – and Polonius thinks he’s so clever with his snide little asides.
  •             Claudius on Hamlet (by sending Guildenstern and Rosencrantz – Hamlet doesn’t even have to twist Guildenstern’s arm to get admission of this)
  •             And finally, the arrival of the players at the Acts conclusion foreshadows Hamlets surveillance on the King during the play.

For a rather short act, I was very surprised to find as much spying as I did. What’s interesting about all these is that most of them involve either sending someone else in to spy for you, or of course Polonius’ go to plan: hide behind something! The curtain eventually does him in of course…

So why does so much deceitful spying occur? Considering that most of these are familial relationships, the amount of passive aggression and distrust is shocking. Did it ever occur to them to just ask each other about anything? Is this, perhaps, Shakespeare’s subtle way of addressing the politics at the time?

Using the surprisingly helpful tool “CapsFinder”, the allusion to Pyrrhus also comes up:

While the Trojan horse may not be as brilliant as hiding behind a curtain, or sending your servant (Reynaldo) to candidly ask strangers about your sons (Laertes) alleged gambling/sex addiction, it is still another example of deception being used to gain the upper hand.

So with my focus on the constant schemes to gain knowledge through secret surveillance, how can I use my digital tool, and fellow group member’s tools, to delve deeper? Within Tapor, beyond searching for words that occur around “know” or simply searching for synonyms, I feel it can’t take me much further. Lemmas would be a very useful tool – MONK or Wordseer? Voyeur/Voyant would definitely be helpful in producing distribution charts of where certain words (like “know”) show up. Also, if there’s any tool that can easily detect who says certain words, that would be helpful to. I have a feeling it’s mostly Polonius, being the delusory little blowhard that he is, who is mostly involved – Yet it is the surveillance between Hamlet and Claudius that is most central to the play as a whole.

2 thoughts on “Someone’s always watching

  1. Hi,
    I really liked this idea of the word ‘know’ that you found, I hadn’t thought of it before. It seems like an important word too if everyone thinks they ‘know’ (especially with the surveillance idea). Also something funny to note, I looked it up in WordHoard and Polonius is the one who says it most frequently (big surprise lol). I found your comments on Polonius really funny, because it’s all true really. There is a lot of spying going on in Act 2, I think that’s what we should focus on maybe later. Polonius does plays a big role in all of it too, he always makes me laugh though with his craziness; I should probably look up how many words he says too in comparison to others so I can ‘really’ see just how long-winded his speeches are (and he says they’re short).
    Anyways, I think for a final comment, looking at words/lemmas and such, I think WordHoard is good at that. I can also look at who says what too/where it was said… hopefully this can come to use sometime…everyone always seems to forget about WordHoard :C

  2. I like the fact that you have been able to pull out the theme of surveillance in relation to your result of ‘know’. I suppose that this highlights the fact that TAPoR is mainly used to point things out for us to explore further. With all the examples of spying you’ve found in this act alone, I’m sure there are others hidden through out the other acts (such as the focus on eyes in 3.4?) I can’t help but make reference to the BBC film production of 2009, where they actually represent this surveillance with the use of security cameras (obviously, they modernised it a tad bit…) It really reinforces the sort of paranoia that comes with the need to know/find/keep the truth.

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