Saturday, September 5, 2009

I.ii. The Wedding Banquet - BBC 80

In which we find that there are no small roles in Hamlet...

The BBC's version of Claudius is famously played by Patrick Stewart, clearly having fun in his bouffant toupee.It's a performance that initially disappointed me, though I'm ready to revisit and reevaluate it now. This Claudius is not on as solid a footing politically as some others, which I now realize is straight from the text. This revelation comes from the performances of Cornelius and Voltimand, the envoys to Norway, who are very serious about their duty, so much so, they appear to be driven ONLY by duty. Granted, they have very few lines in this scene, and duty is all they have to play, but their joylessness borders on resentment, fear or resignation. Claudius may have Polonius in his corner, but surely he hasn't replaced everyone in Court. Can he trust the men who were loyal to his brother?
Suddenly, there's a warning in the words "To business with the king, more than the scope of these delated articles allow", and defensiveness in "We doubt it nothing". Claudius is just a little bit paranoid, still cajoling the enemies that surround him. He's guilty of SOMEthing.

Laertes' attitude follows this too. When he is called to appear, he seems puzzled and afraid (thus the "dread lord" line). He looks to his father, unsure of what to do.
What is going through his mind here? Like everyone else in this Court, he doesn't know if she can trust the situation. Maybe he was even loyal to the old king. Is he in a hurry to return to France because he doesn't like this new regime? Certainly, he was a friend of Hamlet's, and has certain loyalties to him. It probably isn't proper for Claudius to give Laertes an audience before he gives one to Hamlet, switching sons as we've previously discussed, so Laertes is caught unawares. He's visibly embarrassed by the event, visibly so as he leaves the Court and gives Hamlet a friendly and apologetic nod.

He has reason to be. Not only is he given audience first, but Claudius is unusually tactile with him.
Once he's done with Laertes (David Robb), he returns to the throne and AWAY from Hamlet as he addresses him, underscoring the distance between them after his unbearably inappropriate closeness with Laertes.

In this version, Hamlet is clearly visible on stage throughout the wedding banquet, rather than revealed, as he often is, on his first line. And he's active too. Standing behind his mother, he seems to be giving her away (that's right, he also went "freely with this affair along").
He also applauds sarcastically. Jacobi's Hamlet is openly disrespectful and scornful of his uncle from the first, which helps sell the idea that Claudius' reign holds by a thread. With Claudius and Claire Bloom's Gertrude standing so far apart, the wedding appears to be a stately affair, and more than ever, a political move. Perhaps Claudius loves her, but he's certainly not showing his weaknesses in this public arena.

Of Gertrude and Eric Porter's Polonius (interestingly younger and stouter than most actors cast in the role), I shall have cause to speak of later, when they get more lines.

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