Friday, November 13, 2009

I.ii. Enter Hamlet - French Rock Opera

As I said under Act I Scene 1, Hallyday actually starts his musical vision of Hamlet with the first soliloquy. It explains the premise, so that's as good a place to start as anywhere. The song is "Le vieux roi est mort" (The Old King Is Dead). Listen to a bit of it HERE.

Here are the complete lyrics in French, followed by my rough translation:

Le vieux roi est mort
Le vieux roi est mort depuis moins d'un mois
L'herbe sur sa tombe ne pousse encore pas
Le vieux roi est mort mais pas encore froid
Qu'on change tout les draps pour un autre roi

Le royaume entier a porté le deuil
Suivi le cortège en criant «je t'aime»
Mais il n'est pas d'arbre perdant une feuille
Qui ne continue à vivre quand même

Ma mère n'est que reine, la reine n'est que femme
La femme n'est que chienne, un batard l'enflamme
Casse toi oh ma voix, brise toi mon coeur
Mon amour, tais-toi, pleure à l'intérieur

Il a mis du blanc sur la reine en noir
Tous deux ont dit «oui» mais leurs voix tremblaient
C'était moitié rêve, moitié cauchemar
D'un oeil ils riaient, de l'autre ils pleuraient

C'est mal et ça fait mal
Oui, c'est mal et ça fait mal
Quand un homme a trop mal
Il n'en sort que du mal!
Du mal! Du mal! Du mal!
Du mal!...

The Old King Is Dead
The old king has been dead for less than a month
The grass on his grave still does not grow
The old king is dead, but is not yet cold
Let all the sheets be changed for a new king

The entire realm has suffered the grief
Followed the procession crying "I love you"
But there is no tree that loses a leaf
That does not continue to live just the same

My mother is only a queen, the queen is only a woman
The woman is only a bitch, a bastard lights her fire
Break my voice, break my heart
My love, shut up, cry on the inside

He put white on the queen in black
Both said "yes" but their voices shook
It was half a dream, half a nightmare
With one eye they laughed and they cried with the other

It's wrong and it hurts
Yes, it's wrong and it hurts
When a man hurts too much
He only sees the evil!
The evil! The evil! The evil!
The evil!...

Notes on the translation: First, I have to stress the word "chienne" is far less harsh than "bitch", but that is nonetheless how the word translates in every sense. There is also some difficulty translating the word "mal", which can mean "wrong", "pain" and "evil". There is a play there that doesn't really translate.

Though the song does cover the wedding banquet more than Hamlet's soliloquy ("an auspicious and a dropping eye" is in there), I have placed it here for a couple of reasons. One is that Hallyday tends to voice Hamlet's point of view above all others, so it's easy to see this first song as the first soliloquy which also comments on the previous part of the scene.

The other reason is that the song features imagery that connects to the soliloque. It makes me note the connection between Denmark's "unweeded garden" and the metaphorically violated tomb of his father. His wronged father has been planted in the ground and he becomes the seed of evil from which the country's doom will spring. The moment when the Ghost becomes a "mole" is another such image which I had not previously considered. In the future, I'll take more care to look at Denmark's connection to the underworld and how the latter's gates are open to let loose evil on the former. Hamlet's father decays even as his state does.

The song also has Hamlet accuse not just his uncle and mother, but the entire country. They also loved his father, and indeed, they should be included in those who have forgotten him.

Though the song uses different images than the play does (I like the black-to-white queen, for example), it also obliquely refers to those of the play. In that way, the "common" return to nature of a corpse is featured as the tree metaphor, but Hamlet/Hallyday also mixes into the idea that a man's memory should outlive him, in his mind, forever.

Divergences from the play do exist. Hamlet Senior has been dead less than month, making the wedding even more precipitous than in the play. It also has the royal couple delivering their wedding vows with shaky voices. Excitement? Fear? Insecurity? The characters could have separate reasons for this "tell".

I have listened to this album frequently in the last decade or so, but only through this exercise have I been able to notice not only new things in the song, but in the play as well. There's something to be said for a compressed, translated and askew viewpoint on the play. On a personal note of appreciation, "Le vieux roi est mort" is one of my favorite songs on the album. I just like how it starts and its resounding pa-pa-pam punctuation.

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