Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I.ii. Enter Hamlet - Kline '90

When Kline's Hamlet is called by Claudius, we get a stunned reaction and coldly rendered lines, and that's the problem with his portrayal of the Danish prince. Kline offers a study in stillness (at least in these dramatic scenes, the antic disposition may yield other results), with minimal gestures and a shell-shocked expression through most of the scene. In trying to see if it was just me not getting it, I looked at a few reviews and found the exact words to express my boredom with Hamlet 1990/II: "The man behind Hamlet's various poses remains the wrong kind of mystery throughout, a remote blank rather than a compelling enigma." (Frank Rich of the New York Times) Yes, that's it exactly. While I know that the character of Hamlet has hidden depths, I want to be able to divine those depths from an actor's performance. Here, either Kline is hiding them or ignoring them in a performance not helped by his elongated vowels and stage whispers, making it often sound like he's telling a ghost story (which of course this is, but that's neither here nor there). One thing he does well, however, is search for his words. Hamlet appears to discover them as he speaks, though he doesn't quite manage to make the rhyme sound natural (few do).
I'm not too sure about Claudius in this scene either. He moves between veiled threats through gritted teeth and teary supplications that Hamlet feel better and stay. On the whole, he's kinder than not, even pronouncing "'Tis unmanly grief" in a hushed tone, as if not to embarrass Hamlet in front of the Court. Hamlet is rather kind as well. Though his opening puns are ironic, he does not attack with them. His tone with his mother is as far from bitterness as humanly possible, tenderly qualifying his grief as if she were a poor soul that simply doesn't understand.

As the wedding party leaves, we glimpse Ophelia hovering in the wide shot, and eventually pulled away, and then the cannons are shot. There's a lot of emphasis placed on these, with Hamlet covering his ears they're so loud.
It's the symbol of his mother and uncle's wedding that is overwhelming him, not the sound. The connection to thunder is well used as Hamlet's world comes crashing down on top of him. It also highlights a connection I've failed to make, and that's the mention of cannons from both Claudius and Hamlet, and their link to God. Where Claudius fires into the heavens, he tries to kill God. It is an affront that leads to tragedy, a subversion of the natural order that turns Denmark into the unweeded garden, and a mirror of his previous regicide, trying to place himself at the very top. Hamlet's mentions God's own cannon, one fixed against self-slaughter. God's guns aim at sins - and by extension, sinners - so the line invites you to foresee God's ultimate revenge on Claudius.

And we do have more obvious religious overtones here with the cross of Denmark's flag in the background and Hamlet falling on his knees at "O God! God!". It is unfortunate that Kline's performance is so "blank", even though tears stream down his face through the whole speech, his voice reveals someone who is dead inside. Probably acceptable as a choice, just not a very dramatic one.

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