Saturday, November 28, 2009

I.ii. Ghost Stories - Branagh 96

As long as we're in the ballroom, the shot remains unbroken. Branagh's Hamlet may be a visual cinematographic feast, it is still squarely in the realm of theater, and the performances are probably the better for it. As Horatio and the soldiers walk in, Hamlet, coming out of his first soliloquy, is on automatic pilot. He gives them a greeting without recognizing them. Here is a man who's received everyone's condolences or congratulations, most of them hypocritical (in his view). So there's a bit of a double-take:Though Hamlet is quite happy to see Horatio, there is no loving embrace as there sometimes is in other versions. Branagh tries to "earn" their later intimacy, here keeping it to a friendly and enthusiastic shaking of hands. When performed, the lines take on their full meanings, and I keep noticing things I wouldn't normally have from just reading the text (see previous article). For example, how long has it been since Hamlet saw Horatio? They were at Wittenberg together, but Hamlet's probably been home less than two months (since his father's death). It could be less. Travel being a slow proposition in this era (Horatio arrives late for the funeral), he might not have gotten the news until late, then undertaken the trip, and so arrives with his mother already in the arms of another man. There's no real sense that he was at Elsinore when his father's murder occurred. And yet "I am glad to see you well" and the actors' performance seem to have the two friends separated for a good length of time. Is this just more of the play's "elastic time"? Time is out of joint once again.

As mentioned in the previous article, Hamlet and Horatio are not of the same social class, but Hamlet likes to consider him so (part and parcel of his gracious "princeliness"). When Horatio calls himself Hamlet's servant, Hamlet responds with an equalizing comment: "I'll change that name with you". He accepts neither of Horatio's attempts at self-deprecation (servant and truant) because he places his friend on par with himself, and he is neither.

Note also the difference between Marcellus and Bernardo. Marcellus is addressed by name, so Hamlet knows him. Cast as an older man, he probably served under his father and Hamlet trusts him. Bernardo is only addressed as "sir" (and barely at all), leading me to believe Hamlet doesn't know who he is. In effect, Horatio and Marcellus are vouching for him by allowing him to be present.

Thanks to the actors' quiet intensity, another line I'm picking up on here is "He was a man, take him for all in all". Hamlet has just spent some time deifying with analogies to Hyperion and Zeus, but now he's "just a man". God or ghost, Hamlet Sr. is now a creature of the supernatural, and one of Hamlet's difficulties is figuring out on which side of the afterlife his father rests. It also puts in question whether Claudius is a "man" at all, since he does not compare to, say, Hyperion, and Hyperion is analogous to "man". I'll try to remember this line when we get to Hamlet's "What is a man?" where again man is "like a god".
Then, change of venue and the first cut since Claudius and Gertrude left the stage. Hamlet says "Let me hear", but doesn't want to do it in the open. We soon understand why as he steps into a secret passage into the study. The ballroom is full of access points from which someone might spy or catch the characters in conversation. As Horatio tells the story, there's a cute moment from Jack Lemmon/Marcellus I never noticed before. On Horatio's "whilst they, distilled Almost to jelly with the act of fear, Stand dumb", Marcellus gives him this look:
It's the only time he takes his eyes off Hamlet (in fact, all eyes are on the protagonist's reactions), as if in slight outrage that Horatio would calumniate him so. And yet, he can't quite mount a defense. Horatio is on Hamlet's level, and he's just a lowly guard. It's not his place to speak and he has to bear it. It's a nice, subtle character moment that goes with the exasperation evident elsewhere in the play. First, Horatio won't believe him about the Ghost, and later, he is forced to swear multiple times ("We have sworn already!").

In the previous article, I said Hamlet's questions about the Ghost could be a kind of test to see if the trio really saw what they think they saw. Branagh doesn't really play on that. Instead, his Hamlet seems worried about the state of his father's spirit ("look'd he frowningly"). And still, he mistrusts the apparition from the first. "If it assume my noble father's person" implies a doppelganger. He'll have to see for himself, and lets Horatio and the soldiers out from yet another secret door.
The staging continues to support the paranoia and conspiratorial mood of the play. When they're gone, Hamlet starts speaking in voice-over for a line and a half before using his voice again, something he also did at the start of Scene 2. Branagh keeps bouncing between the two modes, keeping it dynamic, but also for believability's sake. The voice-over section comes while his friends might be in earshot.

Hamlet's reaction is a scholarly one. He goes to his books and looks up "Daemons".
He calls the Ghost his "father's spirit" but also "doubts some foul play". Once could think he means the murder of his father with the latter line, but they might also be misgivings about the identity of the spirit. The book underscores that interpretation and supports the action of the end of Act II Scene 2, and Hamlet's doubt over the Ghost's motives.

No comments: