Friday, January 1, 2010

I.ii. Ghost Stories - Kline '90

Kline's Hamlet does not look up when Horatio and the soldiers (in modern dress uniforms) walk in. When he does realize who accosts him, there is immediate warmth and the sense that these two men already share a bond. Horatio is teary-eyed - did he notice Hamlet's red eyes? Is he also grieving for his friend's father? Or is this an effect of the awe generated by the charismatic Hamlet character (even if Kline doesn't quite project it)? In any case, the relationship is a tender one, and even Hamlet ironic turns lack any barbs. Just soft, self-deprecating wit that even a third party (Horatio) cannot take to be aggressive. A Hamlet emerges here that isn't as sanguinary as some of the others, possibly a byproduct of setting the play later. He finds the situation impossible to bear, but his tone makes it seem like the fault is in himself. He's the problem because he can't bear what others seem to take in stride.

He's taken totally unawares when Horatio tells him he saw his father "yesternight", another example of Kline's best bits involving a shellshocked Hamlet. Horatio delivers the story in a convincing trembling voice (Peter Francis James' performance is one of the better things about this version) and Hamlet is completely taken in.
He SO wants to believe, in fact, that his questions don't constitute a test, but rather seem to be leading the witness. He's convincing himself that the story is credible. And it's true that, upon inspection, Hamlet's lines in this section ARE leading questions. He either asks a confirmation or gives multiple choices, but his questions are not open-ended. This attitude changes the way the lines are read. When played as a test, "His beard was grizzled--no?" is a trap, and Horatio corrects Hamlet with "It was, as I have seen it in his life, A sable silver'd." Here, Horatio's line is a confirmation as if "grizzled" and "sable silver'd" were synonyms, the second just more respectful of royalty than the first. The story animates Hamlet for the first time as he swears to meet the Ghost. The embrace often associated with Hamlet's recognition of Horatio comes here instead.
And it's an ardent one (I don't want to bring too much attention to the homoerotic context of these scenes, but this Hamlet's effete mannerisms might make this an issue later on). As far as staging goes, this may represent Hamlet finally having something to latch on to. Horatio is hope personified.

The less said about Kline's spooky delivery of the next aside the better. It is the stuff of campfire tales.

A line revealed by its omission
While looking at the nips and tucks suffered by the text in the last two adaptations, I noticed a line that should have sprung out at me before. When Horatio calls himself a truant (cut from this version), Hamlet says "I would not hear your enemy say so, Nor shall you do mine ear that violence". How could I never have noticed that this foreshadows the circumstances of his father's death?

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