Saturday, March 6, 2010

Act I Scene 3 - Kline '90

At 38, Diane Venora is a bit old to play Ophelia (but perfect for Getrude in Hamlet 2000 at 48... why do so many Ophelias later return as Gertrudes?). I mention it because it has an impact on her performance. This Ophelia has a maturity that is at odds with the lines' naivety. Her family's interference thus seems to come more from the role of women in earlier cultures than of any wish to protect a young girl from harm. Other characters come off as condescending to her, rather than protective of her. As we come into Scene 3, she is reading one of Hamlet's notes, which she hides when Laertes comes in.
Its discover a few moments later will be the motivation for his warnings, removing the awkward fascination with her virginity. When Laertes does mention it, she stops his mouth, outraged that he would so inappropriately throw it into a conversation. From this reaction, we can believe in her virginity. She would seem to espouse puritanical ideals also carried by Hamlet's Wittenberg education. Her own warning not to heed his own words teases less here than in other performances. She has been insulted by his speech and keeps a sharp edge to her own, even if he smiles right through it. We get the feeling no one much listens to Ophelia.

She retrieves the note from Laertes and stuffs it in her busom just as Polonius walks in. As his father goes through his advice, Laertes is tensely patient with him, but it's Polonius' character that is revealed here. At one point, he stares into the distance and his dialogue becomes a monologue.
Josef Sommer plays Polonius as a man in love with his own words. He is entranced and chuckles at his own cleverness. It doesn't matter that his son scarcely needs this advice, his wisdom must be spoken for its own sake. And though he is later kind and benevolent towards his daughter, he doesn't really hear her when she speaks. His mind is taken up by platitudes he's read somewhere, or clever logic of his own. That mind cannot be changed because of vanity. How could he possibly be wrong? This is an attitude Polonius carries through the play, which makes Sommer's choices astute and appropriate.

Shakespeare critic Harold Bloom argues that Shakespeare's genius lies in his characters talking to themselves, HEARING themselves and changing through that act of hearing. I think this idea speaks to Polonius' foolishness. He is a fool in the play because though he talks a lot, he does not hear himself anymore than he hears others. Or else he would become aware of the irony of his comments and of his hypocrisy. "To thine own self be true" suddenly becomes an indictment of his own pig-headedness. Every good advice has its dark side, in this case, self-love.

Ophelia, for her part, tries to sell Hamlet's love to her father, in the most glowing of terms, but he'll have none of it. He seems to care what she thinks ("Do you believe his tenders...?"), but isn't really listening. After he leaves her, Hamlet is in her thoughts, as his image cross fades into hers.
In this version, it doesn't seem sincere when she agrees not to see Hamlet again. How does that affect our perception of Hamlet's madness scene in her boudoir? We'll have to see later.

No comments: