Saturday, June 19, 2010

Act I Scene 3 - Tennant (2009)

Scene 3 of Gregory Doran's Hamlet is a domestic, practically normal scene that counterpoints well the drama that is to come. Though played on a bare stage, of course, the location is well used to give us a corner where Laertes and Ophelia no doubt spent their childhood hiding from their tedious father. The normalcy, especially compared to the more stylized black floor scenes, heightens this family's tragedy. This is the last time they will all be together.

Laertes starts the scene looking around, feeding the sense of paranoia inherent in the staging, despite the warmer surroundings. Ophelia helps him with last minute packing, adding a shirt to his luggage, and mostly smiling through his whole speech, perhaps not daring to believe he's right about Hamlet. He's being condescending and she lets him dig his own grave. Though I am on record saying Mariah Gale is lackluster in the role, I must confess to finding her rather engaging in this, her first scene. Ophelia, like Gertrude, is an underwritten role that requires the actress to play it all in her reactions. She certainly does that, though I still find her a little "plain" for a prince to have fallen for her. Of course, that is possibly due to the absence of any other girls his age in Elsinore. If the make-up does nothing for her, costume does. The flowery blouse ties in with Ophelia's scripted flower motif.
Edward Bennett's Laertes offers some illuminating line readings, including particular stress on the word "unvalued". The play has Laertes somewhere in the line of succession, and Getrude belatedly admits that Ophelia could have made a good wife for Hamlet. The Polonius family, whatever their nobility, are not "unvalued persons", but Laertes believes they are. Or perhaps he should have said "undervalued". It's his own hang-up, having grown up in the shadow of the prince, or if only because his father has not properly nurtured him. Certainly, Polonius' parenting style leaves something to be desired. Laertes is patronizing to his sister, because his father is patronizing to them both. That has been his model. Polonius has fed his insecurities and probably driven him away to France. Laertes thus has reason to think his sister is not "good enough" for Hamlet, which means Hamlet is not "good enough" for her (showing two different kinds of importance).

He doesn't make much of a dent in Ophelia's affections for Hamlet. She outright bursts out laughing when he awkwardly mentions her virginity, and exasperated, asks her to at least be wary. In that moment, he knows she won't shut herself off from Hamlet, so he hopes she'll at least go in with open eyes. She's of course not as naive as he thinks she is, as she proves when she takes his condoms out of his luggage and accuses him of being a reckless libertine.
A funny moment made possible by the modern dress, and speaking to a certain hypocrisy in Laertes.

Enter Polonius
Laertes quickly hides the condoms and covers his embarrassment with his "second leave" line (a refreshing break from its usual sarcasm), and soon the two children are rolling their eyes at their father's advice. At one point, he prompts them to finish his sentences (another excellent use of "passing off a line" in this adaptation). They've learned these proverbs by rote. On "rich, not gaudy", Polonius takes Laertes' colorful handkerchief from his breast pocket and throws it at Ophelia, which tells us the advice is specifically aimed at Laertes. It is so often played as a series of platitudes, it's easy to miss that Polonius might have chosen his words carefully. The condoms already showed he was sexually reckless and a hypocrite, and the handkerchief that he expresses himself in fancy. Can we thus infer that Polonius painted a portrait of him in his advice? Laertes thus: Gives his thoughts tongue and unproportioned thoughts an act; can be vulgar; dulls his palm with entertainment of each new-hatch'd, unfledged comrade; isn't very good in a quarrel, though tends to enter into them; gives few his ear, but too many his voice; takes few men's censure, but doesn't reserve his judgment; is a borrower and a lender. This reversal of Polonius' speech could be used as a template for a character that doesn't have very much stage time.

Another modernism: The second blessing is made in cash. We see more of Polonius' wrong-headed parenting here, as he replaces love with money, and then is aloof to Laertes' attempt to hug him goodbye.

In the Ophelia-Polonius exchange, Ophelia continues her smiling games, indicating that she doesn't take her father very seriously, and he's rather kind and benevolent to her, which makes it strange that she would really obey his wishes. Perhaps one must decide whether she is lying either here, when she proclaims chastity, or later, when she says she limited Hamlet's access to her. It allows Ophelia to say the words, but not mean them, and that's a legitimate (if difficult to show) way of staging it, especially for less innocent Ophelias.

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