Thursday, June 24, 2010

Act I Scene 4 - Classics Illustrated

The Original
The "series for boys" continues to put heavy emphasis on the Ghost as a supernatural element, opening the scene with a splash page. Of course, it's been distilled to thing single speech, cutting almost all interaction with Horatio and Marcellus, including the notion of the King's rouse (which is not particularly age-appropriate for the original Classics Illustrated). When Hamlet decides to follow the Ghost, note how he does not draw his sword or threaten his allies in any way.
The Ghost's gesture is slightly disturbing however. As usual, Classics Illustrated reduces the play to its plot points and most famous speeches (and yet, no "rotten in the state of Denmark").

The Berkley version
Mandrake likewise doesn't take up page real estate with the King's rouse, but as his strength is in setting a mood, he does start the scene where it should. The three friends are sitting around a fire in the cold and misty wastes of his Denmark, and Hamlet looks bored. An interesting idea... has he given up hope that this Ghost is real? It would help sell the surprise of the Ghost's appearance, except that in comics, all panels exist simultaneously on the page, and readers would have seen it coming.
Though Horatio's warnings are cut from the book, Mandrake gives us a visual sense of the danger. The Ghost walks through the stream (which resonates with Ophelia's death), forcing Hamlet to take the bridge, and they are soon climbing a precarious exterior staircase. The cliff, the flood... their essence is here even if they are not mentioned. As with the classic version, Mandrake's Hamlet doesn't draw his sword in this scene.
It strikes me that this makes all the characters dramatically weaker, either ineffectual and unable to impact the story (Horatio and Marcellus), or toothless and far less dangerous (Hamlet). This is a legitimate interpretation (if rather boring). The characters ARE ineffectual. Beyond Hamlet's delay of his revenge, Horatio and Marcellus cannot resolve the Ghost's dilemma by themselves, cannot prevent Hamlet from following it (despite being two men, one of which is an armed soldier) and in Marcellus' case, dropping out of the play once he swears an oath to say nothing (indeed, a character without lines isn't really in the play). Horatio may be the play's great survivor, but one of his last moments is a failed suicide.

Not to say this is all contained in these few panels, but looking ahead to the rest of the play, these choices make some sense.

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