Monday, June 7, 2010

I.ii. Enter Hamlet - Tennant (2009)

In the exchange with Laertes, there is an interesting cut to Hamlet during this exchange has him look down at "You cannot speak of reason to the Dane", in what could be shame. He repeats the gesture after each of his more bitter lines as well. Tennant's Hamlet, at this early juncture (he holds back here, and waits to be alone to show his true self), seems ready to fully acknowledge that his feelings are not being reasonable and yet he has them. No, it's not reasonable to stubbornly hold on to his grief, but perhaps they shouldn't be. He's at once ashamed of his feelings, and unrepentant for them.

Claudius finally turns to Hamlet, joining Gertrude who has been looking at her son for a longer time. Hamlet is rather angry at his mother. Implying she is "common" is customary, but the rest of his speech is just as bitter, shocking her. That's when Claudius jumps in and at once chides him and embraces him. A lovely moment comes when he "forgets his line" and Gertrude as to fill in "Wittenberg" for him. Claudius doesn't even know where Hamlet is studying, which puts the lie to him being "most immediate". (We do have to wonder if Hamlet Sr. would have known as much, as an absentee father - part of what Stewart's dual role makes you think about.)
Penny Downie's Gertrude (I think the best I've seen) is deeply embarrassed by this, as she's subtly been trying to pull strings for Hamlet since the beginning of the scene. She's stared at Hamlet, trying to give Claudius a direction to go to. She whispers something in his ear during the Laertes exchange, perhaps "don't forget to do Hamlet next". She puts emphasis on Claudius' kinder words with her eyes. Everything she does works to get her son to stay home and accept the new status quo. And she's quick to accept Hamlet's acquiescence too.

One line that resonated with me, either because of the way Stewart isolates it or perhaps because of Hamlet's mildly nauseated reaction, is "Be as ourself in Denmark". For Hamlet, this is insulting since he sees nothing positive about his uncle. For the audience, however, there's more to that line. If Claudius has murdered a member of his own family, he is in effect asking Hamlet to do the same. Be a killer, like I am. Dramatic irony at its most delicious.

O, that this too too solid flesh would melt
As the wedding party leaves, we realize that this room in under CCTV surveillance, although again, we're never really told who's watching. It also means the coming soliloquy is seen (if not heard?) by someone, somewhere. From his work on Doctor Who, we already know Tennant is very physical actor. He proves it here once again.
He begins in his back to the audience, and quickly collapses into a fetal position, clearly struggling to get the words out. This is possibly the most grief-stricken we've seen Hamlet in these articles. Tennant has "melted" his Hamlet into the floor, in which he sees himself reflected. On exclamations of "God!", his hand on the floor seems to reach for another, accidentally aping Michelangelo. Hamlet is, in fact, he own "God". A character so deep and alive on the page, and so in control of his destiny (delaying it as he does), that he he takes on the role of the Divine in the play.

He collapses even more, practically digging into his "unweeded garden" (all images created by the actor's physicality), and only turns to us at the "two months dead" mark. From there, though he sometimes gets overwhelmed and hides his face, he speaks directly into the camera. In a kind of parallel to the whole of the play, Hamlet starts out ineffectual, hidden, despondent and isolated, but eventually reaches the point where he is capable of action and confrontation. Through the soliloquy, he goes from depressed and unapproachable to angry and confrontational. When he says "It is not nor it cannot come to good", it sounds like a threat. "I won't let it come to good - these parental types are gonna pay!"

The Stage Play
In the theater, the soliloquy was spoken upstage, back (or side) to the audience, and Hamlet never turned towards it. Of course, the back wall was a big mirror, so audience members could still see his face, depending on their seating. Still, the effect would have been similar. An unapproachable Hamlet that we are only voyeurs of, but not truly privy to.


Anonymous said...

I've recently found this blog and am enjoying the insights from this fascinating comparison project.

The RSC Tennant production at The Courtyard in Stratford took place on a thrust stage. The audience is on three sides, so whilst some members - as you note - would only have seen Hamlet's back, others had a side view. The Courtyard is a wonderfully intimate space and it's hard to believe that it seats over 1000. I found these images of it:

Siskoid said...

Thanks for that!

Anonymous said...

I would like to use the image of Queen Getrude and Hamlet in the court scene of Act 1 scene 2 and i was checking to make sure that i can use the image even if its still copyrighted.

Siskoid said...

You can use any image you find here. I don't own the copyright either and am operating under the hospices of "fair use".