Saturday, June 5, 2010

I.ii. The Wedding Banquet - Tennant (2009)

Importing the mirrored floor from the stage version to the film location, it finds its way here, in a room that will serve many purposes throughout the adaptation. Here it is the banquet hall, but it'll soon be where Hamlet talks to the Ghost, the throne room and other, redressed spaces. Again, the mirroring in the play is highlighted by this design choice, and is also found in the casting. Though in theater, we're used to actors doubling up on small roles, the film version retains that casting. The Players, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern, Osric, etc. all have dual roles, even if you don't necessarily notice. Much more noticeable, and an example of true mirroring, is Patrick Stewart playing both the Ghost and Claudius. Two brothers more alike than Hamlet would have us believe, and yet, different in personality.
Stewart's second crack at the role (the BBC's 1980 version being the other) is a much more interesting and mature take on the character. In fact, the first disappointed me, and this one is among my favorite interpretations. As he begins his coronation/wedding speech, he hypocritically chokes back a tear, his voice cracking as he talks about his brother. Soon enough, however, he's making jokes. In this performance, Claudius is well aware of the ironies of his lines ("mirth in funeral and with dirge in marriage", etc.) and uses them to make his audience chuckle. Yes, it's a crazy old world, isn't it? Stewart exudes charm, though to Hamlet, it must register as callousness. We see the young prince much earlier than we sometimes do, reacting to the whole situation, glumly, eyes in his champagne glass. Gertrude is sometimes distracted by his attitude, but mostly hangs on Claudius' words.

Though Fortinbras won't appear at the end of this version, he is still a talking point. Claudius gives Cornelia (a harmless transgendering of the character) and Voltimand are present and being sent to Norway to broker a peace. Something mentioned by the director in the DVD extras, but that I don't think I have, is that Claudius' first act as King is one of diplomacy. Hamlet Sr., we'll remember from the previous scene, was a warrior. Though we cannot endure fratricide, we can still ask the question: Was Claudius' coup, motivated by lust and power though it was, a necessary evil for the kingdom of Denmark? Did he, in fact, depose a warmonger? And is he not advocating a gentler, more positive role for Denmark in the world? We can ask, but Shakespeare's answer is to have Denmark invaded by Fortinbras at the end of the play. Diplomacy does not work in this world and war is the proper way to go. Then again, it may be a question of the ends not justifying the means. Claudius' sin cannot bring about a positive change. He can only harvest corrupted fruit from the "unweeded garden".

After dealing with affairs of state, he turns to Hamlet "And now..." but turns on his heels "...Laertes!" Stewart pulled a similar trick in 1980, but here makes it an even more shocking slight.
Laertes (played by Edward Bennett, who was also Tennant's understudy and had to take on the role on stage for a number of weeks when Tennant hurt his back) is intimidated despite the King's jollity. More than taken unawares, it seems like he was thinking of not asking at all. Oliver Ford Davies' wonderful Polonius mouths the words with him.
It's all been practiced, and we definitely get the sense of Polonius' children being sheltered. Polonius takes care of every facet of their lives, and one might imagine a different Claudius acting surprised that his adviser would let his son out of his sight when he asks "Have you your father's leave? What says Polonius?"

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