Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I.v. The Ghost's Tale - Classics Illustrated

The original
With its "for boys" fixation, the original Classics Illustrated adaptation gives over almost two pages to the Ghost's meeting with Hamlet, removing entirely the prince's lines at the end when he is alone. The flashback to the murder does include an interesting component we haven't seen elsewhere: How the Queen learned of her husband's death.For the sake of efficiency (and these comics are very compressed and efficient), she sees the body and Claudius is lurking in the background. This puts the brother and the queen in the line (as well as life and a crown) in the same tableau. Though the comic doesn't dwell on psychological verisimilitude, we might wonder what kind of impact this discovery would have on Gertrude. Indeed, part of why she is considered to be underwritten is that she never really talks about Hamlet Sr. except to tell Hamlet to forget about him. If events were as pictured here, we might justify this omission by saying she is in denial, keeping that image out of her mind, even refusing to bring it up. Either way, she has HAD to move on for the good of the State and may be pragmatic where Hamlet is sentimental.

With Hamlet's subsequent speech cut, we have no way to know if he has fallen into madness, or even if he has sworn to avenge his father's murder. Such things will, one surmises, be revealed visually later.

The Berkley version
In the more modern, painted version, the Ghost leads Hamlet to an elevated blasted wood, not unlike the hellish forest of Branagh's Hamlet.
Note the way the Ghost's speech is represented, with letters that do not follow a straight line and shaky speech bubbles with chaotic contours. We might imagine this iconography makes the Ghost's voice echo in an unearthly way. Artist Tom Mandrake makes good use of lettering later as well when he has Hamlet whisper certain lines thanks to smaller script. "O my prophetic soul", for example, is spoken under his breath, denoting a sudden realization. His beard streaks away as if part and parcel of the fog, something Mandrake uses strikingly in the body of the speech.
There is no flashback sequence here. Mandrake instead gives us the figure of the Ghost posing with his sword. Is he offering an avenging blade to Hamlet? Threatening him with it? Visually recreating the "serpent's sting"? Usually, Hamlet has the sword and swears by it. By holding the sword in this scene, the Ghost more firmly contrasts its action with Hamlet's inaction. Or you could say that while the Ghost is mentally able to take revenge, it is not physically able to. For Hamlet, it turns out to be the reverse.

Two other things of note: First, this is another instance of Hamlet stealing the "O horrible" line. Second, the speech ends early, and the Ghost does not scent the morning air. More importantly, he does not admonish Hamlet to leave his mother alone. So in this version of the story, when Hamlet is bitter and cruel towards his mother, he's not ignoring his father's edict. The very next line, indeed, attacks Gertrude.
Though the words are cut, Hamlet still "couples hell", a very wet one by the looks of things. The rank garden is a filthy swamp, and there Hamlet sees his uncle. I don't think we have a fouler hell-coupling image in any other adaptation. Hamlet really gets down and dirty.

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