Friday, July 16, 2010

I.v. The Ghost's Tale - Hamlet 2000

Sam Shepard is without a doubt my favorite Ghost and the power of his performance in this scene probably has a great deal to do with why it only suffered nips and tucks where other speeches in this version were ruthlessly cut down. His is a very physical Ghost, starting on Hamlet's balcony and waiting for him to open the door before he enters. He doesn't walk through walls. He's not accompanied by mists. And he's able to corner Hamlet, grab him, literalize the image of the prince's hair standing on end by physically grabbing it, and ending on an emotional hug before vanishing (off-camera) without going back to the door. This is the only real manifestation of his being a spirit. There need be no special effects when the simple act of holding a handkerchief to his poisoned ear is creepy enough, stigmata revealing details of his murder.

Shepard presents a complex Ghost, haunted by his prison house. His voice breaks when he speaks of being merciful to Gertrude. He is restrained, full of fury, but always catching himself before he goes too far. He does so just before "But soft, brief let me be", as if realizing that he's off on a rant, that he let his emotions get the better of him. The Ghost becomes a threefold mirror in this scene. Of course, he's a mirror of Hamlet himself. How far as the apple fallen from the tree? Will Hamlet let his own emotions run rampant, or will he, like his father, hold them in before taking a step too far? As always, he's a mirror for Claudius, his brother and false father to Hamlet. Claudius too holds back his true self and only lets it out when emotion overwhelms him. And then there's Polonius, another father who says he will be brief while uttering the most interminable speeches. Polonius is a fool because he does not "catch himself" as Hamlet Sr. does. While the Ghost imparts the "argument of the play", Polonius has it all wrong and gives a false argument to the king and queen. Through the repeated word "brief" (a pun, as both scenes are a sort of briefing?), Shakespeare links the two expositions. However, he makes one relevant and the other irrelevant.
Shepard's performance is touching, but there remains a sense of danger throughout. He is in Hamlet's face throughout as the prince tries to back away. The camera follows them around the room, slightly spinning, lending a giddy energy to the scene that could well represent Hamlet's impending madness.

When the Ghost disappears, this sequence ends without Hamlet's lone speech. Parts of it show up in Act I's ultimate sequence, in voice-over, but we don't see Hamlet swearing to avenge his father's murder. This is merely (but efficiently) inferred.

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