Sunday, July 18, 2010

I.v. The Ghost's Tale - Tennant (2009)

Hamlet follows the Ghost into the mist-shrouded main set to confront his father's spirit. The Ghost is very angry at first, but mellows as the scene continues. Patrick Stewart's performance gets especially interesting when he starts telling the story of the murder, and seems to relive it. In the absence of a flashback sequence (which you would not normally have the luxury of in a stage production), this recreates the events without having to mime them. "O horrible", then, is the Ghost's entry into hell as he's experiencing it once more. When this Ghost talks of the morning air, he does not find it threatening, but more like a nostalgic memory. Here is what he has lost. Not only his life, crown and queen, but to never again see the sun rise or experience the joys of nature. This is a man who used to sleep in the outdoors and who uses a lot of animal imagery. He has a kinship with the land (and as king, is a symbol for it) from which he has been divorced.
As with the other two modern dress adaptations examined by this series, the Ghost's manifestation is a solid, physical one. He grabs Hamlet and almost throttles him when supplicating him to "bear it not", a gesture that turns into a final embrace before he leaves in a puff of smoke, taking the supernatural mists with him.

What follows is Hamlet's transformation. He collapses and starts running his fingers through his hair. By going from the perfect haircut of the early scenes to the wild, more modern style Doctor Who fans know and love so well, Tennant physicalizes the character's new wildness, of not outright madness. And there is reason to believe director Gregory Doran means for his Hamlet to be mad, with an odd jump cut in the middle of the scene creating a disjointed look. I'm not entirely sure it works as a piece of editing, but nonetheless, the effect is appropriately off-putting.
Hamlet's crazy eyes and smile are equally so, and when he says "That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain", he's definitely talking about himself as much as Claudius. He will now smile, act the madman and appear disarming, but he is in truth a villain, a would-be murderer. This is Hamlet coming up with the madness idea, and I wonder why I never really picked up on that line before, because it seems so natural here. Hamlet goes on to swear his oath, not upon a kiss on his sword, but by slashing a switchblade through the palm of his hand and collapses again.
A much more violent swearing, and one that is informed by more modern scenes of this ilk in other media. It speaks both to his madness (self-harm is not sane) and to the seriousness of his oath (that he is ready to shed his own blood to achieve his revenge), as well as provide a shock ending to this sequence. The idea that Hamlet even carries such a weapon tells us he is able to kill. When staged in more ancient times, this isn't needed, but in a modern dress adaptation, the audience expects such violence less. The audience tends to assume modern morality and law are a part of such a world, especially in the protagonist.

No comments: