Friday, July 9, 2010

I.v.The Ghost's Tale - BBC (1980)

The BBC version with Derek Jacobi features another Ghost heading for the edge of the cliff before Hamlet puts the breaks on it. So again, we have an ambiguous spirit who may or may not want to doom Hamlet (either way, it does by the play's end). Patrick Allen is a rather stern Ghost, speaking with anger more than torment, in clipped, authoritarian tones. He is a soldier in full armor, but is this also how we should understand the father-son relationship? A severe taskmaster for whom things are black and white and who entertains no questions? He only breaks at "O Hamlet, what a falling-off was there!", moving from anger to genuine sadness at his wife's situation. It's like he regrets what poor Gertrude is going through, being defiled without really knowing it by her husband's murderer.

There may be a production-based reason for the Ghost's clipped speech pattern. This is a very theatrical production with little to no special effects. The whole effect is achieved with a little dry ice, some blue lights reflecting off the armor, and absolutely no treatment on the voice. There certainly isn't a flashback sequence. So we may understand from this why an actor would choose to run through the speech as quickly as possible, before the audience gets restless at what is essentially the play's biggest infodump. Allen has at least found a way to do this that sounds natural.

As for Hamlet, he is obviously shaken by the Ghost's appearance, reaching for it ineffectually almost through the whole thing. When he learns the identity of his father's murderer, he shows no surprise. Disgust for the individual comes easily. The one clear thing in his life is his hatred for Claudius. In reacting to other elements, he's more confused. He completely breaks down when he learns his father was killed without the proper rites, which fits the Wittenbergian Christian ideals Hamlet often exalts. Murder is one thing, but murder with the express purpose of sending one to Hell is quite another. The reaction highlights not how brutal the murder was (as flashback sequences tend to do), but how cowardly it was. Claudius poisons a sleeping man, and does not even give him the chance to say a prayer. In other words, he didn't plan for Hamlet Sr. to even wake up and confront him. To Hamlet, that makes the sin greater still (as one might suppose royalty of this era would have proper rules for coups). A slight change in the script has the two characters share how horrible this all is. Hamlet says "O, horrible! O, horrible!" and the Ghost confirms it, "most horrible!".

Then, the Ghost simply backs away, out of shot, and Hamlet lets ou a profound scream and collapses.
Jacobi has his Hamlet take a quick dip into madness here, but does he ever come out of it? That would be telling. In the speech that follows, he looks at each of his hands in turn and then slaps himself repeatedly on the head on the line "So, uncle, there you are". It is a physical representation of having emptied his mind of everything save the thing he hates. He hits himself because that's all he is now, the mirror of Claudius (who must kill a family member). With Jacobi's mercurial Hamlet, the performance changes from moment to moment, so it's hard to say at this point if he walks away from the edge the Ghost led him to.

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