Thursday, July 15, 2010

I.v.The Ghost's Tale - Kline (1990)

Kline offers another sympathetic Ghost in Robert Murch, again without armor, though he does have a sword and is in full military dress. The Ghost here is sad, but not particularly tormented, and if anything, is cut down even more than in Zeffirelli's version. The scene passes by very quickly, with none of the subtleties of Scofield's similarly sympathetic Ghost. Details and images are of course cut, as is the opening dialog, but notably, a line like "And to those thorns that in her bosom lodge, To prick and sting her". What we lose here is much of the Ghost's interior life. We no longer know his ambivalence towards Gertrude's role in the adultery. We don't know how he feels about Purgatory/Hell. And as in Zeffirelli's version, there is no ambiguity to the father-son relationship.

I dislike Kline's performance a great deal through most of this scene. His over-the-top delivery of lines is in stark opposition to Hamlet's own advice to the Players, and his emotions do not seem to fit the moment. For him, the big revelation is that Claudius seduced Gertrude, but he already knew this. Learning of the murder, he relishes the coming revenge, and then seems almost happy that it's Claudius. Not a bad take on it, truth be told, but Hamlet is still shocked at the wrong piece of news. Hamlet steals "O, horrible! O, horrible! most horrible!" for himself, robbing the Ghost of some anguish (again, Kline frustratingly chews the scenery with it). As the Ghost leaves, the two characters reach for one another and... connect! This is a rather solid Ghost compared to most interpretations, perhaps a side-effect of being so stagy. The Ghost then simply walks off-stage. No camera tricks. No special effects.
Hamlet then falls to the ground, progressively making us fear for his sanity. There's a great effect as the actor merges with his shadow, a veritable coupling with hell created by the lighting. Hamlet becomes this amorphous creature, his dark self exposed and combining with him. It underscores the lines "I'll wipe away all trivial fond records, All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past, That youth and observation copied there". Here, Shakespeare wipes the slate clean. Hamlet rewrites his own character (which is the triumph of the play). Hamlet overwrites his own psychology, and a new man shall emerge. Is this insanity or a new form of sanity? Hamlet is the self-made, self-written man. And he must finish his oeuvre (himself) before he can fulfill his destiny. He can only revenge his father when he is ready, and he is not ready until he is complete as a character. Shakespeare will have him think about a large number of things (mortality, love, art, etc.) before taking him to his ultimate end. For Kline, the end of the old Hamlet and the start of the new would probably be the end of this section, as Hamlet passes out again, plunging backwards into the unknown.

But before we get to that, there is some manic behavior on show. In particular, when Hamlet says "uncle, there you are", he points into the audience. Having wiped everything from his mind except his revenge, he sees Claudius everywhere. The story of Hamlet will now be how he creates the pieces of his mind (as opposed to putting pieces back together again) to come out of the madness he just created for himself. Madness as the incomplete self.

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