Thursday, August 5, 2010

I.v. Swearing Oaths - Branagh '96

As soon as Horatio and Marcellus come running up, Hamlet goes from quiet to completely hysterical, voice almost comically breaking. Does this mean he's already feigning madness? Well, yes and no. Based on the performance alone, you might think so. Hamlet has just learned about a terrible betrayal from his uncle and mother. It's turned his world upside down, and in the opening moments of this sequence, would not know if he can trust his old friends anymore. Certainly, even if they're not working against him, he wonders if he can trust them with his secrets. The story is so extraordinary that it would be hard for almost anyone not to want to tell it. And so he tries to dismiss them by appearing a little crazy (Horatio did bring it up earlier as a possible effect of talking to the Ghost) and evading their questions. On the commentary track, Branagh describes Hamlet's state of mind as hysteria. He is trying to process the new information and just can't talk about it now. They can't know it's that much of a shocker, so they push him. So Hamlet's mind is rushing (with swirling camera shots of trees to help his POV come across) and he's acting crazy, genuinely, but it's not meant to be taken as if he's falling into madness.

Horatio is soon impatient with him. In their friendship, there's no call for such evasions. Again, he does not realize how big the revelation was. Hamlet's not trying to destroy his friendships, he just needs more time. Once he realizes that they won't let him off without an explanation, he does start giving hints that things aren't right, but as I noted in the last article, he does not reveal anything about the murder here. Horatio is in the know later, so we must assume he had the conversation offstage. At this point, he's trying desperately not to include them, both to make sure they don't blow his secret and to spare them the weight of it. When Horatio mentions offense, he can't hold it in anymore. He sincerely doesn't want to offend Horatio, but is also incredibly offended himself by what the Ghost has told him.

The cat's out of the bag. He doesn't tell all, but will (we just don't need another expository scene at this point). That's why we have the swearing. And neither Horatio nor Marcellus realize how serious it is (quickly sick of this swearing business) until the Ghost once more intervenes with its big, bellowy "SWEAR!", the earth cracking and exploding with smoke, fire and shaking trees. They get a little touch of hell, and if loyalty doesn't keep them silent, fear will.
Hamlet calms down when the Ghost finally leaves. Is there a link between the spirit's presence and Hamlet's mania? Is the swearing cathartic in some way? Is there comfort in the sharing of the secret or the knowledge that one is not mad because the vision has been shared? Or is it simply that once they've sworn, he can show his true face, with no added ambiguity?

Though Horatio planted the seed of feigning madness in Hamlet's mind in the previous scene, the plan to put on an "antic disposition" is probably born even as the prince says those very words. He has seen his friends' reaction to his temporary bout of mania and seen that he could use such behavior as a smokescreen for his revenge activities. Though he proposes to con all of Elsinore, he will have two allies who know the truth (one of which is not seen again). In the closing moments of the Act, Hamlet repairs his friendships with them. "Let's go together" evokes a partnership between the three holders of the secret. Note also the inclusiveness of Hamlet's "in OUR philosophy" where versions of the play use "in YOUR philosophy". In this adaptation, Hamlet and Horatio have a very tight bond, and in this line choice, are made closer still. They have the same kind of education, the same opinions and thought process. Hamlet chooses not to exclude his friends, and the most cynical of us could say he's trying to ensure loyalty, manipulating them. In this version of the play, at least, Hamlet genuinely cares for them and keeps them close without ulterior motives.

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