Friday, August 13, 2010

I.v. Swearing Oaths - Olivier '48

There are a number of strange choices made here in the Olivier version, including cutting most of the Ghost's part under the floorboards. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

First, you'll note that Hamlet must force three men to swear, not just two. Horatio and Marcellus and joined by Bernardo who was, after all, present when they went to tell the Prince about the Ghost. Since Bernardo wasn't as trusted a confidant as the others (as infered from the text of Scene 2 itself), it means this Hamlet is even more careful about what he tells them. Olivier makes it very clear that Hamlet was about to tell them the whole story when he caught himself and went for "but he's an errant knave"). There's a long pause of realization there. Though he is distracted and evasive, I wouldn't go so far as to say Olivier's Hamlet becomes manic. The madness is definitely underplayed, leaving the crafting of an "antic disposition" for later. Which makes other choices a bit bizarre.

As the conversation progresses, the characters keep going down from platform to platform, a fine opportunity to signal a descent into madness. That Hamlet doesn't quite give in to it seems a missed opportunity. The move might also have helped motivate the Ghost's voice coming from the ground. Hamlet is initially too high up to do the whole "worthy mole" speech. However, in this version, the Ghost does not manifest itself before the incredulous men, so all of that is cut out. In this version, Horatio "this is wondrous strange" doesn't apply to the Ghost, but to Hamlet's insistence that they swear a second time. If reacting to Hamlet's madness, we're again left to wonder if Hamlet is acting strangely enough to warrant that reaction.
Only when they lay their hands on the sword does the Ghost let out the whisper of a "Swear!!!", accompanied by the trademark heartbeat sound effect. No reaction shot from the three men is edited in, so it might all be in Hamlet's head. If the trio hadn't seen the Ghost in Scenes 1 and 4, there would be no evidence of the spirit's reality and we'd have a completely mad Hamlet. We may still, and though a spirit walked the halls of Elsinore, perhaps their conversation was a fiction. And yet, Olivier is entirely too subtle about Hamlet's madness if indeed he suffers from it.

Time to bring Horatio closer as a confident. The twin lines about leaving the stage are used here to send the soldiers off first. Hamlet then has his asides in front of Horatio. He's including him more than the others into his secret (this despite earlier using "your philosophy", which distances him from Hamlet). When the final line says "let's go together" a second time, it's now for the loitering Horatio. Splitting the group off, though flying ignoring Shakespeare's stage directions, is well motivated by the text itself. Hamlet is last to leave, taking a look back at the tower where he met the Ghost, perhaps nostalgically looking back at the life he leaves behind.

No comments: