Saturday, October 30, 2010

II.i. Ophelia Affrighted - Zeffirelli '90

Not surprisingly, Zeffirelli chooses to show the scene rather than hear talk about it. Though the director often butchers the original text, I do admire how efficient he is with the source material. Here, the scene starts with Ophelia sowing in her closet, singing the valentine song pulled from her madness scene. In one fell swoop, Zeffirelli sets up this character trait so that it makes complete sense when it manifests itself during her madness, and evokes a romantic mood for her and the audience that is ironic in a different way than it is in its proper location.

This Ophelia is a naive slip of a girl who smiles when she sees Hamlet in her chambers, but at the same time, backs away, awkward and perhaps a little afraid. It's obvious from this that she hasn't really been in a room with a man before. This is an as-yet chaste relationship. In Act I Scene 3, we saw how Polonius and Laertes put the idea of her and Hamlet in her head. Bonham-Carter played the moment as if she hadn't even considered it before. Is this the maidenhead-stealing moment they warned her about? And does a part of her want to defy that warning? Of course, it's NOT that moment. Scene 3 is echoed here by having Polonius spy on them, just as Hamlet spied on Scene 3.
On a purely structural level, doing this means we don't have to then have a scene where Ophelia tells her father everything. Redundancy aside, it may also mean that Ophelia would never have told her father (the letters given her in secrecy now take the bent of having been taken without her consent). Zeffirelli's Ophelia is essentially a powerless creature who never becomes an agent of her own destiny, even fleetingly as she usually does in Act II Scene 1. She makes no choice here.

But what of Hamlet? Does he know in this moment that Polonius is listening? Is he therefore putting on a show? It doesn't look like it, though the interpretation is not impossible. He comes near her, he grabs her arm, which is shocking to her. We fear violence. He smells her, like an animal would. Clearly, Hamlet has lost his grip and we can assume he's not being cruel on purpose, knowing he's being seen. But is he symbolically smelling her father's manipulations on her? Like an animal, his instinct tells him it's not safe here and he finds he cannot speak any words, lest he be compromised. He wants to tell her everything, but can't bear to let his secret out to someone who may spill the beans. It's a very effective performance from Gibson. He lets out the piteous sigh, and we see it as cold breath. And then he goes hard, having let out his emotion, and walks out staring at her, but colder, breaking that bond in his mind.

Poor Ophelia is left standing there unconsoled, as Polonius runs off to tell the king. Though we're missing the first part of Scene 1, Polonius' darkness is established another way. We can question his priorities and his status as a seemingly kindly old man.

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