Thursday, December 30, 2010

II.ii. Brevity - Zeffirelli '90

Despite the cuts the part suffered, I must admit Ian Holm's performance is a lot of fun. He catches the royal couple in an open yard and takes them aside in a hurry, out of breath, fidgeting and stammering through a brisk walk-and-talk, quite comical. His big revelation is that Hamlet is mad. By following this with a proud pause, Holm accentuates the comedy. He's taken them aside for this?! Gertrude's impatience becomes justified. All three characters look around in paranoid fashion, so we have to wonder if the court doesn't yet know Hamlet's gone mad. Are they trying to keep it a secret? It would seem to be a smart thing to do, but Hamlet doesn't make it very easy. But back to Polonius... Holm's is very distracted, delighting in where his mind takes him while Gertrude stares into the air, bored and frustrated. He gets her attention again when he takes out the letter. She tries to look at it, but he moves away, looking for more light.
He offers more comic pauses as he breaks from the letter to nostalgically think of his daughter. All quite hilarious. When he asks "What do you think of me?", Gertrude's reaction is priceless, while Claudius humors him verbally, but facing away from him, rolls his eyes. This Polonius is more of a buffoon, and even his closest ally thinks him a fool. When he finishes with his thesis, they simply walk away and he has to run in front of them to get their answer. This is when Claudius asks him for more evidence. Other versions played out the scene as if Claudius wanted to hedge his bets or actively pursue Polonius' theory. Here, we have an unbelieving Claudius who asks for more evidence. The text can definitely read that way. Though Zeffirelli's Claudius is more plainly evil than others, it is his Polonius that keeps him on the path of malfeasance. If Polonius must egg Claudius on, it's because the King has stopped plotting, content with his winnings. The tragedy may not have resolved itself had not the foolish old man continued to meddle.

Cuts: The scene is fairly intact (for Zeffirelli), but does omit the explanation as to why Ophelia should lock herself from Hamlet's resort. It is stated elsewhere, but the royals just take for granted why Polonius required this of her. A minor cut, but it scans strangely.

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