Saturday, December 11, 2010

II.ii. New Arrivals - Tennant (2009)

Not for the first time, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are introduced with symmetrical staging, well used to shore up Claudius' confusion as to which is which. He hesitates, but in this instance, gets there names right (which makes his getting wrong later, funnier). Gregory Doran's version very much makes this Gertrude's idea. Claudius searches for words even as she prompts him with her eyes and gestures, and eventually, she feels she must jump in. Their dance is not unlike that of R&G themselves, each making sure the other's words are not misinterpreted. It almost looks like the couple hastily practiced this, and her eventual unrehearsed contribution is to compliment R&G even more. Is she afraid that R&G will betray the royal couple to Hamlet because she believes them to really be his best friends? Or has exact word choice more riding on it? It came to me that Claudius is in effect "leading the witnesses" in the scene. When he says he can't imagine it's anything more than Hamlet's grief at work, he is putting that preconception in their heads (even as he ironically clutches Gertrude's hands, not acknowledging the other possible cause). Is the King asking them to find the cause of Hamlet's madness, or is he asking for them to report that it is indeed grief?

Perhaps Rosencrantz is right to be wary, especially if he's being asked to potentially prove a King wrong. Sam Alexander plays him as the more liberal-minded of the two (in the leather jacket) in opposition to Tom Davey's tall, dark, and more conservative Guildenstern. They do a good job of differentiating the two parts, their choices based on the lines themselves. Rosencrantz is less committed and questions more (why are you asking us rather than ordering us?), while Guildenstern is all about deviating the conversation away from his partner's effrontery and onto the business of boot-licking. Like the royal couple, they offer up a nervous performance where one wants the other to say certain things.

A light touch is used throughout, as R&G are once again misidentified by Claudius, requiring the Queen to correct him. Guildenstern's last lines come after they've been dismissed, turning Gertrude's "Aye Amen" into an impatient but polite reminder that they've overstayed their welcome (a recurring motif throughout this version of the play). Claudius and Gertrude play the entire scene in a state of giddiness, giggling without cue, and smiling whenever they set eyes on each other. Gertrude's allowance for Hamlet's madness being caused by their over-hasty marriage doesn't come off as a reproach - she kisses his finger almost immediately - leading us to believe that their love is more important to them than Hamlet's "tantrum". They know they've been naughty, but perhaps their son needs to get over it. People in love are so cruel to those who are not.
There is a third couple in this section: The Ambassadors from Norway. Their speech is heavily condensed and Cornelius is given lines this time. On one level, it makes sense that if you're going to have an actor on stage, he should get something to do. On another, it creates an opportunity for Doran to mirror the other couples' interruptions. Cornelius interrupts (Lady) Voltimand, for some reason not trusting her to tell the story correctly. An amusing parallel with the rest of the scene is drawn. Of course, with the section's abridgment comes an important cut. There is no longer mention of Fortinbras being rewarded by his uncle, nor is Denmark asked to provide safe passage for his forces. This Claudius is not as blind as some others, even if he has cause to be in the scene, and does not make a crucial political/military mistake. Doran paints a portrait of a largely happy Elsinore, whose King is keenly dealing with affairs of state diplomatically. Claudius is instead weakened by Gertrude's benign control over him, which isn't quite the same thing. Of course, strengthening your villain ultimately strengthens your hero, so this is not an offensive choice.

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