Friday, February 18, 2011

II.ii. The Fishmonger Scene - Fodor (2007)

As Polonia speaks to the Royals, Hamlet and Horatio walk in on them (as well as Rosencrantz & Guildenstern). Instead of an intimate conversation between Hamlet and Polonia, it happens in a tightly packed group. This certainly makes Hamlet seem crazier, though the fact that Horatio is also there belies this idea. Hamlet is mocking her (and them all) openly, and Horatio looks on amused. I'm not complaining about Horatio being included in many more scenes, turning her and Hamlet into a cruel double act, but I do wonder about their thinking. If Hamlet is trying to appear insane, then having his best friend as an open accomplice defeats the purpose. Of course, in Fodor's film, all the characters appear insane, so it's possible the distinction is that Hamlet is DANGEROUSLY insane. The Royals might still be able to believe that Horatio humors her friend, but does not realize he's dangerous. Fodor's choices do sometimes tend to create more problems than the problem play already has.

So Hamlet walks in and starts sniffing Polonia, making the fishmonger comment an even ruder proposition than usual (or perhaps restoring that rudeness, since contemporary audiences no longer register it). Fodor plays up the gender change here, for example making Hamlet slap Polonia's bottom on "Friend, look to it". His closeness and varied comments, turned on a woman rather than an old man, gives a threatening sexual charge to the sequence. The implication is that Hamlet threatens his lover's sister with sexual violence. As for the text, the gender is sometimes changed and sometimes isn't. Hamlet says "so honest a woman", but then calls her "sir" and says that "to be honest, as this world goes, is to be one MAN picked out of ten thousand". He even emphasizes it. This does connect to Hamlet's mistrust of the women in his life. He also questions Ophelia's honesty, and of course, feels betrayed by his mother. In other words, one man in 10,000 is honest, but no woman ever is.

Again, a modern staging does away with the book, with "Words, words, words" and with the slanders (which would have had to be completely rewritten since Polonia is not an old man). In this case, we also get only one "except my life", in a mock serious tone following a more clownish answer to Polonia asking to take her leave. Though the characters in the room may be able to dismiss it as mockery - everything else he says and does seems to fall in that category - the audience may infer he's serious because it's already seen the "To be or not to be" speech, recorded on a reel-to-reel in an earlier scene.

Then comes a transition to the next sequence, the child Hamlet dancing and singing in a yellowishly glowing flashback. This lyrical image may represent Hamlet's victory over Polonia in the preceding sequence and the sense of play that informed his behavior. Despite his grief and the revenge that is to come - and this is true in many stagings - Hamlet at this point seems to be having fun with his feigned madness.

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