Sunday, February 13, 2011

II.ii. The Fishmonger Scene - Kline '90

In Kline's version, Polonius skulks around pillars, in and out of sight like a clownish spy. He smiles a lot, sometimes trying to lull Hamlet into a false sense of security, sometimes because he doesn't get the importance of what he's heard. How else to explain his smile when, in an aside, he talks about the "happiness" the prince's madness has hit on. Kline's Hamlet, for his part, does a lot of shouting, but some of his line readings are nonetheless interesting, especially in regards to the accompanying gestures.

When he talks about conception, for example, he blesses Polonius' forehead. Is this meant as an insult? He's just discussed the conception of maggots from carrion, so Polonius may just have been compared to that "fatherly" carrion rather than the Fatherly son. Ophelia has no mother to be that carrion after all, and in the play's structure, has come out of her father whole, just as maggots seemed created from carrion to Medieval eyes.

Hamlet's "Words" are revealed to the clueless Polonius, not as if Hamlet were speaking to a child, but rather to a co-conspirator. He talks to Polonius in his own language, if you will, but mocking that language and the older man's self-importance. On the third "Word", he almost throws the book into Polonius' face, again very tactile and familiar with him. When he talks about the slanders, both characters are sitting on the floor at the same level. One reaches to high, the other mocks him by lowering himself. A mad Hamlet is equal to a supposedly healthy Polonius. The effect is that they both seem out of it in their own way. Hamlet ends that part of the conversation by ripping the offending page out of the book and sticking it to Polonius' anointed forehead. He labels him with those words.
"Except my life" is again a conspiratorial revelation that mocks Polonius' ability to keep a secret. When Polonius stays, despite having just said he was leaving (another failure on his part), Hamlet repeats the line twice, the last in a stage whisper accompanied by a clownish wave of his hand. There is no sense that Kline's Hamlet means it, or at least, that he recognizes his own fatalism here. As soon as Polonius has left, he immediately intones "These tedious old fools!". Amusingly, having heard, Polonius sticks his head in again. Hamlet covers by showing him the book and acting like he was reading from it. Indeed, the line is connected to the earlier slanders. He then goes to sleep on the floor with the book over his head, a visual link to such lines as "the book and volume of my brain". Hamlet has just erased that book and now works on another. The book here played as part of his madness replaces his mind in the short term. We've heard that Hamlet has been walking up and down the lobby reading of late, and this may be an image of an erased man/book, trying to fill himself up with words again, words he unleashes with fury in the rest of the play (to the point of frustration, as the "Rogue and peasant slave" speech indicates).

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