Thursday, February 3, 2011

II.ii. The Fishmonger Scene - Olivier '48

Olivier's Hamlet is far less loony, his madness manifesting itself as deep depression, or else through his words. In this sequence, he is aloof and superior, speaking to Polonius always from a higher vantage point. Again, the idea of status is presented, and though minor cuts keep Polonius from comparing his love sickness to Hamlet's, there is a sense that this man should not try to match or keep up with the prince. He think he can, early on narrowing his eyes when he believes he has confirmation about his daughter's role in this, but the staging never allows him to win. Polonius is always looking up, and Hamlet down. The slanders are directed entirely at Polonius, Hamlet's eyes never moving to the book. He is in control here. That higher walkway also plays delightfully with the phrase "walk out of the air", as Hamlet seems to walk on it, while Polonius could be seen to be in the grave.

The first aside is done away with in favor of Polonius running back to the Royals, hidden behind a piece of scenery, to deliver his lines to them instead of us. This live report does little to change the scene except to make him look more clownish.

As for the sequence's key repetitions, Olivier chooses to deliver each as part of the same line, in the same tone. "Words, words, words" is one line, not three, and his only flourish is to show the book from afar as proof of what he says.
"Except my life" is spoken thrice as he walks off stage, obvious melancholy in his voice, but with very little variation in his tone. There's lassitude there, that of a character who is tired of life. And while it is theatrical in that he raises his voice so that the audience may hear him, Polonius has already run off. It's not for his sake. Must we assume that here he is finally speaking his true self? That would make cool, collected, aloof Hamlet the act, and depressed Hamlet his true self. Is this Hamlet madder alone than when he plays at being mad?

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