Thursday, February 24, 2011

II.ii. The Fishmonger Scene - Tennant (2009)

There's a major structural difference at this point in Gregory Doran's version of the play. The Fishmonger scene now occurs after "To be or not to be" and Hamlet's staged encounter with Ophelia. This means that he's already angry at Polonius and his meddling, but also that Claudius has already rejected Polonius' thesis about love-induced madness. It gives Hamlet more reason to toy with Polonius, and in the latter's case, either more reason to try and prove his point or simply a more obvious inability to analyze a situation. The way this is played, I'd say the latter. Placing the scene back to back with the Hamlet-Ophelia sequence also creates some staging opportunities. Claudius is still behind a two-way mirror, and Hamlet sticks his face on the glass, trying to see him there. It also gives Hamlet the opportunity to pick up the book Ophelia was reading, so that Hamlet is turning the staging back on Polonius. The older man, of course, doesn't understand this meeting is just as staged as the previous one.

The structure also asks a question regarding why Hamlet came back to the scene of the crime. He's just thrown Ophelia around and been very cruel to her, and done it in front of the cameras (he knows he's being watched, though not from so near). He leaves, then returns. Why? Is he coming back to comfort Ophelia, having calmed down? Or to take her into his secret? Or is he specifically returning to catch Polonius or even Claudius in the act of mopping up, and to further confuse the conspirators?

Hamlet has a good crazy act going in this sequence, while Polonius makes all his asides directly to camera. This trick can be off-putting, but somehow makes the man more senile. I'm not sure if it's an effect of our knowing actors shouldn't look directly into camera (and so a "mistake" in our minds), but it seems more unhinged than simply staring into the distance and speaking to oneself. The barefoot Hamlet is on his back and has the book sitting squarely on his face by the time Polonius asks him what he's reading. This is a doubly clueless question as 1) it's the book Polonius himself might have given Ophelia to read, and 2) Hamlet is merely covering his eyes with it, not reading. The answer is our first triple repetition, "Words". The first is a plain statement of fact, the second over enunciated (not unlike Branagh's third), and the last is asked as a question, a timid one like "is that the right term?" as if Polonius had shaken Hamlet's faith in his answer.

Good comic timing on the slanders too. With each line, Hamlet pauses to look up and check on their veracity as Polonius gets more and more visibly insulted. The exchange subverts many of the usual stagings by placing Hamlet in a lower physical position to Polonius', but this is ironic. Despite being in a prone position, Hamlet dominates here. He attacks Polonius who, in turn, cannot defend himself, only retreat. Hamlet finally stands up at the end, and has one of only a couple of "Doctorish" moments in the entire performance. When checking on Polonius' "lack of wit", he has an evaluating "well..." moment that is very Doctor Who. On the crab line, he grows distracted and walks away.

"Indeed that is out of the air" is made part of the "pregnant" aside here, which makes Polonius seem even more goofy as he attempts to show the audience how perceptive he is. Which leads us to the second repeated line, "Except my life".
The first is a tense, tragic warning, in earnest. The second shows contempt for that life. In the third, he starts shambling towards Polonius, distorting his face like a monster on a member of Monty Python's Flying Circus. It is a parody of his own feigned madness, taking his act to a ridiculous extreme. Again, Polonius fails to properly gauge the situation and runs off, taking the act for the truth. Hamlet almost screams his "These tedious old fools", exasperated. And yet, Polonius doesn't realize he's being played.

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