Sunday, April 3, 2011

II.ii. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern - BBC '80

As is sometimes done to Horatio in Act I, Hamlet gives his greetings to R&G before he even recognizes them. When he does, Rosencrantz, the jokester of the two, lets out a little "pa-dum" that puts us in the frame of mind of a "beaten friendship". Hamlet immediately subverts that however by mistaking Rosencrantz for Guildenstern, spinning both names at the same character to fix his mistake and getting an annoyed smirk from him. The friendship presented here has apparently been misgauged by the Queen. Hamlet is dismissive and distrustful of his so-called friends, and often plays the scene as an attack. He is in complete control and foils them at every turn. He tries to get sympathy from them, but doesn't get it, such attempts feeling like tests R&G fail to pass.

Jacobi's Hamlet is mercurial as ever, moving through various emotions in order to give each line its own portent. There is a belly laugh at the Fortune joke, immediately followed by a quiet moment when he calls her a strumpet, allowing the viewer time to see a connection to Hamlet's mother. He is wholly sarcastic when he says he's "poor in thanks", giving no quarter to his false friends. "Nay speak", when he draws a confession out of them, is explicitly to prevent them from colluding. No asides for you, R&G! And the emphasis placed on "thinking makes it so" takes a more literal turn when he says there's a confession in their looks. There really isn't... UNTIL he says there is, and then they break down. He has imposed his will on them. His thought has become reality.

The emphasis on that line also makes it important for the whole of the play, which is, indeed, about a man trying to convince himself to exact revenge. Hamlet must first think of himself as an avenger/murderer before it can become a reality. That movement from thought to deed is what creates tension in the play. We'll note later how Hamlet accuses himself of violent thoughts, thoughts that only later are transposed into deeds. Hamlet is a true Shakespearean character: He overhears himself (as Bloom would put it) and is transformed by his own words. Thinking things make them so.

But back to the scene... Hamlet then goes on to anticipate their questions in the way Jacobi delivers "But wherefore I know not". He doesn't just know they were sent for, he knows WHY they were.
The "what a piece of work is a man" is read in his book (which is only a book of slanders if you believe Hamet was making up the earlier words to suit Polonius), a departure from most stagings. Here, they are not his words. He could never think of Man in those terms. While it robs Hamlet of a poetic élan, it makes sense in the framework of his depression. The decaying view of the world is all his, spoken in reaction to what he's just read. "Man delights not me", right at the end, has his holding back tears in earnest. Which of course is exactly where Rosencrantz gets the giggles, all part of R&G's inability to gauge Hamlet or a situation. It's a well done moment, and sends us careening into the theatrical gossip segment and back into R&G's comfort zone. The sequence ends with them believing they are welcome in Elsinore despite Hamlet's earlier attacks.

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