Thursday, June 16, 2011

II.ii. The Players - Classics Illustrated

The originalPlot, plot, plot. The original Classics Illustrated is driven it by it rather than poetry or emotion. It's a natural by-product of the stiff and expressionless art (and the page count, but as it decompresses certain scenes, it's not as important an issue). The important thing here is that the players arrive at Elsinore and that Hamlet asks them to play a modified version of "The Murder of Gonzago". And that's exactly what we get, in just two panels. Of interest is that Hamlet sits, King-like, through the entire sequence. Gone is his enthusiasm for theater - it is not set-up with Rosencrantz & Guildenstern who have yet to appear in the comic - so he does not attempt a speech himself, nor does he ask one of the First Player. The players are not old friends here (the musician in orange seems particularly unhappy about Hamlet's choice of play), just subjects to be commanded. Unlike the live play, in which we might seek and find the moment Hamlet thinks up the Mouse-Trap scheme, the comic gives no indication. Hamlet is calm and collected, and seems to have the plan in his head before he even meets with the players.

The Berkley version
Not to say Tom Mandrake's adaptation does much better, even though the action has been stretched to a third panel. He restores the idea that the players are old friends, but things move so fast, he must have had the idea for the Mouse-Trap long before they arrived.
The cuts are not kind to this sequence and make several lines lose their meaning. "Buzz, buzz", for example, is no longer used to mock Polonius' redundant news, but it still works as a kind of interjection. "Comest thou to beard me," however, loses something in the translation. The First Player doesn't even have a beard! The line is a complete non sequitur. It's also not clear if Polonius heard Hamlet ask for the insertion of lines, though his silhouette is walking away from Hamlet in the second panel.

Both comic book adaptation fail to do this sequence justice, so we lose some of the impetus for the whole "play within a play" scene. Hamlet is not inspired by the First Player's passion, nor does he come across as a particular fan of theater (as only such a fan might have thought of the Mouse-Trap gambit). The players must show up because Hamlet needs them to enact a play that might reveal his uncle's guilt. We see here how reducing one of Shakespeare's plays to plot points proves an unsatisfying enterprise.

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