Thursday, June 2, 2011

II.ii. The Players - Kline '90

I've generally been very critical of this version of the play, but there is much to like in this section. Polonius, as played by Josef Sommer, is largely harmless, if tedious. He enters and lists the styles the players are wont to play without reading them from a poster or flyer. Indeed, he seems rather enthusiastic where other performances make him more critical of these lower class people. But he was once an actor, after all, as revealed just before the play within the play. Sommer uses that past experience, but Hamlet has no patience for him. Here, he stops the man's mouth, then ears, then eyes. A comic though pregnant gesture invoking the three wise monkeys who saw no evil, heard no evil and spoke no evil. On the one hand, this is an accusation. Polonius does not perceive or acknowledge the King's evil. On the other, an ironic reversal of the image's "wisdom". Polonius misperceives every situation, and goes on to prove by missing the point of Hamlet's image of Jephtah. Throughout this sequence, Polonius will try to be pleasant, but Hamlet will continually attack him or give him hard looks. Polonius never seems to understand what he's done to deserve this treatment (as indeed, he doesn't see his own complicity in the evil rule of Claudius).

The Players as we start to notice cuts - the Jephtah sequence is not entirely played out, Hamlet does not tell us anything about various players - but the First Player's speech is still retained. As Hamlet speaks to the First Player (Clement Fowler), the others quickly set up a working stage, from which Hamlet plucks a prop dagger with which to act the first part of the Priam speech. Polonius is sincerely enchanted by the performance, even if he is startled by Hamlet running at him with the dagger (as if old Priam himself, but really as his future self).
Fowler does an excellent job with the speech, emotional rather than declamatory from the first line, using the knife to mime and underscore the action. Polonius' interjections and Hamlet's ripostes are a bit awkward because Polonius doesn't seem to deserve the prince's harsh words. To me, he appears to be polite, even when he says the speech is too long. There, he seems to apologize because he has to help the players settle into their quarters, and this whim of the prince's is making him late for affairs of state. His tone does not suggest criticism, and indeed, at the end, he applauds. His "prithee, no more" takes the bent of a respectful request, as if to say, "please, don't hurt yourself on our account, you've done enough." There is a hint of embarrassment, as Polonius is not a man free with his emotions and is made uncomfortable by them, but he does not seem to find them irksome. Strangely, perhaps, they've cut the "use them according to their desert" business which would have given Hamlet another stab at him, though again, this supports this Polonius' openness towards the players.

Hamlet, for his part, is touched profoundly by the Player's performance. Tears stream from his eyes during, and he gives a curt farewell to Rosencrantz & Guildenstern, cutting their line off, because he must reflect on what he's just seen and heard before the feeling, and his burgeoning plan, is forgotten. There is a dramatic momentum that is kept through this staging, as Hamlet is too distracted to really finish the sequence before heading into the next.

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