Saturday, July 30, 2011

III.i. Briefings - Branagh '96

An impatient and even angry Claudius enters, followed by the scene's other participants, including Ophelia who we easily forget is present during Rosencrantz & Guildenstern's debriefing (perhaps because the sequence is cut into separate scenes in some versions). But as written, she hears their report, which may well play into a certain anxiety or fear when she soon after meets Hamlet. The way Jacobi plays Claudius here, "why he puts on this confusion" definitely sounds like an accusation. Does he suspect him of faking? As this scene reveals, Claudius is guilty of something, so his paranoia may be responsible for his mistrust of Hamlet's madness, and his real reason for trying to find out what's causing it. All he gets is ambivalence from R&G, the pair going back and forth on whether Hamlet is mad or not, which to be fair, is the same back and forth presented by Hamlet himself. Faced with the King's frustration, which seems to "distract" him as much as Hamlet is "distracted" - the King and Prince are indeed each other's obsessions - the brown-nosing Rosencrantz takes implicit credit in the players' effect on Hamlet.

Meanwhile, the camera spins around the actors, a reference to their continued confusion, but also a way to create suspense for the coming violence. Ophelia, tellingly, is left alone under some stairs, stranded. She will be the victim of that violence, but for now is unseen, allowing Hamlet to embark on his famous soliloquy while she's as much a spy as Claudius and Polonius are. As for Gertrude, she is dismissed and we may ask ourselves why. Does Claudius mean to hide his findings from her? Is he protecting her from what he feels could be an explosive situation? There's a sense, especially in her looks, that she's being manipulated here, and as we'll find out later, Claudius already has his mind made up and he will brook no alternate interpretation.
Polonius, in earnest, chides himself by using the "we" that links him to Claudius. Both are parents, although Claudius is a false one, both biologically and morally. In the aside that follows, Jacobi makes Claudius a sympathetic figure, a good man who gave in to temptation and went wrong. This ambiguity is one of the reasons this version pleases me so much. We completely believe in his remorse, though it doesn't change a thing. It's something that is revisited in the confessional scene.

And the sense of urgency is maintained in this second part of the sequence as the characters must hustle to their places as Hamlet approaches. A shot of Ophelia standing behind a small section of wall reminds us of her presence and the stage is set for the most famous words in the English language.


snell said...

"...and the stage is set for the most famous words in the English language."

"Where's the beef"??

Siskoid said...

A younger man would have come up with "WASSSUPPPPP?"