Monday, July 4, 2011

II.ii. O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I - Olivier '48

As the Players leave, Hamlet looks on and pauses at their theatrical paraphernalia left on the raised throne, a bare stage that evokes the coming drama. Olivier then cuts the entire soliloquy, leaving only the last couplet ("The play's the thing wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king!"). Not so strange an omission, since he cut the Player's emotional speech in the previous sequence. He looks excited at the prospect of what's to come, runs to the stage, and as the lights dramatically highlight him, shouts out the line with a flourish of both action and music.

Too large a cut? It's true that Hamlet can't compare himself to the Player, but he could still have kept the lines in which Hamlet explains his plan. But as he explains it again to Horatio later AND we see it for ourselves, there remains opportunity enough to make it clear to the audience. What we lose is Hamlet's thought process in coming up with it in the first place. That is played entirely internally instead, though we can't say the idea of Hamlet looking for "grounds more relative" is retained. But in Olivier's restructuring, Hamlet is past inaction (this scene now occurring AFTER "To be or not to be"), so it makes sense not to dwell on that aspect. At this point, Olivier wants his Hamlet to move forward, to finally take action rather than doubt himself, and his energy definitely goes in that direction. It'll be interesting to compare it with Zeffirelli's 1990 and Tennant's 2009 performances which also displace "To be or not to be" this way.


Prof. Chronotis said...

To me this is the most egregious cut in the Olivier film -- even moreso than cutting Rosencrantz & Guildenstern. I don't think the audience misses it if they don't know it what's been cut, but for anyone who does know ... well, as you say, we've lost the importance of the "Mousetrap" as Hamlet's plan for confirming the accusations of the Ghost. Which I think is crucial. (But I still love that image of Olivier on the nearly-bare stage, excited about what he hopes will happen next!)

Siskoid said...

Cutting any of the five soliloquies is bound to be controversial. Having just watched Olivier's Henry V, I'm consistently amazed by his choices. Some of them work, some of them don't, but they're always interesting.