Tuesday, July 5, 2011

II.ii. O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I - BBC '80

Jacobi plays the soliloquy AS a soliloquy, directly to camera, and this achieves at least two distinctive effects. The first is that it makes us confidants to the prince. The soliloquy, when it appears as inner thought, gives the impression of sudden realizations at odds with the fact Hamlet has already set his plan in motion with the Players. Jacobi reconciles this by creating someone (us) to talk to (which is, of course, how the theatrical play would often be presented). He is just now telling us what he thought and felt while watching the First Player's dramatic speech. Those realizations are being relayed after the fact and do not occur in real time. This goes a long way towards solving sequence issues in the play.

Not say the soliloquy is detached from the moment. Jacobi allows Hamlet's emotions to interfere with his confidential conversation. Sadness, grief and discouragement border on despair, and he lets his anger take hold of him when shouting "Who calls me villain?" at the walls. The name calling and cries of vengeance are enacted theatrically, with a wooden sword, as if part of the play to come. Is Hamlet here imagining some scene in "The Murder of Gonzago" we never get to see (as that play's action is aborted much as this one is delayed)?
This bit of business - which smooths over what can often turn into hysterics - brings Hamlet back on topic. Because he's imagining himself an actor, able to act the part written for him without guilt or remorse (characters are guiltless, but Hamlet is instead his own author), it reminds him of his plan, a plan he has already put in motion and is just now telling us about. With furtive eyes, Hamlet quite clearly thinks twice before letting us in on his secret. Here, a second effect is brought to bear. He makes US feel like "guilty creatures sitting at a play", an examination of conscience Shakespeare must have been aware he was asking of the audience. Murder is perhaps not in the common experience, but are there things in Hamlet that we have been guilty of? Do WE "blench" during the play? Which of our sins do we project unto the characters and which of their sins do we see ours reflected in? What makes us uncomfortable about the play? It is theater as moral lesson, though that lesson comes not from example, but from self-examination (which is, in many ways, the lesson of all mature Shakespearean characters).

Speaking of self-examination, one of Hamlet's most interesting reactions to his own words is the realization that he may be abused by a devil. It is very much like he WANTS it to be so. Yes that must be it! He wants the Ghost to be proven wrong, so repellent is murder - even for justice - to him. Hamlet goes a little mad on the last couplet, both crying and laughing as he says it. There is a strange spin on the word "king", something that brings the laughter to a halt. My take is that he seems to have accepted Claudius' place on the throne, calling him king instead of, say, uncle. Does his love for his father (as it relates to his thirst for revenge) have a kind of "whick or snuff", the very thing Claudius means to have Laertes renounce later in the play? As we continue to compare the two sons in the play, one too impetuous and the other too reflective, we might recognize how Jacobi has integrated the whole of the play's themes into every part of his performance. Laertes' passion will not abate, so the opposite Hamlet could, in time, have forgiven or forgotten his father's unproven murder.

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