Thursday, July 7, 2011

II.ii. O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I - Zeffirelli '90

Zeffirelli cuts some 30 lines from the speech, most from the opening as the First Player now makes no impression with an impassioned speech of his own, so Hamlet cannot react to it. Instead, he starts with "Am I a coward?" and looking at his two faux-friends report to the King, he questions his ability to avenge his murdered father. Gibson's visceral, highly emotional performance removes the need for a trigger. In the play as written, Hamlet is shamed by the Player's performance. Here, the character's wild and intense emotions make shame bubble up without the need for it. Gibson's Hamlet often loses his temper and commits some small act of violence as words get caught in his throat. It happens again in this sequence and overwhelmed, he must leave the doorway lest he be heard. In a rage underscoring the litany of scripted insults, he vents his anger by beating his cloak on the ramp of the stairs he climbs, emerging at the top only slightly relieved of it, tears in his eyes. It cannot be said that Gibson is the most subtle of actors, so there is relatively little variation in his performance through this section, but it works within the context of his acute emotionalism.

Then we discover that Hamlet has NOT already ordered "The Murder of Gonzago". The whole idea of the "Mouse-Trap", he has before our eyes, eliminating that particular ambiguity. Through a window, Hamlet hears, then sees the Players unpacking and it slowly dawns on him this could be used to prove the King's culpability. As with Olivier's version, "To be or not to be" was moved to a point before this one, and so Hamlet's forward momentum will not brook delay now. This is closer to a normal movie structure, and it shouldn't be surprising given that both Olivier and Zeffirelli set out to make a Hamlet accessible to mass movie audiences. Elements that might test that audience's patience are dutifully removed wherever they can be.

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