Friday, July 15, 2011

II.ii. O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I - Tennant (2009)

To motivate "Now I am alone", Hamlet rips out the room's surveillance camera, and yet, ironically, speaks that line to the subjective camera (to us). Of course, who are we? In the text, we're simply the Elizabethan audience and this is part of how we understand drama. It should need no more explanation than border panels in comics or spontaneous musical numbers on Broadway. Modern audiences may attempt to find meta-textual motivations, especially when the play is performed in a modern setting. Not unlike Jacobi, Tennant will turn to us many times during this speech, but unlike Jacobi, his Hamlet does not exist in the Medieval world of the play. And yet, Polonius also spoke to camera, so it is difficult to call us madness-induced visions or some unseen character. Elizabethan we must be, though since asides and soliloquies are meant to express thoughts rather than speech, surely even an Elizabethan audience would consider itself, somehow, part of the character itself, the part one speaks to when one speaks to oneself. And perhaps this trope is what made Shakespeare focus far more on character study than on plot.
Hamlet sits in a corner, reflective but also filled with apprehension and fear. He is plainly disturbed by the Player's performance, or rather what it reveals about himself. He is the "tardy son" who needs to be chided. If someone can fake it, why can't he actually do it? When he finally stands up, he walks around drunk with confusion. There is an intriguing gesture on "no not for a King", where Hamlet shows his bandaged hand, a symbol of his oath to avenge his father. You might remember Hamlet cut his hand in Act I, Scene 4. He then walks right up to camera, full frame, and asks if we think he's a coward. In that instance, we may well be invisible characters, visions to be shouted at, but as an Elizabethan audience too, we must be Hamlet himself. He's the one who accuses him of such things. After screaming for vengeance, he collapses.

From that prone position, he starts thinking aloud and seems to have the idea about The Mouse-Trap right before our eyes and then runs off. How do we reconcile this with the fact he has already asked to add lines to The Murder of Gonzago? As with Jacobi, we might be prone to think he is only now confiding in us a plan he had earlier, but that doesn't seem to be the performance here. Is it a realization insofar as it brings him out of his confusion, a sudden remembering of the plan? Possibly. Or did he ask for a play that connected to his current obsessions, and even wanted to add lines that paid tribute to his father and/or brought the play more in line with his obsessions, and only NOW realizes that could flush out the murderer? Ambiguous, but as good a theory as any, and now Hamlet runs off to make further tweaks. This is the turning point in the play, and with "To be or not to be" displaced to a point before this one, all delays are behind him. Again, the structural change is understandable, and might prevent audiences from squirming in their seats as the action gets ever more delayed, but I believe that was Shakespeare's intention, and many lines (like Polonius's criticism of the Player's speech) point to this intent.

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