Saturday, August 6, 2011

III.i. Briefings - BBC '80

A variety of attitudes is on show early in this sequence, which is what makes it interesting. Rosencrantz and Gertrude are as expected - he with a certain defensiveness and she with sadness and worry. Guildenstern, for his part, almost chuckles at Hamlet's "craft", showing some admiration at how the prince has prevented them from succeeding. This is self-serving in a sense (they only failed because Hamlet is so clever), but could also be seen as a lack of loyalty to the King, which makes Rosencrantz's defensiveness flare up.

As for Claudius, I always had misgivings about the way Patrick Stewart played him, some of them reformed by this analytical, scene-by-scene viewing. I may now understand the actor's choice to disconnect Claudius from his emotions, though it had at first seemed "false". But Claudius IS false, and so playing him that way is legitimate. It's like he doesn't mean anything he says here, and may well be putting on a show for Gertrude when he expresses happiness at Hamlet's play. Does he even mean his aside? Polonius only laughingly chide himself here - as ever missing the point and being jolly about serious matters - which makes Claudius' guilty turn more severe in tone, but Stewart holds back. He doesn't seem to feel the guilt, only to recognize that he remembers the murder and that he has ever since lied about it. His crime is so horrific that he dare not connect to his emotions. "He doesn't mean it" will be an apt phrase to recall when he asks God for absolution.

When he asks Gertrude to leave, he searches for the right words, painting him as a liar there too. Claudius' attitude leads me to ask whether the plan to send Hamlet to England is already in motion. In a few minutes, Hamlet will have played the savage with Ophelia and Claudius will state that in "quick determination", he's made the decision, but it's so quick, it might already have been on his mind. In other words, he doesn't want Gertrude there so he can come to his foregone conclusion no matter what. Hamlet just happens to give him cause.

And in the category of line readings that inform the text, I'd like to mention "Good gentlemen, give him a further edge, And drive his purpose on to these delights" as spoken by Stewart's Claudius. His emphases reveal some delicious ironies in the words. On the one hand, Shakespeare has Claudius use a violent metaphor where none should apply, entreating Hamlet to enjoy working on his play by turning him into a weapon. And on the other hand, Claudius doesn't know that the play IS a weapon against him, Hamlet's added lines the whetting of a blade that will eventually lead to a very real sword driven into him. He's ordering his own murder and doesn't know it.

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