Friday, August 26, 2011

III.i. Briefings - Tennant (2009)

The sequence sits right on top of the film's structural change. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern's debriefing acts as preamble to Claudius' reaction to the nunnery scene, and so as a way to get back to the timeline as written. Ophelia's instructions, precursor as ever to "To be or not to be" and the nunnery scene occurs long before, at the tail end of the sequence this blog called "Brevity" (just before the fishmonger scene).

Part I - Rosencrantz & GuildensternThe restructuring means that by the time R&G get to Claudius, the King has already seen Hamlet throwing Ophelia about and playing games with Polonius. As in the original text, being aware of all this means he's primed and ready to send his stepson to England. He's made up his mind. While R&G make their report, the King and Queen simply use each consecutive argument to justify their opinions. When there is talk of crafty madness, Claudius wags his finger in an "I told you so" motion at Gertrude. She, in turn, asks leading questions that have an unspoken yet audible "yes but" behind them. Yes but... did he receive you well? She's building a defense for her son, and is happy when the retorts go her way, discomfited when the other twin puts a different spin on the same answer.

The staging reveals why R&G each take a side. In the story, one is sucking up to the Queen and the other to the King. In the drama, the Royals are enacting their argument THROUGH the sycophants. By their reactions, the King and Queen are suggesting answers to two people who only really want to say what the Royals want to hear, and so they do.

Part 2 - Ophelia
Here too, there is innovation from the cast and director Gregory Doran. It seems that in this version, Gertrude doesn't know Ophelia at all! She's unsure about the girl's name and says it with a question mark attached, and lets out a surprised, little "oh" when Ophelia takes her hand. There is no doubt her heart is warmed by the gesture, and that her words are sincere, but they are not borne of long-standing affection. What does it mean? Well, she doesn't know her son as well as she thinks she does, for one thing. For another, it lends weight to Polonius and Laertes warning Ophelia away from Hamlet at the start of the play. Was he perhaps a bit of a lad (at least before Ophelia)? His mother doesn't seem to keep up with who the latest girlfriend is. And what will be the impact of this choice on Gertrude's description of Ophelia's suicide?

"To both your honors." As it's often played - for I had not considered another possibility - this seems to refer to the honors of both Ophelia and Hamlet. That if love is the cause of Hamlet's madness, then the truth of it would heal both he and Ophelia. This Gertrude is more direct in addressing the line to Polonius, which makes more sense. It would be to Ophelia's honor that she be the object of this love/madness, and to Polonius' that his theory be correct.

As Gertrude is dismissed and the scene turns to instructions for Ophelia, we see Hamlet coming down an adjacent corridor, the words echoing quite clearly. He's heard it all and definitely knows he'll be watched in the nunnery scene (however, "To be or not to be" is still spoken quietly enough to register as unseen by the spies). A word on Hamlet's t-shirt as it's its first chronological appearance even if we've seen it before in these articles:
Apparently an old t-shirt of Tennant's, it's a bit flashy for the dark, brooding Hamlet, but takes on an ironic meaning. The muscled chest depicted relates to Hamlet's earlier comparison between himself and Hercules. We are invited to compare the mythic demigod with the thin, disturbed boy in front of us.

One final thing: There's a hilarious bit when Polonius takes the book Ophelia is to read from a large folder. In this hyper-surveillance world, did Polonius catalog, index and file all of Hamlet's mementos to Ophelia? It's as ludicrous and self-important as the First Minister himself.

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