Sunday, September 25, 2011

III.i. To Be or Not to Be - BBC '80

From the anguish on Hamlet's face, Jacobi does not allow him to suspect he's being watched. He speaks directly to camera as Ophelia is sometimes seen walking in the background, unseen and oblivious. Once again, I'm entranced by Derek Jacobi's performance. He always manages to surprise me. His line readings convey perfectly the inner turbulence of the character, shifting tone as the character actually THINKS about what he's saying, rather than recites it. For example, here's an emotional reading of the opening lines of the speech: To be, [Bitterness verging on anger:] or not to be, [softer, a revelation to his audience:] that is the question. And later: [Anger:] To die, [sudden realization that pacifies him:] to sleep, no more. [...] [joy:] 'tis a consummation devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep; to sleep: [another realization, this one inspiring dread:] perchance to dream. And so on, keeping the speech fresh at every turn. This is not something Hamlet has rehearsed in his mind, it is the true outpouring of thought as it occurs. The list of hardships is just that, a list, until he gets to "pangs of despised love" when the items suddenly become personal, and Jacobi lets us know what is rhetoric and what Hamlet truly cares about.
When he takes his dagger out, it's to insouciantly mime a suicide. He does not really consider it, except as a day dream. Behind him, painted boards showing a hellish plain, the undiscovered country as background to this scene. What else can this decor be? Surely it has nothing to do with Denmark's topography. It adds to the reflective and dream-like quality given to the end of the speech. As Hamlet speaks of travelers not returning, he fingers his father's medallion. Does he wonder, as we do, at the Ghost's true identity? At the supposed finality of death? "Puzzles the will" almost takes on another meaning here. By this subtle action, Jacobi manages to connect this speech with the previous one (O what a rogue and peasant slave am I). Hyperion to a Satyr has often questioned why and how Hamlet suffers a setback in Act 3 after having come up with a plan to reveal the King's guilt, but there's a double proof to be sought at the end of Act 2. Hamlet must prove Claudius a murderer, lest he prove the Ghost (another King) a false harbinger. This adaptation of the play reconciles the apparent incongruity by more overtly turning thoughts of the Ghost's honesty to those of mortality. One thought evolves into another, for they are well linked.

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