Saturday, October 29, 2011

III.i. To Be or Not to Be - Classics Illustrated

The originalClassics Illustrated stages the speech on a single splash page, with all the important elements in frame, reminding one of Medieval engravings. Hamlet is center stage, coming up behind Ophelia holding her book, and in the background, the two spies drawing back a curtain. The entire speech fills a single speech bubble, a steady stream of consciousness that lacks any kind of nuance (through pauses, for example). Four words are identified as difficult and given footnote translations. Oddly, "conscience" is one of these (given as "self-examination"). Seemed pretty straightforward to me. But the narrator is also quite obvious, telling us upfront that the speech is about contemplating suicide. You know, lest we miss the point. The target audience may well have, but it's still an awkward Cliffs note.

Still, it's one of the better pages in the comic, with a composition stronger than most. Hamlet creeping up behind Ophelia is more sinister and menacing than the eventual outcome of their meeting, and there's something intriguing about having all the characters in the line of sight, as if Ophelia was bait on a hook, the spies as fishermen about to reel in the prince. But these seem more accidental than planned. They suggest some interesting staging ideas for the play, but are flawed in the context of the book itself.

The Berkley version
Tom Mandrake's adaptation also stages the speech on a single page, but paces it through the use of multiple speech bubbles. The pauses created are pretty standard, but Mandrake seems to have thought about them. For example, there's an early pause after "outrageous fortune", indicating that perhaps "taking arms" is an option he had not directly considered before. He's been suffering all this time and "acting" has not truly been considered until this point. Though the speech often seems like Hamlet is regressing after the promise of the Mouse Trap, it can also be seen as a driving force for the second half of the play. Hamlet convinces himself that not acting is the wrong way to go.

Unlike the original Classics Illustrated, Hamlet is shown walking alone. He is not being overheard, nor is Ophelia in sight. She turns up out of nowhere in the next page, surprising both the reader and Hamlet. The single panel here is placed inside the greater layout of the page which shows sea-tossed Elsinore. The decaying building with the sea of troubles at its gates is an image of Hamlet himself. He contemplates his own mortality, even as Denmark - something much more permanent - is described as rotting around him. If a castle or a country are mortal, what chance does a man have?

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