Saturday, December 3, 2011

III.i. The Nunnery Scene - BBC '80

As usual, Derek Jacobi is full of surprises in this scene. When his Hamlet sees Lalla Ward's Ophelia, he first puts his finger on his lips, as if to indicate that she shouldn't speak because he knows they're being spied on. It's not clear. He then grabs her book and reveals she was "reading" it upside down. She winces, her ploy half-discovered, and while we smile, Hamlet becomes hurtful, sarcastic, mocking. It is not without some kind of reproach in his voice that he says his sins are remembered in her orisons. And is there not a mirror of falsification here? She is pretending to read, to be lonely, etc. as much as he is feigning madness, that is, consciously false, and yet working from a kernel of truth. Jacobi's reading turns the line into an accusation or revelation that she is false. When she finally speaks, he treats it as a performance, laughs, mockingly applauds.

I've never found Lalla Ward a very effective Ophelia. Though she sobs through the whole sequence, never are there any tears. This obvious actor's artifice takes some of the punch away from Hamlet's mocking of those sobs, they're more like an actor mocking another. The redelivered gifts are often papers, presumably Hamlet's poetry, but here they go another way with a long green scarf. Hamlet grabs it from Ophelia's hands and uses it to snag her neck, though further violence of that kind does not ensue. He does admit he loved her once, but by this point she's scared. He refutes it almost immediately, of course, and when she says she was the more deceived, Hamlet reacts with a noncommittal gesture. Oh well, that's your problem, isn't it?

Things take a turn when he underlines his line about being a breeder of sinners by making a gesture towards her crotch. The embarrassment makes her look towards the arras, and though Hamlet makes no visible realization, just an odd look, he soon starts shouting his litany of sins at the wall and starts opening secret doors. It seems he didn't know all along, but he is not surprised. Obviously, Ophelia was playing some kind of game, but perhaps he didn't know the spies were so close. His breakdown comes unannounced after the lie about her father and he cries through the next lines. He throws her to the ground, leaves and comes back again a number of times, slaps at the empty air in front of her, shakes her violently, and finally, embraces her.
"It hath made mad" is here an epiphany, a sudden evaluation of his actions and emotions. His tone is unusually apologetic when he says there will be no more marriages, his rage completely drained, even though there is the promise of revenge in his words.

Patrick Stewart's Claudius is equally interesting in the aftermath. Instead of the usual anger, we get fear and foreboding. The quiet tone allows some of the lines to come across differently. For example, the line about sending Hamlet on a sea voyage to change his "settled heart" is better revealed as an image of moving the body to move the mind. Perhaps by uprooting Hamlet from his madness, Claudius can move him away from whatever action he is planning. Ironically, what Claudius does not realize is that Hamlet's madness, in effect, is inaction, not action. By uprooting him from it, he insures Hamlet will return moved to action. The Hamlet who returns from abroad is, indeed, determined, and part of the reason for it is the voyage (specifically, his meeting with Fortinbras' troops on the way).
Instead of ignoring Ophelia completely, as many Claudiuses do, this one is not so cold and says the last line to her directly. That final rhyme is now meant to reassure her (to perhaps cement her loyalty) that what they are doing is for Hamlet's own good. They must watch him to help him. This may in part explain why Ophelia never tells Hamlet that there are plans to spy on him in his mother's closet and so on, though Hamlet's erratic actions have as much to do with it.

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