Friday, December 9, 2011

III.i. The Nunnery Scene - Kline '90

Now let's see how the scene comes across with an older, wiser Ophelia. At least, that's how I read Diane Venora's performance (and she was 38 at the time). Her age makes her less fearful of Hamlet or her father, and perhaps takes part in the scheme willingly, for her own reasons. She makes herself available to Hamlet with a smile and tries to cheer him up, acting like nothing's wrong. The gifts she bears, some letters and a dried flower, could be meant to refresh his memory or focus his wits. When he doesn't accept them, she lays them on the stage, and you'll note that "their perfume lost" is cut. We must then believe her motivation to be elsewhere. She still loves him and giving him back these things is not meant as an affront, reproach, or sign that she doesn't love him anymore. Her bright spirits are nonetheless mitigated by the demons she sees in his eyes and speech, and she eventually backs away from him. But still, she seems hopeful that he can come back from this madness, so she is visibly hurt by his denial of their love. When she says she was "the more deceived", it's with a bitter, but honest laugh. An older woman mocking herself for having acted like a schoolgirl.

Kline does a good job with Hamlet as well. His version of "well, well, well" is robotic, a sample stuck on repeat as he ambles towards her, reaching for her hair. She stops his gesture and at the same time, his words. He peruses her face with his hands, gestures borrowed from the description of their first post-Ghost meeting, a smart use of the text in a different context. If these are Hamlet's mannerisms, why deny him those gestures in the rest of the play? And he eventually destroys the gifts, ripping up the letters, more of the erasure of the past he's been engaged in since he talked with his father's spirit. The nunnery speech is not unkind though. Hamlet has a thin smile, and advises more than accuses. She stops him with kisses, and this time, he's the one who pushes her away with a question about her father's whereabouts. He holds her tight during the next exchange, swinging her around in the parody of a newlywed dance. It gets more violent, he throws her down, hits her with a thrown book, tries to wipe away her make-up (her false face), moves her around as if she were a puppet (which she is - her father's)... Some of this is performance. He shouts at the air and looks around furtively. The kindnesses he does give Ophelia here are non-verbal and hidden in a flurry of strange, violent behavior.
After he leaves, Ophelia is left in the middle of a destroyed shared past, discarded like the trash around her. She grabs a piece of a poem, the "honey of his music vows", still clinging to past happiness, but her life is veritably in ruins. Is she picking up the pieces of her destroyed mind? Claudius seems more moved by these events than Polonius, her cold father who has his back to her and her distress. Ironically, he talks about neglected love as the cause of Hamlet's madness, not realizing he's neglecting his own (and soon to be mad) daughter. When she tries to speak, he stops her, refusing to empathize with her. Ophelia is often played as passive and listless in this moment, but Venora tries to actually say something. Who knows what that might be and what important piece of evidence or insight she might have imparted. She finally walks away, shell-shocked. Does her mind crack here? She'll be more keen in the next act, but it could be said that the first stone has been thrown at her fragile, glass-like mind.

Kline uses a title card here: END PART I. It's where the break would have been at the theater. Perhaps it's a good place to make some set changes, prepare for the play within a play, etc., but evidently Kline also sees this as the mid-point in the play. And it is. From this point on, Hamlet stops doubting himself and proceeds with his plans, while for Claudius, the investigation is over and he is resolved to exile Hamlet as soon as possible. The shift to action, rather than inaction, characterizes the next act.

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