Monday, December 19, 2011

III.i. The Nunnery Scene - Tennant (2009)

The 2009 adaptation also uses a two-way mirror to hide (or rather, frequently cut to) the spies. Ophelia is steady, at first, while Hamlet is visibly upset and keeps his distance from her. Confronting this part of his life is painful, and seeing him like this, Ophelia quickly starts to break down too. There's a nice hesitation from her on "redeliver", as if looking for the word. She draws attention to that choice. She's not "giving back", she's "redelivering". What, if any, and aside from being more "poetic", are the meanings behind that word? One might infer here a more chaste relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia, a romance through correspondence more than intimate contact. Gifts were "delivered" and must now be "redelivered". Not that this adaptation means to paint the Hamlet-Ophelia relationship that way. Perhaps Ophelia is playing down their intimacy for her watching father.

The way Hamlet tries to keep her at a distance, batting and waving her approaches, also gives a slightly different meaning to "I never gave you ought". It seems clearer that he means he's not the same person who gave her those gifts. By accepting his father's mission, he erased all other things from his mind (or tried to, that's the central conflict of the play). He's already renounced Ophelia and love, but here they both are again, and he must reassert his "new self" and push away any and all distractions. New Hamlet cannot be involved with Ophelia and even that past is erased. Compare to how the memory of his father has likewise been excised from the Court's memories. What Gertrude has done to Hamlet Sr., Hamlet Jr. is doing to Ophelia. She's not dead, but of course, the Ghost is a "living" character too. So even when he grabs her, he seems to push her away too, like he's defending himself from her touch and all the earthly concerns it represents. This push and pull is very much symbolic of Hamlet's attitude throughout the play. His goal goes against his values, and he hates the women he loves. "You should not have believed me" is spoken with hands on his head. The paradoxes of the play are making him crack.

While the spies behind the mirror are quiet, the hyper-surveillance element in this adaptation does make a noise as our point of view shifts to that of the security camera zooming in. That's when he realizes it's a set-up and gets angry at Ophelia, shouts at the air to make sure he's heard/recorded, etc. Ophelia is not thrown to the ground, she gets down on her knees to pray. Hamlet's violence is only verbal, though he does rip up the love letters as if they were "broken wedding vows", while she gestures ineffectually to try and save them. When he accuses women of nicknaming God's creatures, he holds up her Bible (which she was reading to color her loneliness). Given how quick she falls to praying, it makes sense this would be her book, but what does Hamlet's line mean? I've struggled with it. According to the Old Testament, Adam was given the task of naming all living things. Is Hamlet really condemning women for subverting God's wishes and in effect RE-naming the animals? It's an image of falsification (like the attack on cosmetics or love/sex games), and I now notice that it's something we get back to in Ophelia's madness scenes where different flowers are given different names and meanings (Gertrude does it too when talking about the suicide). If Shakespeare wasn't such a feminist in other plays, it would be easy to see a vicious misogynistic streak in this one. Women in Hamlet's world are not allowed to define or create their own world, and the naming of creatures and plants has a thematic relationship with Gertrude naming Claudius as her husband. Hamlet's revolt is against his world being shaken up by a woman.
After he leaves, Ophelia sobs through her entire speech and drops to the mirrored floor. As in other mirror-based stagings (like Branagh's), the things she sees and that haunts her is herself, that ugly thing she has become by participating in her father's schemes. In effect, she agrees with Hamlet's evaluation of himself as a monster created by women, and feels responsible for that transformation. However, he also told her not to believe a word he says. Was this a coded message she somehow missed? Part of the tragedy of these characters is that they do not understand one another. Ophelia should know Hamlet well enough to see through his act, read those coded warnings and heed his advice to leave Elsinore. She doesn't. This may be a problem with the Polonius family in general. Polonius certainly doesn't understand why Hamlet does what he does, and Laertes will allow himself to be convinced to work against Hamlet by the play's villain, and need to repent in his last moment.

Polonius, as usual uncomfortable with emotion, comes out of hiding and hands his daughter a handkerchief, and in embarrassment, stresses that he heard it all. That "all" seems to represent all manner of unpalatable things which he doesn't want to rehash, examine or understand. The structure of the play only now has Polonius board Hamlet as the prince runs back and Ophelia scurries away. It makes Polonius even thicker than normal, pursuing a line of inquiry Claudius has just rejected.


snell said...

Re: "redeliver." I've always wanted to think that Ophelia had surreptitiously stuck a new note or such into the returned remembrances...redeclaring her love for him, warning Hamlet of her father's plotting...hnce "redeliver." But Hamlet is too incensed to notice.

Most productions don't support that, of course, and it would be difficult to portray, especially on stage.

Still, it's a nice thought.

Siskoid said...

A great idea! A film could definitely do it. Another missed connection between these two characters.

snell said...

Plus, it would be an opportunity to show that maybe Ophelia is an apple that didn't fall so far from the tree. Sometimes it's hard to see her and Laertes, always portrayed as so guileless and straightforward, as members of the Polonius clan.