Wednesday, December 7, 2011

III.i. The Nunnery Scene - Zeffirelli '90

Zeffirelli splits the Nunnery scene in two, the first just after Ophelia is tasked but before To be or not to be, and the second inserted in the ribaldry preceding the Mouse-Trap, collapsing two of Ophelia's humiliations into the same moment. In the first section, Mel Gibson's Hamlet initially tries to ignore Ophelia, walking away from her at a brisk pace, but she catches him up with "remembrances" (some kind of necklace). That word is well chosen, isn't it? Though Hamlet refuses to take the gift back, it's his memories of a happier time that he can't prevent from returning. And those memories are, in essence, missing, because Hamlet denies their existence. Gibson plays the moment with some measure of dumbfoundedness and self-imposed amnesia.

Helena Bonham Carter's Ophelia is more aggressive than most, which is an interesting choice. She's the jilted one here and she won't take his bull. Does she suspect he's only feigning madness? The visual creates irony - the tiniest of girls vs. the action hero - that also exists in the power levels of the characters, both in the court and in the play. "You know right well you did" becomes an accusation. Hamlet laughs at her gesture... did he perchance see the shadows of the spies playing on the wall? Ambiguous. He only goes off shouting at the room and at her after her lie (that her father is home). The camera, trapped in Ophelia's point of view, spins round and round as Hamlet turns the tables and becomes the aggressor. At the end of his rant - which doesn't include the nunnery lines, notably - he runs up the stairs and throws down the just-regifted necklace. She timidly picks it up again in the background - the only reaction left from the text's short speech - as Claudius and Polonius come out of the woodwork to discuss what just happened. Hamlet stands in a doorway, hidden. This is how he knows about the trip to England, and of course, it's a confirmation of the the plot against him.
Nunnery-related lines are inserted during the play-within-a-play's preliminaries, in a more private moment after the more public humiliations of both Ophelia and Gertrude (after "half a year"). Almost swooning, he starts with "Get thee to a nunnery", which he finds strange and upsetting, and leaves off after "Believe none of us" as the play starts. The intimate nature of the sequence takes away any ribald meaning from the word "nunnery", and it becomes an imploration to save herself from both this tragedy and any future tragedy (which comes with child-bearing). She has no answer to give.

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