Tuesday, January 17, 2012

III.ii. Instructing the Players - BBC '80

As we come into the scene, Hamlet is doing the make-up for the (cross-dressing) Queen. In addition to the allusion to the "painted queen" of the text, there's also an irony here. Hamlet has just rejected Ophelia in the previous scene, in effect unmaking her as potential queen. The First Player comes in to wash the hands of the manic prince. Whether an act or real - and Jacobi's Hamlet is madder than most - the performance makes use of that manic state in Hamlet's directions to the players. Don't saw the air with your hand, but don't be too tame neither - Hamlet moves between extremes according to his own mercurial nature. As in Branagh's staging, it's the actor playing the murderer who gets the direction, as the First Player made too good an impression in his first scene. Even if the comments aren't directed at him, he's still a little testy about this royal amateur's interference with his troupe's work. While other actors stand and listen, he dares sit next to Hamlet, an equal in the theatrical arena. He even mocks the prince, and when Hamlet realizes he's being condescended to, he laughs with the First Player. This is not a subservient character, imbued as he is with the essence of the King he will soon play. The role given to the First Player is such that he provides a noble alternative to the corrupt Claudius, even if his blood is not technically royal.

One of the rare cuts in this adaptation occurs here: Hamlet no longer advises the clowns. Is there an effect produced by losing this part of the speech? Not really, though it strikes me that a further irony is lost. In this scene, Hamlet normally tells the clowns not to distract the audience from the play, and yet, his own antics during the play do exactly that.

As Polonius walks in, Hamlet grows even more agitated and the staging makes his commands even more absurd. He's just talked at length with the players, and he's only a couple feet from them, and yet he asks a third party to hasten them. Polonius walks off, leaving Rosencrantz & Guildenstern to do it. No one's taking Hamlet very seriously in this scene, are they? Even Horatio, sitting in another corner of the room, visibly finished reading a paragraph before truly acknowledging the prince.
Even after he closes the book, it takes a while before he becomes attentive and realizes Hamlet's sincerity. Hamlet calms down from his madness when speaking to his friend, and that's Horatio's role as discussed in these very lines - a stabilizing influence. Horatio is the only uncorrupted link to Hamlet's past, and being with him is like a return to a former, saner Hamlet. So it is from a non-idle moment that Hamlet must return to idleness. He puts on a cape and skull mask and prepares for his next performance.

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