Thursday, January 12, 2012

III.ii. Instructing the Players - Branagh '96

The front part of this scene is another of Branagh's oners, taking us around the upper balcony and into a small room that serves as the Players' dressing room. In so doing, we get to see the curtains and theatrical machinae, but also Hamlet at his sanest. We're behind the scenes for BOTH plays, in a sense. The Players are themselves, not yet made-up as their characters, and Hamlet is too, not yet "idle" as he is before the Court. The Players would do well to listen to his acting tips, because his method HAS convinced all of Elsinore that he is indeed mad. For the most part, the speech is spoken not to the First Player but to the Second (who plays the murderer). It works, especially after the reverence given Charlton Heston's character during "Aeneas' tale to Dido". Hamlet also singles out the clown, a boy, and has fun with him. Might we here see a mirror of Hamlet's own childhood relationships? As we discover later in the play, he was raised more by the Court jester Yorick than gone-to-wars Hamlet Sr. His affection for the clown here, both kissing and mock strangling him (read what ironies you will) may be typical of the father-son relationship between Hamlet and Yorick. Of course, as soon as Polonius walks in, Hamlet reverts to a manic disposition, sending Rosencrantz & Guildenstern on a useless errand (they do not obey him).

Branagh continues to upkeep Horatio's presence by inserting him in an invented moment before this scene, in which he stands outside reading the newspaper and news of Fortinbras' advance on Poland (dissolves into shots of Fortinbras himself also help to remind us he is in this play), and then in the scene proper, having brought Hamlet his coat in preparation for the play. Having just escaped R&G, Hamlet goes into his study where he makes a declaration of his love and friendship to Horatio. And the latter could not look more awkward, even in the staging of it.
As someone delivers a script to Hamlet, the prince uses it to underscore his point about insincere fawning to contrast his own true admiration of Horatio. It's also another indication that regardless of class, Hamlet does not view Horatio as a servant or anything less than an equal.

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