Tuesday, January 24, 2012

III.ii. Instructing the Players - Kline '90

The scene is prefaced by a "Part II" title card, no doubt where Kline's stage play broke for intermission, and it's notable that Part II is when Hamlet actually starts to act in response to his father's murder. Not coincidentally, it's when people start to die. As the scene starts, candles and chairs a brought in to support what looks to be an intimate performance. On stage, that's what we'd always get, a few characters sitting around a small stage ON stage, though the play's audience may act as the play-within-a-play's audience as well. A filmed stage presentation omits this meta-audience and restores the image of small affair. Big film productions allow the Mouse-Trap to act as a scandalous reveal of Claudius' guilt (or at least Hamlet's attempt to publicly flush out the King's culpability), but the realities of the theater rarely allow for this take.

Hamlet's directions are corrective ones, as he catches the Player sawing the air with his hands, for example. And as in the BBC version, the directions to the clowns are omitted. Is this common practice for Hamlets who are more on edge than others? The more clownish and mad Hamlet is, the less appropriate his warnings to the clown players become? It does rob the play of one of its ironies. While giving direction, the Prince sits on the stage, and so this is another performance, one in which the Players become the audience. It's a nice reflection of the royal audience that will be translated into the Players once the play begins. Hamlet directs both, and performs in both, and is audience to both. If the world's a stage, Hamlet is the one who plays all the parts, both on and off stage. He's even the usher, completing the mirror image of audience/Players by moving the "thrones" in the audience center to the stage, turning the Claudius and Gertrude's seats into the Player King and Queen's.

The portrayal of the Hamlet/Horatio relationship follows the usual conventions. Hamlet is sincere and calmer than normal, and Horatio is touched by his show of affection. In speaking to Horatio, Hamlet finds a stable rock to perch on, up and above his madness. The performance here highlighted one line I've usually glossed over, and that's "we will both our judgments join". Not only is Horatio considered an equal despite his lower birth, one whose opinion is equivalent to a Prince's, but it's also Hamlet's attempt at corroborating the information he got from the Ghost. Hamlet doesn't trust his father's spirit, but more importantly, he doesn't trust himself. If he's going mad, the accusations leveled at Claudius may be a product of his diseased mind, even if the Ghost is real. He trusts Horatio to confirm (as we, the audience, must) that he isn't imagining it. Horatio acts as the moral compass of the play, but also as a psychological gauge for Hamlet.

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