Saturday, February 4, 2012

III.ii. Instructing the Players - Tennant (2009)

One of the things David Tennant is very good at as Hamlet is making his lines sound fresh and unrehearsed. Somehow, when his Hamlet speaks, it's like neither he nor you have ever heard the words before. Where other Hamlets seem to give the Players instructions with a prepared speech (or at least holding a discourse he's had before, say with his school chums), Tennant's is entirely motivated by his plans against the King. He hesitates, searches for words, and is less "on text" than in any other scene, and in a sense, he must be at his most naturalistic in this speech about "holding a mirror up to nature". While asking actors to play true, he (Tennant/Hamlet) must be at his most human. And it's a reactive performance too. His notes to the Players are motivated by their actions. One mouths, one saws, and when a clown seems to be fooling around, Hamlet entreats the First Player to keep him under control - it's a confidential aside, not a public accusation. In this directorial request, Hamlet's obsession with proving Claudius' guilt shows through. Outrage and impatience at the idea that his trap might not work because of some "villainous" distraction. And Hamlet is funny too. He tells seasoned professionals how to do their jobs - though they keep silent respect, it shows that they're being condescended to - and then realizes what he's doing and apologizes with his "Be not too tame neither." Not a further command, but a concession that though he's going a little crazy with anxiety just before the show, he does trust their judgment.

We've seen how there's much mirroring in the play as written, but Gregory Doran's direction amplifies this element. On stage, there was a mirrored wall, and on film, there's a mirrored floor, to remind you of the theme. When Hamlet here talks about holding a mirror up to nature, he does so with a mirror in hand, shining reflected light on each Player in the company. (On stage, he aimed the mirror at the audience instead.) It's a strong, even poignant punctuation to the scene, giving each Player their little moment, either smiling, ignoring him, or in the case of the Player King, wincing. That last reaction foreshadows Claudius' guilt being exposed by the human mirrors that are the Players. Doran's other trope is hyper-surveillance, and it shows up at the very top of the scene when Hamlet films one of the players with a hand-held film camera. Since this is the point in the play where Hamlet takes control, it makes sense for him to symbolically take ownership of the thing that has been plaguing him, the ever watchful eyes of the Court. It's the film within a film that mirrors the play within a play concept.
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are still trying to ingratiate themselves to Hamlet, to some hilarity. They show up with a punchy "ta-tannn!" and some champagne - party boys to the last - and immediately get dismissed as common servants (an irony when you remember their introduction). Hamlet's complete disinterest in them in a highlight. They leave to "hasten" the Players, Hamlet sits on the throne, his stepfather's seat. Trying to imagine Claudius' point of view? A reminder of the broken Danish succession? More mirrors? Horatio rushes in, late, fixing his tuxedo and gets the usual sincere compliments, but hyperactive Hamlet is quick to change the subject (minor cuts help him get to the point). The way Horatio plays it, he wasn't aware of the Mouse-Trap plan before this moment. Again, the 2009 Hamlet moves away from rehearsed formal speech (Hamlet telling Horatio what he knows for the audience's benefit) to a more naturalistic place (Hamlet delivers new information to his friend). Tennant's energy carries through to the next part of the scene as the trumpets sound and it's almost panic that sets him into action.

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