Sunday, March 11, 2012

III.ii. The Mouse-Trap - BBC '80

Hamlet begins the scene in a cloak and skull mask which makes Claudius laugh and Gertrude smile. The staging, in which Claudius immediately recognizes Hamlet under the mask is ironic. What Claudius actually recognizes is that Hamlet will be the death of him. In fact, everyone who interacts with Hamlet-as-Death will be dead by the end of the play.

Hamlet's initial interaction with Ophelia shocks and grieves her, so he corrects his intent and puts the shame on her, acting disgusted that she thought of "country matters". To him - because of her recent betrayal, or possibly simply because of her gender - she is a whore and a deviant. He reiterates the idea when he says woman's love is brief, pointing it at her rather than his mother. Is there a difference in his mind, or does he paint all women with the same brush?
The play is well-realized through stagecraft that creates an optical illusion of depth in the set, and a lot of time is spent on the mime show. As it plays out, the clown versions of the King, Queen and murderer make the real King, Queen and murderer laugh. Hamlet acts like he's evaluating the events the play is based on for the first time, but also seems disturbed at how much fun Claudius is having with it. The King doesn't clue in that the murder is an image of the one he committed, and roars with laughter. The mime show ends with the murderer quelling the Player Queen's grief with a rich gift of jewels. She's essentially being bought, another reference to her being a whore in Hamlet's eyes.

The play itself appears in slightly abridged form, but nothing major is lost and it moves along quite nicely. It's only at "wormwood" that Hamlet finally attracts the attention of the Royals - all previous accusations were made in Ophelia's confidence alone - and it is perhaps only then that the King and Queen realize the play might be about them. Up to that point, they were fresh teenagers on a date, but now there are more silence and squirming. After the first scene, Gertrude is so caught up in her own thoughts, she almost forgets to applaud, and does only awkwardly, with too much enthusiasm. She's the one who "protests too much". Hamlet puts the accent on "her" in "She'll keep HER word", a veiled accusation, and by this point, though Claudius is far less easy to read, he's lost all of his cheer.

With the Player King confused by Hamlet's interruption and attempt to spoil the play's ending, the prince waves the murderer onto stage. Jacobi shows Hamlet's impatience quite well here, losing his temper when the player doesn't immediately start speaking the lines. And finally, Hamlet loses it altogether, in a rush to see Claudius' reaction, interjecting just as the Player King is poisoned and wracked with pain. He makes sure to mention the garden, so that no detail of the accusation is lost. He over-eggs the pudding. This adaptation makes us realize that though the play is designed to catch the conscience of the King, Hamlet never lets it do that. He wants to rumble Claudius himself. Does he succeed? From the staging, it's really not clear he does. It's not even clear he's guilty of the crime he's accused of.
Though he accuses Claudius of being "frighted", the King's reaction is really to stand and approach Hamlet, bringing a torch too close to his eyes. It's a stand-off. He asked for light not because he struggled with his own darkness, but because he wants to expose Hamlet's. Violence almost breaks out before the King catches himself. Hamlet starts to giggle insanely, giving Claudius the chance he needs to turn around and smile at the assembly. He sends everyone home and it's understood that this evening's diversion has been just another of mad Hamlet's shenanigans. We're left wondering if anyone really did catch the King's conscience or even if there was anything to catch in the first place.

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