Saturday, March 24, 2012

III.ii. The Mouse-Trap - Kline '90

In Kline's adaptation, the Royals sit on the stage, facing the audience, and the Players perform their play midway between the Royals and the audience, using profiles to play to both. This is an ingenious use of stage space that in the theater, would allow the real audience (us) to see both The Mouse-Trap and the characters' reactions. While Hamlet doesn't sit on stage, he and Ophelia are off to the side, still facing us in ¾ view. This staging also works thematically, enhancing the mirror effect between the Royals and the Players.

Ironically, though Hamlet has dramatized his parents, both by rewriting the play and placing them on the stage for all to observe, he's the star of the show. As the Court enters, he is draped in a red curtain, Christ-like. He initiates applause that an already impatient Claudius stops with a look and a gesture. He falls off the stage as if it were a cliff, making his voice recede, an echo of the fate Horatio feared he would meet by following the Ghost some days prior. Indeed, while we'll soon find out the Ghost wasn't lying about the murder, the play is the moment that truly embarks him on his doom. It will lead to Polonius' murder, his exile, subsequent return, and "all we mourn for". His falling off a cliff here makes that point. Kline also makes good use of his mime skills by sitting next to his mother on an invisible chair, as absent as their relationship.
Hamlet also makes Polonius squirm by letting him go on about his university days, a brilliant comic delivery from Josef Sommer as Polonius, adding information haltingly to cover the lack of reaction. The crowd does laugh at Hamlet's punchline, as it does at some of his early cracks at Ophelia. Her humiliation feels all the more public, and her quick look at her father when Hamlet makes an obscene remark may indicate she's hiding a sexual relationship (older-looking Ophelias, and those from more modern settings, give this impression rather easily). And of course, Hamlet flings accusatory comments in his parents' direction, which displease, but do not seem to embarrass.

Claudius is a character to watch in this sequence, and not just because Hamlet has asked us to observe him. Brian Murray plays him fresh off the Nunnery scene, wary of what might happen, rather than, as it is sometimes played, seeing a turn for the better in Hamlet's passion for the theater. As the play begins, rather suddenly and without Prologue or dumb show (and yes, that means the brevity of woman's love isn't mentioned), Claudius gets somewhat lost in the story. The visual mirror makes Gertrude see herself in the Queen, of course, but mistakenly see Claudius in the King. In the background, she tenderly pets her husband, not seeing her forgotten former lord. Claudius is no less affectionate, though he does look in Hamlet's direction whenever the prince blurts out a line, trying to figure him out.

His other hand is on a drink, one we see him refill during the sequence (as Hamlet mentions poison, another visual irony). Playing on Claudius' weakness for alcohol goes a long way in showing how such a practiced politician could give himself away during this scene. He's had too much too drink and loses control. It's also interesting to see him puzzled at the title of the play, for indeed, why is it called that unless it ends with a Player Prince catching the murderer? Claudius might even think Hamlet has made changes to the play, and a clue exists in Lucianus switching from dagger to poison as he enters. One of the changes Hamlet has made? As the veiled accusation is UNveiled, Claudius drops his glass and stands, a gesture that shocks the assembly. Here, Kline creates a motivation for the otherwise redundant line "The King rises". The audience must be prompted to stand (as they must) because they've forgotten their manners in the wake of this incident. Chaos ensues as Claudius disentangles himself from Gertrude's kind ministrations, as she is part and parcel of the guilt he's suddenly experiencing.

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