Sunday, March 4, 2012

III.ii. The Mouse-Trap - Olivier '48

Trumpets sound, everyone enters, Hamlet in darkness in the center. First, courtiers and players, showing deference, and only then do the Royals come down the stairs. Hamlet goes up to help his mother come down. Is he lulling her into a false sense of security? That would be coherent with the whole idea of putting on a show (the play and his high spirits). His first shot at her, choosing to sit by Ophelia instead of her, seems even more mercurial from her point of view, and calculated cruelty from ours. The courtiers gasp at this slight. The idea that this sequence scandalously upends Denmark's hierarchy is something today's audiences might not at first get. Not that Ophelia is kindly treated. Hamlet grabs her by the wrist and pushes her down into a chair. Though this is a violent gesture, her father Polonius is rather pleased that it seems to confirm his still-held theory. The poor man is completely oblivious in this version, the only one to laugh when Hamlet publicly humiliates him. Ophelia's own humiliation in this scene is more private. Gertrude and Claudius don't even hear Hamlet's loud accusations before the play starts, so as if we were watching it as a play, the actors are projecting their voices, but intimacy is nevertheless retained. This Ophelia is an innocent, naive girl, so the references to her lap do shock her.
Of The Mouse-Trap, only the Prologue and mime show are in the film. The Prologue seems almost embarrassed at how short the text is, though he may just be intimidated by the royal audience. Did Hamlet write this? Since there's no dialog, where are the lines he inserted? If he did write the prologue, we might believe he set himself up for his "As woman's love" line. The "mischief" is definitely Hamlet's. On stage, the orchard is represented by a sickly-looking cactus-like tree and the camera stays mobile as if to show a shared point of view. With no words spoken, we're allowed to focus on the audience's reactions. Ophelia catches Hamlet looking at the King. Horatio is also looking in that direction. And there's something to look at. Even Polonius notices the King having difficulty, though he assumed Claudius to have taken ill. The play continues regardless, with the Player Queen finding her dead husband and being comforted by the murderer. There's a lot of gossip in the crowd, but it looks strange without Hamlet's more public accusations, as is the fact the King is moved in such a fashion.
Though he melodramatically asks for light, he acts as if blinded by the images in his mind. Hamlet brings a torch much too close to his face and he flinches and runs off. Olivier follows this up with utter chaos. The Queen looks at Hamlet with a "what have you done" kind of look, while everyone else runs in every possible direction, as in a scene from a monster movie. The natural order has been completely destroyed. As the King loses all control, so does the populace, and though Olivier doesn't explore every aspect of that idea, in the text it does thematically lead to, first, the peasants proclaiming Laertes potential king, and second, the invasion of Denmark by Norway. In a sense, Olivier covers the cut of those plot elements with this scene which does something similar through visuals.

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