Saturday, March 17, 2012

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

Despite his adaptation's many cuts, Zeffirelli acknowledges this scene's importance by not only showing a good part of the play-within-a-play as written, but by collapsing parts of various other scenes into it. For example, Polonius is here part of the show, gives a cue to the musicians and introduces the players on stage with the "pastoral-historical" speech from Act II Scene 2. He makes a meal of it too, enjoying the laughter he gets from the audience, sincere in his praise but also over-egging the pudding to get a reaction. Hamlet then has good reason to ask about Polonius' university days, coming around with a cup of wine and an inebriated step. Claudius, already in high spirits, laughs at Hamlet's Brutus pun (which is ironic given that like Julius Caesar, he's to be murdered by an adopted son - I'm surprised I never saw the connection before), but is puzzled by the "promise-crammed" comment. He's still trying to figure Hamlet out.

Ophelia is at once impatient and hurt by Hamlet's words and actions, rolling wet eyes at the ceiling. It's a small moment, but one of Bonham-Carter's best. Before the play, we're offered acrobats, clowns and jugglers, during which time Hamlet and Ophelia have part of the Nunnery scene (as already described in a previous article; Zeffirelli is also a juggler, of scenes). It's their one private moment in the scene, as otherwise, Hamlet lets the King and Queen overhear things just to make them squirm, treating them as if they weren't there. In fact, during the play, Ophelia is mostly forgotten and some of her lines are given to others. The Queen says of the Prologue "T'is brief, my son" so Hamlet an direct his barb straight at her. Later, Claudius gets "You are as good as a chorus, cousin" as the director wants this to be a duel between the two men.
After the Prologue, rather big and clownish because Hamlet never instructs the Players in this version, the play starts without the dumb show and cut down to essential lines. The important lines are intact, but this collapse does hammer the point home aggressively, giving Gertrude, all forced smiles and gritted teeth, reason to opine that the lady doth protest too much. The Royals immediately feel targeted, and a satisfied Hamlet, grins eagerly at their reaction. His plan is working and he can't help but participate by mouthing words he apparently wrote, or talking out of turn, mischievously pushing a patron back so he can slip the King a comment or two. Claudius can't be sure Hamlet knows the truth and the way he pitches his question about whether or not he knows the argument, you can tell he finds it strange Hamlet already knows the story. By this point, Claudius is avoiding Hamlet's eyes, sweating, gulping down wine nervously. This Hamlet may be hyperactive, but he doesn't shout his less-than-veiled accusations at the whole assembly, he takes the Royals into his confidence, in a hushed voice, manically pulling at threads on his clothes as the story and Claudius' composure unravel. He doesn't tell "Gonzago" what to do, though that player does lose his lines and simply enacts the murder (an echo of the dumb show). We instead focus (as Hamlet does) on Claudius' reaction.
At first he leans in, then rises, holds his head in pain and drops his cup. On stage, the Player King has dropped down hard enough to dislodge his crown, a nice piece of stagecraft and mirror to Claudius' own loss of control. Hamlet steps all over the audience to follow the advancing Claudius, fixed on his expression. Claudius points at the murderer who looks positively dumbstruck, then begins to laugh insanely, turning towards the audience. No one seems to know how to take this, least of all the Players, and he runs out of the castle to get some air, chaos in his wake. The verdict definitely points to Guilty.

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