Sunday, April 15, 2012

III.ii. The Mouse-Trap - Tennant (2009)

Tennant's Hamlet is a petulant and mischievious child in this scene. The audience's entrance is scored with the Danish national anthem, as a barefoot Hamlet insolently whistles along. They ignore him, and we get the sense that his parents are already tired of his shenanigans. They do not appear to be particularly excited at the prospect of a night at the theater with him, and indeed, the audience is rather small. This is an intimate affair, not the public one other versions have created. We are definitely in the wake of Hamlet's attack on Ophelia. She comes in with her head down. Her father looks ever so puzzled. No one trusts Hamlet's mood. As if to give them reason, his giddy idleness is immediately disrespectful, throwing in an army salute with the chameleon's dish line, mocking the normal obedience one should show a father and a king.

In the early part of the scene, everything is more intimate. Hamlet asks Polonius about his acting days in private conversation, and only Polonius laughs at the prince's pun. It's interesting however to see Polonius so confounded by the fact he had to be killed in the play, a precursor to his actual senseless death in THIS play. Hamlet runs off with Ophelia, grabbing her out of her seat and to a position from where he can better observe the Royals. At this, Polonius breaks the fourth wall to ask us if we "mark that". Again, the scene's intimacy prevents him from being more public about his thoughts. Hamlet drags Ophelia down to the floor and wraps her arms around himself, mockingly bites her arm. It is a parody of a normal romantic relationship, and in a sense, perhaps a disguise. Sitting across from his parents, he appears to be getting back together with his girlfriend, but his cruel, unheard words tell another story. Tennant underlines the dirty pun in "country matters" (cunt-ry matters) to make it harsh indeed. And yet, his "as woman's love" later is a private statement, sounding more sorry than mean.

These private moments contrast with the moment when Hamlet actually flings an accusation his parents' way, as he shows more and more difficulty reigning himself in. At the jig-maker line, he gets up and dances humorously on the rug that will serve as a stage, making his mother laugh, which is the moment he chooses to begin his open cruelties. His very bitter delivery of "die two months ago, and not forgotten yet" gives it a strong ironic bent. For Hamlet, two months is no more appropriate than two hours, recalling the Hamlet from earlier in the play who was told to stop his grieving.
The dumb show is a most depraved affair meant to shock perhaps more than amuse. A tiny king with giant ears comes out of bald, fat queen's skirts and speaks unintelligibly (I was reminded of Pingu) until he is poisoned by a glam murderer with a heart over his crotch which, when removed, reveals an uncoiled slinky. The dead king's shroud becomes a ghostly sheet that runs off to let them have sex. Through this ridiculous piece of bawdry, Claudius laughs not at all, holding his temper in check. We do see his reaction to he mock poisoning, which makes this Claudius quite aware of the insinuation from early on. He stews in his own guilt longer as a result. As the dumb show starts, Hamlet takes out his camera and starts filming it, or really, the Royals' reactions to it. In this way, the film keeps the energy up by layering in Hamlet's point of view. When does he look at the characters and at what gestures or words do he focus in on his mother or stepfather?
The play itself features rather extreme Elizabethan costumes, and a staging that mirrors that of the Royals (king-left, queen-right). Gertrude is bitter and impatient at the text. She knows very well what she is being accused of and finds it insulting. With great poise, she questions whether the Player Queen protests too much, and gets a laugh from the audience. It's a show of power against Hamlet, and the audience seems to be on the Queen's side in this. As for Claudius, the cracks start to show. Silent up to this point, he asks if there's offense in it, in fact proposing there is, at which Polonius makes an odd gesture as if to stop him from speaking out. Have they decided prior to the play to let Hamlet have his fun and show no reaction? Reacting, even with a smaller audience, is dangerous at this point because Hamlet is filming them. The (Mouse-)trap is theirs to get caught in.

After mouthing many of the lines himself, it's time for the murder, and Hamlet can't help but get up and spoil the ending, just to force the reaction he's looking for, triumphant even has he ruins his own device. Does he succeed? The king rises, but walks calmly to a stagehand and requests light. He then brings the lantern over and shines it on Hamlet, as if revealing the prince's madness for all to see. He shakes his head as if to say "You won't get me so easily". To the assembly, this may instead mean that he pities and softly chides Hamlet, but we know better, and the slightest of smiles from Patrick Stewart speaks volumes. That Hamlet thinks he's found a chink in the King's armor may be wishful thinking on his part however.

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