Sunday, May 27, 2012

III.ii. Critical Reception - Branagh '96

In the whirlwind of words and black comedy that follows, I had never really noticed before that Nick Farrell's Horatio doesn't actually confirm the King's guilt in Branagh's version. He looks for the right words before coming up with "I did very well note him" and is not particularly enthusiastic. Hamlet has a moment of doubt where he goes "ahhh" before other characters walk in. Not doubt that the King is guilty, but doubt in the trust he placed in his friend. But what should he expect? At the top of the sequence (which will be another one of those whirling one-shots), Horatio is calling him out on his bad poetry as if they relationship was always one where Horatio brought the prince down to earth with a dose of acerbic wit.

But the moment quickly passes as Rosencrantz & Guildenstern arrive and Branagh uses the line "Some music" to herald that arrival. Yes, he's about to be handed a recorder, but Hamlet is really announcing the music of words that's about to ensue. Their lies and his vicious mockeries - the music of repartee. Hamlet is still giddy from his perceived victory and continues to giggle, impishly overact, sing-song lines in a parody of meter, and openly mock their every word, speaking to them as if they were deaf or dumb, and making grandly theatrical gestures. He's still at the theater. For their part, R&G have grown bold enough to show their anger towards him. They know Hamlet has gone too far and fully throw their support to the King. This is a mistake, and as if to foreshadow their eventual fate, Hamlet becomes violent with them. The prince handles that pipe like a weapon, here choking Guildenstern, there slashing the air with it as if it were a rapier.
There is another sudden change of attitude in Hamlet when Polonius walks in, another fool who now thinks nothing of showing angry impatience at the mad prince. Hamlet basically gives the same performance twice here. He's impish and overly theatrical, and turns to bitterness and anger. He just does it all much more quickly. It's really a reaction to Polonius' tedious redundancy, repeating behavior more efficaciously. For once, Polonius doesn't want to drag things out either, so he agrees to every fantastical cloud in the ceiling just to get it over with. The sequence ends with Hamlet asking his "friends" to leave him, the word dripping with sarcasm.
One of the few changes made to the play's structure in Branagh's integral adaptation occurs here as we cut to Act III Scene 3 before the short soliloquy that usually ends Scene 2. In Scene 3, R&G play sycophants to Claudius, Polonius tells the King he'll hide behind an arras in the Queen's closet, and the King heads for the chapel. The function of the edit is to get Hamlet's "I'm now ready to do anything" speech closer to Claudius' confession. In fact, the soliloquy is dropped in just before the confession, and its last lines even juxtaposed to Claudius entering the confessional, so that "my soul, consent!" precedes Claudius' prayer, highlighting the thematic connection between the two. In both cases, what is done falls short of what is said. Hamlet will not kill Claudius, and Claudius does not repent. Neither man's conscience manages to become more like the other's, a failed osmosis.

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