Saturday, May 5, 2012

III.ii. The Mouse-Trap - Classics Illustrated

The original
Surprisingly, the old "boys' adventure" comics version includes both the dumb show and the speaking play, though it makes huge cuts through the use of captions to fit them in. In other words, they both "happen", but are not necessarily seen. The pantomime that precedes the play is visual, of course, so becomes the backbone of the comics version.There are number of interesting touches, as if the artist, freed from the Classics Illustrated constraint of heavy work balloons, has finally been allowed to show his quality. As the Player Queen leaves the sleeping king, for example, there's an odd expression on her face. Is she worried she might wake him? Or is she colluding with the murderer, but already feeling guilty? I also like the purely graphic juxtaposition of crown and poison separating the two bottom panels, showing how one can act as a gateway to the other. The sequence continues on the next page, where the Queen is offered jewels, but she seems to refuse from her body language. So it's not always clear what she's thinking.

A puzzled Ophelia asks about the argument of the play - the only live commentary made in this heavily edited version - but Hamlet leaves it to the Prologue. There is no cruelty towards Ophelia or the Royals, the play being the only possible impetus for Claudius to lose it. Hamlet's antics do not play a part or muddy the waters. On purpose perhaps, the Player Queen is a dead ringer for Ophelia, wearing the same kinds of clothes as well.
After a few words from the Prologue, the action cuts to Claudius' fit. We've seen the play's action through the pantomime, and we know the story because it's a mirror of Hamlet Sr.'s murder, so this is quite economical, while respecting the events of the play. Needlessly? If Claudius had reacted to the dumb show, it would have made more structural sense. As is, even though we know everything we do, there still seems to be a scene missing. It makes you want to see the trigger.

The Berkley version
Hamlet is likewise more pleasant to Ophelia in Tom Mandrake's version, his smiles turning cruelties into mere teasing. His art makes good use of shadows throughout the sequence, often keeping the Royals hidden, even when they speak lines. The darkness of their sins and their initial ambiguity make justify it, but it is starting to feel like they are shadows, ciphers or otherwise non-characters. Even the "protests too much" line is given to Ophelia instead of Gertrude. One place where shadows are better used is in Hamlet's face. The darkness of Ophelia's lap plays across it when he turns more serious and thinks of his father, ironically while entering a motherly womb.
Mandrake does away with the dumb show in favor of the spoken play, his painted Players in various cultural costumes separating the heightened reality of the Mouse-Trap with the Medieval trappings of the play outside the play, though I'll never get used to Claudius' Santa Claus outfit.
In the absence of a preceding panto, Claudius now sees the accusation for the first time, and reacts. Again, there are few public antics from Hamlet, so his idleness is not what distracts or affects the King. Both comics versions have chosen to make the King unambiguously guilty.

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